By Ann Sihler
For the Hollywood Star News
Portland has a reputation for being green. In Northeast Portland, a half dozen residents are trying to help the city stay green — literally — by encouraging the growth of a healthy, diverse urban forest in the Concordia neighborhood.
Concordia already has many notable trees, including the century-old Oregon white oak that graces Concordia University’s lawn, towering Douglas-firs that dot the neighborhood and provide habitat for native birds and bats, and the roughly 100 trees that make up the Ainsworth Linear Arboretum, which boasts 56 different species. But overall, the state of Concordia’s urban forest, as represented by its street trees, could be better.
Among Concordia street trees, “the average diameter at breast height, [which reflects age,] is low compared to many established neighborhoods in Portland,” said Concordia resident and Tree Team member Barbara Wharton. Additionally, “we are falling short in diversity. We have 25 percent maples, as does the city [as a whole. If] there is ever a disease that takes out maples, we’re in big trouble.”
Wharton knows those details because in 2010 the Concordia Tree Team worked with Portland Parks & Recreation’s Urban Forestry program to do a street tree inventory in the neighborhood. Staff and trained volunteers recorded and mapped the species, size, and condition of all of Concordia’s 4,636 street trees, in the first of nine neighborhood street tree inventories. All of the inventory data are now available on an online map, at www.portlandoregon.gov/parks/
The Concordia inventory showed that just 10 types of trees make up 70 percent of all the street trees in the neighborhood, and almost all of the trees are broadleaf deciduous species, like maple, cherry, and dogwood. Clearly, a better balance of tree species, with more conifers and broadleaf evergreens (such as evergreen magnolia), would make for a more resilient urban forest. So the Concordia Tree Team got busy. It formalized its recommendations in a written plan, teamed with other groups to plant trees at parks and schools, organized tree inspections and maintenance, and began educating the community about the importance of a diverse urban forest in Northeast Portland.
Several Tree Team members also took part in the City of Portland’s tree stewardship program. This free, multi-part training covers tree diseases, pruning, and care, as well tree aesthetics, heritage trees, and tree-related city code and environmental management programs.
“Most Concordia Tree Team members have a passion for trees,” said Wharton. “For me it’s the aesthetics and the environmental—the air quality. Living in Concordia, you think you’re living in Oregon [so] you’ve got clean air. But we’re very close to industrial areas and the rail lines and the shipping lanes on the river, and I have been advised that there are definitely issues with the amount of particulates we have in our air here. The more trees we can [plant] … to filter that air, to improve it, is a very valid thing to think about, especially with the number of kids who have asthma. There are a lot of health concerns, and I think trees can help us address some of those.”
Over the last three years, the Tree Team has partnered with the City of Portland, the Cully and Concordia neighborhood associations, Portland Public Schools, Friends of Trees, and others to help plant 90 trees at Fernhill Park, Meek Vocational School, and a site at Northeast 42nd Avenue and Lombard Street that serves as a gateway to the 42nd Avenue business district. In keeping with the Concordia Tree Plan, tree selection emphasized diversity and native species.
More recently, projects have focused on tree care and encouraging developers to help advance the goals of the Concordia Tree Plan.
“We’re looking in the future at the benefits of promoting the planting whenever possible of large native trees, as well as … introducing new species that can thrive in the area due to climate change,” said Wharton.
The Concordia Tree Team began about five years ago as a subcommittee of the Concordia Neighborhood Association’s Land Use Committee but now is semi-autonomous. It meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month at the Concordia New Seasons, 5320 N.E. 33rd Ave., and welcomes new members.