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Portland part of global tree planting movement

Portland part of global tree planting movement

Ethiopians planted 350 million trees in a single day this past July. Ireland has committed to planting 440 million trees over the next two decades. New Zealand aims to plant 1 billion trees by 2028. Pakistan, after decades of deforestation, plans to plant 10 billion trees over five years. And in the world’s first-ever telethon for the climate, Denmark raised enough money in September to plant close to 1 million trees.

Many of these ambitious tree-planting efforts follow a study published in Science magazine in July. Its authors argued that if hundr of billions of trees were planted around the world on available land outside agriculture and urban areas, they could capture 205 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That’s equal to two-thirds of human-caused carbon emissions. Thus, they concluded that global tree restoration is the “most effective climate change solution to date.”  

The study has been criticized for over-simplifying the climate crisis, with climate scientists saying planting trees is no substitute for lowering emissions and policy experts arguing that not all deforested-land owners are going to be open to using their property for carbon sequestration. Nevertheless, trees do absorb carbon, and worldwide, people are planting them for that reason. 

Several companies and nonprofits have also made pledges: Timberland shoes plans to plant 5 million trees over the next five years, search engine Ecosia used its profits to plant more than 70 million trees over the past decade, Woodland Trust is calling on people in the U.K. to plant 1 million trees on Nov. 1, and through the Trillion Tree Campaign app, the Plant-for-the-Planet Initiative has planted 13.6 billion trees and counting.

Many U.S. cities are also digging in with tree-planting plans of their own, and Portland is no exception. 

Among its bureaus, the city of Portland plants approximately 2,000 street trees, 1,000 yard trees, 300 trees in parks and at schools and thousands in natural restoration areas each year, with an annual tree-planting budget of about $1.5 million to $2 million, said Angie DiSalvo, Parks Recreation’s urban forestry outreach and science supervisor.

This month, Portland Parks Recreation is giving away 750 trees for planting in residential areas as part of its canopy expansion plan.

While Portland has long been a tree loving community – its first Arbor Day celebration dates back to the late 1800s, and it was one of the first cities in the nation to receive the Tree City USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation – not all of its residents enjoy its tree canopy equally.

Depending on where you live and work in the city, you may be breathing fresh air under lush groves of towering trees, or you might be sweating it out on a concrete heat island swirling with diesel particulates. 

That’s because while some neighborhoods, such as Markham, Mount Tabor, Southwest Hills and Woodstock have more than 90% tree coverage in their residential areas, others, such as St. Johns, Brooklyn and Arlington Heights, have less than 20% coverage. In industrial and commercial zones, the tree canopy in many areas barely casts a shadow, with less than 5% coverage. 

This is according to a study of Portland’s tree canopy growth potential the Parks Recreation department released early last year. 

In 2004, the city set a goal of 33.3% total canopy coverage, and when the canopy was last analyzed in 2015, it was nearing the finish line with 30.7% total coverage.

But that goal is due for an update, DiSalvo said.

Portland could achieve over 52% canopy,” she told Street Roots. “The biggest challenge is how that canopy is distributed.”

She said while neighborhoods west of the Willamette River already enjoy 56% coverage, East Portland has only 21%. 

“When we look at maps of data of where trees are, they really correspond with areas where people have higher levels of income,” said Clare Carney, outreach and stewardship coordinator for the Urban Forestry department at Portland Parks Recreation. 

Carney said areas with less tree canopy correspond with areas of the city that are lower income, “and also places where you have vulnerable populations, whether they’re young, whether they’re elderly, new immigrants, new Portlanders – they are in those areas that have lower access to trees, and we as a municipality, we see trees as a service that’s essential to folks who live in the city. They provide all these great necessities and services and benefits that folks really need, and improve the quality of life.”

Her colleague in the Urban Forestry department, Community Tree Planting Specialist Molly Wilson, explained that in addition to sucking carbon out of the air, trees clean the air and water, provide shade that cools homes in the summer and serve as habitat for wildlife. 

“Studies have shown trees reduce crime, they slow traffic, and they can buffer noise if you live near a busy road,” Wilson said.

FURTHER READING: Portland’s hot spots: Urban heat islands pose threat to lower-income residents

With clogged freeways and expansive industrial areas, Carney said, trees could benefit residents of East Portland by mitigating air pollution and improving quality of life

That’s why her department has pinpointed that part of the city, as well as St. Johns, for its third annual Yard Tree Giveaway event series during October and November. The city is giving away 750 trees in 14 different species. While that’s 250 more trees than the city gave away in 2018, all the trees have already been reserved. 

However, unclaimed trees will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis on site following the events. If last year is any indication, plenty of trees will be up for grabs.

A certified arborist will be at each giveaway, where Portlanders can also learn how to plant a tree and what species of tree might be best for their yard. Information will also be available at Portland’s Arbor Day celebration at East Holladay Park from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 12. There, tree-planting experts in Portland Parks Recreation Urban Forestry department will be planting nine new trees and promoting local tree planting. (See the full list of events below.)

This is the first year Portland is celebrating Arbor Day in October. It was moved from April because, due to climate change, trees planted in spring are no longer faring as well as trees planted between October and March, when there is more rain. 

Climate change is a really big thing for us right now,” said Carney, pointing to the recent Climate Strike. 

“A really big action folks can do right now if they’re feeling bolstered by this call to action,” she said, “is to plant trees, because that’s one of the best ways we can mitigate a lot of the effects of climate change.”


Portland Arbor Day Tree Planting Celebration
Learn how to properly plant a tree
Saturday, Oct. 12
10 a.m. to Noon
East Holladay Park
12999 NE Holladay St.

Portland Yard Tree Giveaways
While all trees have been reserved, non-claimed trees will be given away on a first come, first serve basis starting at 1 p.m. following each event. A certified arborist will be onsite to answer all your treed-planting questions, whether you’ve reserved a tree or not.

Gateway Discovery Park 
Saturday, Oct. 19
10 a.m. to Noon 
Unclaimed trees available starting at 1 p.m.
10520 NE Halsey St. 

Parklane Park
Saturday, Nov. 2 
10 a.m. to Noon 
Unclaimed trees available starting at 1 p.m.
SE 155th Avenue Main Street

Cathedral Park 
Saturday, Nov. 16
10 a.m. to Noon
Unclaimed trees available starting at 1 p.m.
6635 N Baltimore Ave.

Learn more at portlandoregon.gov/parks/73498


Large growing and long-lived evergreen species are best for storing carbon. They sequester the most carbon over their lifetime and photosynthesize year-round. Trees such as Douglas fir, giant sequoia, ponderosa pine and coast redwoods are the “real winners for carbon sequestration,” said Angie DeSalvo, the outreach and science supervisor in the Urban Forestry department at Portland Parks Recreation. 


A recent study found the U.S. and Canada have lost nearly 3 billion birds since 1970, and it’s due in part to loss of habitat. You can help by planting native trees, which according to experts in Portland Parks Recreation’s Urban Forestry department, are great for supporting birds and other local species. Oaks are especially beneficial because they host the most Lepidoptera – bugs that birds like to eat such as caterpillars, moths and butterflies. Additionally, the berries found on female black tupelo trees are eaten by many bird species. 


Sign up with local nonprofit Friends of Trees to get your city-approved yard or roadside tree, sourced from a local tree farm. Trees are $35 each, or available for free through the organization’s scholarship fund for low-income tree planters. You can also find video instructions on how to plant your tree on its website, friendsoftrees.org.


Trees that Portland Parks Recreation chose for its tree giveaway are all good options for Portland’s canopy. They were chosen based on their environmental benefits and ability to thrive in Portland’s climate.

Large trees
Dawn redwood
Willamette Valley ponderosa pine
Douglas fir
Swamp white oak
Oregon white oak
Giant sequoia
Aptos blue coast redwood
Autumn Gold ginkgo

Medium trees
American hornbeam
Purple beech
Shore pine
Black tupelo
Vanderwolf’s pyramid limber pine
Emerald Sunshine elm


Tree Design

You can estimate the benefits of different tree species and model canopy growth based on your address with the U.S. Forest Service online tool, i-Tree. Visit design.itreetools.org

Start a project

You can register your own reforestation project with tree-nation, which will track your personal CO2 emissions offset. Visit tree-nation.com

Plant a tree for $1

The nonprofit One Tree Planted will plant a tree in one of its reforestation project areas when you donate $1. It maintains a tree survival rate of 80% to 90%. Visit onetreeplanted.org

Plant while clicking

Ecosia is available as a search engine and as an extension you can add to another search engine, such as Google. It uses the money generated from search ads to plant trees. Visit ecosia.org

Join a tree-planting campaign

You can register your workplace, school or just yourself with Plant-for-the-Planet’s Trillion Tree Campaign. You can donate to existing reforestation projects or start your own. Visit trilliontreecampaign.org

Join the Arbor Day Foundation

With a membership, starting at $10, you can select one of the following gifts: 10 free trees for yourself or a friend, 10 trees planted in a rainforest or 10 trees planted in a U.S. forest. Visit arborday.org 

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