Appreciating Oregon’s trees

By Scott Fogarty
Portland, OR (April 20, 2010)- In addition to cleaning our air and water and absorbing carbon, numerous studies have calculated the value of trees to our cities. One assigned a $5 billion value to Portland’s trees. Another calculated the growth in tax revenues through increased home values at an average of $7,000 per tree, with a cumulative increase of $13,000 for neighboring homes. Plus, while the value of public assets such as roads and bridges depreciate after installation, a tree’s value appreciates during its first 20 years as growing roots and branches trap more pollutants and runoff every year.

Yet despite the numerous public benefits, urban tree planting and preservation aren’t funded in the ways that we fund our bridges and roads. This may be about to change. For the first time, the Oregon Department of Transportation is putting trees “on the books” as part of the three-year project involving ODOT Region 1, Friends of Trees and Metro to green the I-205 bike and pedestrian path known as the Multi-Use Path.
By recognizing trees as capital assets, the I-205 project secured funding through a Nature in Neighborhoods capital grant from Metro’s 2006 voter-approved natural areas bond measure. The result: Thousands of native trees and shrubs will serve the neighborhoods and cities along the path- and the entire region- for years to come. And if ODOT Region 1 succeeds in inspiring other ODOT regions to fund greening of transportation corridors, Oregon may become a model for other states.
Greening our cities and transportation corridors encourages active, healthy lifestyles, protects our drinking water and cleans our air- reducing pollutants that exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases.
It also secures jobs in Oregon’s number two agricultural industry, the nursery industry. That’s one reason Boring-based tree grower J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. has joined a budding list of local businesses supporting the I-205 greening project. Planting more trees in the “nursery state” provides jobs for arborists, city workers and others who maintain the trees’ health.
Additionally, the I-205 project paves, or greens, the way for federal funds to flow to Oregon. Last month, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who chairs the Livable Communities Task Force, introduced the Active Community Transportation Act of 2010 to help communities access funding for transportation options that reduce global warming, boost public health and create jobs.
Locally, city officials are working on the Citywide Tree Project- a multi-bureau effort to conserve and expand the urban canopy- an effort strongly supported by Mayor Sam Adams, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman and others. At a March 23 meeting, neighborhood association leaders, research scientists, citizens, homebuilders and nonprofit leaders testified before the Urban Forestry Commission and Planning Commission, with an overwhelming majority supporting the Citywide Tree Project. Clackamas County is also considering a new tree ordinance. In Eugene, Salem, Bend and elsewhere, local groups are organizing to support urban trees.
Considering trees as assets is a capital idea. It’s good for Oregon and our citizens. It’s time our state, known for its forestry industry as well as its green innovations, shows that its trees are appreciated.
Scott Fogarty is executive director of Portland-based Friends of Trees.
Related Resources:
Appreciating Oregon’s trees
2010 Green Infrastructure Summit
Friends of Trees