Portland Urban Forestry Commission Weighs In On New Tree Code

Portland, OR (June 12, 2013) – Portland has a new, updated tree code, and Meryl Redisch, Chair of Portland’s Urban Forestry Commission, weighs in with a guest commentary in the Oregonian about why it’s needed. Redisch calls the new code, and its $600,000 annual price tag, a “laudable approach to safeguard our urban forest,” with a more than $38 million return on investment. The call for a new tree code came largely from concerned citizens, moves toward a 33% canopy goal, and safeguards a $5 billion asset—the City’s trees.

Here’s the full guest editorial by Meryl Redisch, titled: “Portland’s new tree code is a wise investment in our urban forest: Guest opinion,” from The Oregonian (June 12, 2013)

The Oregonian’s June 3 editorial “Portland’s Cadillac tree code” proposes a very costly venture for Portland. It is costly in terms of government spending, disappointed residents and reduced future viability of our city. The editorial’s call for revising the city’s new tree code for the sake of “frugality and regulatory restraint” does not take into account the reasons for the code update, the investments already made in its creation and the new code’s laudable approach to safeguard our urban forest.

Building the new tree code involved more than five years of work, city resources and community participation. The explicit goals set by citizen stakeholders for developing a new code were to streamline regulations, improve customer service, protect trees better during development and in general, and ensure compliance. The new code meets those goals, providing a basic “safety net” for trees, rather than a “Cadillac” plan. It is supported by diverse interests citywide. “Reconsidering the entire enterprise,” as the editorial suggests, would throw away the city’s investment and these needed improvements before they’ve even been used once. Rather than frugal, that would be foolish.

The call for a new tree code originated not with any city bureau or the City Council, but from concerned citizens in a citywide grass-roots effort. Neighborhood associations, arborists, individuals and groups representing homebuilders, industrial property owners and environmental interests spent more than 1,000 hours helping to create the new code, and many other residents participated in seven months of public hearings. The policies and code were adopted unanimously. And to its credit, the City Council’s support remains strong. After adopting a no-frills improvement package and then responsibly deferring implementation during recent lean times, the council has now called for a report before the end of the year detailing and looking to expedite implementation. We look forward to seeing the council follow through.

We are fortunate that Portland’s forest canopy, unlike most in the United States, has grown over the past several years, and we have our citizen stakeholders and city government to thank for that. But our goals of 33 percent tree cover and protecting large, healthy trees are still not met, and there is good reason to be concerned. With more people moving to Portland and the economic upswing increasing development, without the improvements of the new code we will lose what we’ve gained, if not more.

The editorial suggests that investing $600,000 per year ongoing is wasting public dollars. On the contrary, each year Portlanders enjoy more than $38 million in services such as clean air and clean water, fish and bird habitat, shade and windbreaks, more livable neighborhoods and increased home prices courtesy of our urban forest. Our urban tree canopy is a $5 billion asset that needs to be well-cared-for and protected — for what would Portland be without trees?

For a modest cost, we’re getting a real bargain.

Meryl Redisch is Chair of Portland’s Uban Forestry Commission and the executive director of the Audubon Society of Portland

Source: “Portland’s new tree code is a wise investment in our urban forest: Guest opinion,” from The Oregonian (June 12, 2013)

Related Resource
Portland Citywide Tree Regulatory Improvement Project
Friends of Trees (Portland, OR)