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'Why now?' City of Portland ending longtime partnership with Friends of Trees to plant trees along streets

After 14 years, Friends of Trees can no longer help neighbors plant trees in city-owned parking strips; the city said it's planning its own planting programs.

PORTLAND, Oregon — For decades, Friends of Trees has brought communities together while making Portland greener. Since 1989, they’ve helped neighbors plant 40,000 trees along Portland streets, most on the city’s eastside and in lower-income areas. But their role in Portland is changing.

After this spring, the city of Portland will no longer contract with Friends of Trees on its well-known program that has been running since 2008. Because of that, the nonprofit said it's losing about $1 million in funding from the city and will no longer lead efforts to plant trees in parking strips.

“It's kind of an end of an era,” said Friends of Trees Executive Director Yashar Vasef. “We're not saying we deserve that funding but what we're curious about is, why now? In terms of climate change and the heat dome we saw last year and the tragic outcomes there.”

By email, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Environmental Services told KGW the city is developing a street planting program through Portland Parks & Recreation. They also said they’re focusing on planting trees on private and commercial properties.

“BES is passionate about ensuring a healthy watershed for our community and recognizes the tree canopy is integral to those goals,” the statement said.

RELATED: Study finds Portland lost more than 800 acres of tree canopy in five years

Portland Parks and Recreation still has a separate contract with Friends of Trees for other tree care in the city. That contract runs for five years and is currently in its second year. 

Environmental experts, including Portland State University professor Vivek Shandas, have found that tree canopies can mitigate the effects of climate change on cities. During last summer's heat dome, Shandas measured the temperature in different parts of Portland. He found that areas with more trees stayed cooler.

“What we saw in this neighborhood of Lents [on Portland’s eastside] was a temperature reading of 125 degrees, and 99 degrees in Northwest Portland,” Shandas said.

RELATED: Experts detail Oregon forest damage in aftermath of June heat dome; long term effects unknown

Without partnering with Friends of Trees, Portlanders can still plant trees in their parking strips. However, they'll need to go through the city for a permit and will likely pay much more for a tree than the $35 Friends of Trees charged.

“We just encourage the city to actively continue perusing partnerships with community organizations that activate the community,” Vasef said.

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