Did you know that every tree you see in Portland between the street and a curb is meticulously counted and catalogued? So why exactly does the city count trees? And why are street trees so important in an urban setting like Sullivan’s Gulch?
To learn more about this, we spoke with Jack Frewing, a Sullivan’s Gulch resident who worked on the tree inventory. But before that, we found out a little more about Jack, a resident at Holladay Park Plaza:
"I was a nuclear engineering manager at PG&E until I retired a few years ago. I’ve been interested in neighborhood issues wherever I have lived — Eastmoreland, Tigard and now here. I’ve also always had a strong interest in Oregon water issues, and was a member of the Oregon Water Resources Board in the 90’s.
I was also a board member and treasurer for Ride Trimet in the ‘80s, and am passionate about the Owyhee Canyon wilderness study areas. My job post-retirement has been as president of the Oregon Independent College Foundation, a business fundraising body for ten schools (Reed, Concordia, Linfield, Lewis & Clark, Univ of Portland, etc).
I’ve lived in Sullivan’s Gulch for four years. I like that the Gulch has so many trees, yet still feels like an urban setting. I really value that the homes here are mostly quite old, and that there’s lots of diversity, interesting shops, and friendly people.
I learned about the inventory from a friend who had done a similar project in Sellwood. I had just been elected to the board of the Sullivan’s Gulch Neighborhood Association and thought that the inventory was one thing I could actually do without needing approval from the city bureaus (but with a lot of volunteer help).
I knew a few tree species from my days as a Boy Scout, but had no idea of the benefits of trees, the criteria for planting new street trees—street trees are defined as those those between the sidewalk and the curb—or of the city’s huge efforts to increase canopy cover for all of Portland.
It took several weekend mornings to get the initial instructions and tree identification training, and then several more to complete the inventory in teams of three. We were assisted by specialists—both volunteers and Portland Urban Forestry staff—when we found a tree that we couldn’t identify. Following the measurement and data collection, some of us entered the data at the Portland Urban Forestry offices and then participated in other neighborhoods’ inventory efforts as well.
Through the inventory process I learned that evergreen trees are not common street trees and that many more are needed to add to the diversity of trees in Portland. Diversity is important mainly because it protects our city’s tree cover against diseases which will likely attack the common trees some day. We also need a city program to finance the maintenance and removal/replacement of older trees that are crowding the sidewalk, because there’s little chance that a homeowner can afford to pay $4,000 to remove a beautiful old tree.
I found that getting people to talk about their own or their neighbors’ trees is a great conversation starter! Having the tree data for the entire neighborhood makes it possible for me to reasonably suggest tree types that should be planted in open spaces. Speakers from the Portland Urban Forestry office also lectured our volunteer group on the history of trees in Portland, on winter tree identification, and on the need for appropriate pruning of young trees."
Get Involved: Portland’s Urban Forestry Department
While street trees are only one component of Portland’s urban forest, they are particularly important because they are the trees that residents interact with most. Having adequate information about the street tree population allows a community to make informed decisions about species selection, planting, and maintenance priorities.
Information on the location, condition, and diversity of the street tree population enables our communities to steward this resource and ensure its continued benefits into the future. Undertaking a street tree inventory is not only an investment in the current and future well-being of the trees, but in the community itself.
If you’re interested in learning more about the urban forestry efforts in Sullivan’s Gulch (and other neighborhoods), you’ll find an event calendar of tree walks and workshops right here.