PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland takes a lot of pride in its trees, but a recent study shows the city might need to hug those trees a little tighter – or they may begin to disappear. 

Portland officials announced tree preservation and planting efforts will remain a top priority for the city, after a Portland Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) study found urban forests have been declining in the region since 2015.

According to the Tree Canopy Monitoring Report, presented by PP&R’s Urban Forestry team to the City Council yesterday, “tree canopy in the Portland area has decreased from 30.7% in 2015 to 29.8% in 2020. That’s a net loss of an area the size of Mt. Tabor Park each year during that time period.”

PP&R said the first reported decline in Portland tree canopy was reported in 2000 — and although the report showed minor improvements between 2005 and 2015, those numbers dwindled from 2015 to 2020.

“All zoning areas, including commercial, industrial, open space and residential, recorded tree canopy loss, amounting to 823 total acres,” PP&R stated in a release Wednesday. “The most notable loss occurred in the residential zone, with tree canopy loss of 523 acres.”

Using US Forest Service methodology, PP&R was able to analyze the amount of tree canopy cover in Portland for 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2020, and found the recent loss continued despite the implementation of several tree protection projects in 2015. 

As the PP&R and Parks commissioner, Carmen Rubio responded to the report by urging the City to begin tree protection and replacement efforts immediately. 

“This important, thorough scientific study is a wake-up call for us,” Rubio said. “Trees strengthen our resilience to climate change, but they are also vulnerable to climate-change-fueled weather.”

The commissioner continued on to say we need to take concrete actions to replace the trees the city is losing and create an “equitable tree canopy that will bolster our resilience to climate change.” She stated she’ll be working with her colleagues on the Portland City Council to identify the next steps.

PP&R has said the agency will continue to update the study in the future to determine if the loss in tree canopy will persist.

However, according to PP&R Director Adena Long, “clear policy direction” will be necessary in order to address the ongoing loss of tree canopy in the city.

“PP&R will continue to care for and maintain Portland’s trees, to address hazards on City lands and public streets, and to plant more trees citywide,” Long said. “This report shows the need for continued efforts and vigilance. I’m pleased that the 2020 Parks Local Option Levy will, at last, allow the City to do proactive maintenance on some trees in parks and natural areas.”

The Parks Local Option Levy, passed by Portland voters in 2020 will allow PP&R more opportunities to protect the city’s 1.2 million park trees by granting the agency the authority to perform proactive maintenance, safety checks and hazard removal, in addition to planting new trees throughout the city’s parks. 

Based on PP&R’s 2007 Canopy Report and the City of Portland’s Climate Action Plans in 2009 and 2015, a target goal to regrow the urban forest canopy to cover one-third of the region has been set. However, PP&R said the new report may shift those plans to account for the continued loss.  

“The 2020 Tree Canopy Monitoring report provides baseline data that can be used to establish and refine canopy targets,” PP&R explained.

The department said Portland’s Urban Forest Management Plan is scheduled to be updated in coming years, which will provide an opportunity for “revising tree canopy goals, using new information on areas of potential growth to set realistic targets.”

“Well-developed tree canopy targets provide the opportunity to make deliberate and clear decisions for planning and goal setting for the future of the urban forest,” City Forester Jenn Cairo said. “We’re continuing Portland Parks & Recreation’s important work to improve tree preservation and increase tree planting. Further work on the findings of the report will be carried out independently by Metro staff and researchers from Portland State University.”

PP&R’s Tree Canopy report can be viewed here.