PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A years-long partnership between the City of Portland and a local non-profit is coming to an end, and with it, thousands of street trees taking root throughout the city, according to the non-profit.

Friends of Trees has helped the city plant more than 40,000 trees, especially in low-income and low-canopy areas and while they understand the city’s choice to end their contract, they say it’s disappointing and worry about the future of tree planting as climate change remains top of mind.

“With the heat wave we saw last year in East Portland and those low-canopy neighborhoods, it’s all hands-on deck right now,” said Yashar Vasef, executive director of Friends of Trees. 

Vasef added “we really believe in bringing the community together to steward climate advocates and to really have more community investment buy-in trees that we see in our neighborhoods.”

Through a years-long contract with Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (BES), Friends of Trees rallied community members to plant more than 40,000 trees around the metro since 2008.

Now, BES says that contract won’t renew because Portland Parks and Recreation has launched its own street tree planting program through the Urban Forestry Division.

But Friends of Trees says it’s a much lower scale, only around 130 trees over the past two years.

“The way it works is they tell us, they give us a list at the beginning of planting season of where we can go and plant. It’s not a community model. They’ve asked us not to use volunteers, it’s in the contract,” said Vasef. “It’s an opt-out model where the homeowner, it’s on them to opt out of getting that tree where our approach is opt-in. We want people to say yes to trees and we guide them through the process.”

Parks and Rec says their five-year contract with Friends of Trees is still active, but as this month brings the two-year planting plan to a close, the next three years of the contract is primarily watering and care.

With no clear plans for other tree planting and a growing focus on climate change and recent heat waves, the non-profit says it’s concerning.

“The question that we’re asking is why would this be a time to step back from planting more trees,” said Vasef. “There are resources in the community like Friends of Trees and other organizations that are at the ready and can activate thousands of community members to join the city in this work.”

It’s a question KOIN 6 News has also asked the city. Still, Friends of Trees says they’re not going anywhere and will continue planting the seed of community tree projects across the region.

“We do have growing support from roughly 30 municipalities in the region from Eugene to Southwest Washington so we’re going to continue to do our thing,” said Vasef.

KOIN 6 News also reached out to the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services to see what the plans are to either replace those tree-planting services or how they will adjust without them. Their Community Partnerships Manager is looking into it.

In a statement, the Bureau of Environmental Services said “The Bureau of Environmental Services (BES) has held multiple contracts with Friends of Trees, focused on planting street trees throughout the city. The most recent contract was a five-year contract set to expire at the end of 2021. The end of this contract coincided with the development of a street tree planting program by the Urban Forestry division at Portland Parks and Recreation. This program included an on-call contract between Urban Forestry and Friends of Trees.

BES added “With Urban Forestry’s new commitment to street tree plantings, BES saw an opportunity to shift its tree planting focus to private property, specifically commercial, industrial, and multifamily properties. The positive responses BES received from partnering business and property owners has been heartwarming – they are just as dedicated to the tree canopy and climate resilience as BES. To ensure a smooth transition of planting efforts from the right-of-way (street trees) to private property, BES extended the 5-year contract with Friends of Trees, adding $675,000 and moving the end date to June 30, 2022. Friends of Trees is anticipated to earn the full amount in their contract. BES is passionate about ensuring a healthy watershed for our community and recognizes the tree canopy is integral to those goals.”

In a statement, Portland Parks and Recreation said “Friends of Trees currently has an active five-year contract with Portland Parks & Recreation, now in its second year. The contract is to plant trees and provide three years of watering and establishment care. Friends of Trees was allocated $139,000.00 for this tree planting season, which they have not fully utilized. They are eligible to provide up to $1 million in contracted on-call services annually, under this contract with PP&R.”