PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — This week’s heatwave is adding strain to an already stressed tree canopy in Portland.
An ice storm and heat dome in 2021 were followed up by an April snowstorm and two heat waves. Portland Parks and Recreation continues to stand up its program of proactive tree maintenance, funded by the 2020 Parks Levy, but the extreme weather has made its list of reactive tree maintenance projects longer with each event.
“Currently, maintenance of (the) park and natural area trees is reactive,” Jenn Cairo, the urban forester with Portland Parks & Recreation.
Tree maintenance relies on people informing the department about trees that they think may be hazardous. Catherine Thompson began reporting several trees after a large branch fell at the popular Shemanski Fountain in the South Park Blocks. She saw kids sitting where the tree fell a couple of weeks before.
“It’s really about safety. When someone is injured or hurt, money doesn’t undo that,” Thompson said, “You can’t undo that.”
Thompson heard back Tuesday on one of the tree reports she made on June 1st. The case had been closed and the tree branches she was concerned about, leafless branches over a sidewalk outside of a popular theatre, were left untouched.
“I don’t understand that,” Thompson said, “They have millions of trees to get to but this is such a heavily used park.”
The Park Levy created the first ever fund for proactive maintenance, but the reactive position Cairo describes comes from decades of inaction, letting more trees reach unhealthy and hazardous stages.
Cairo says, the program is intended to make a healthier, more resilient tree canopy, and removing hazardous branches can help trees achieve that, but that will take time.
“There will always be things that happen that aren’t anticipated and people will have to take care of in the moment. We’ll always have that, we’ll have less of that with proactive park tree maintenance and we’re building that program,” she said.
Cairo estimates the team has 80% of the staff needed to be fully operational and once fully staffed, the reactive maintenance will become a smaller proportion of the work the team can do, with more proactive projects.
Portland Parks and Recreation’s communication team says the department is in heat emergency response due to the heat wave.
Several types of trees in the city’s tree canopy are known to shed branches during the extreme heat.
“Branches are like our skin, things are shedding off on a regular basis,” Cairo said, “In high heat, we do see more often with limbs. A way to deal with that is proactive maintenance.”
Until teams reach a point where they are more able to take proactive maintenance, Cairo says, like any situation, people should be aware of their surroundings and pay attention to where they are walking or sitting, especially on a hot and windy day.
Portland Parks and Recreation says it relies on people to report emergency tree situations or hazardous tree branches. Those can be reported to at firstname.lastname@example.org and emergency-level branches should be referred to 503-823-TREE (8733).