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Planting Roots in the Community

John Henshell magazine article sample

We live in an era and area where developments are named after what was removed to make room for them. In the five-county Portland area, trees are lost to development, age, disease, and weather damage. To help restore the environmental health and natural beauty of our region, 3,850 Friends of Trees volunteers planted more than 30,000 trees in the past year.

Friends of Trees, a volunteer-based nonprofit organization, is leading a five-year tree planting campaign to restore our urban forest. The goal of the campaign, called “Seed the Future,” is to plant 144,000 trees and seedlings by April 2001. Director of Development and Communications, Sheryl Sackman, says, “Seed the Future is leaving a legacy of urban trees for future generations.” She is very appreciative of the community support from volunteers, members, businesses, and public agencies. Sponsors, including Portland General Electric, Bank of America, Fred Meyer, Teleport Internet Service, and Safeco Insurance, contribute more than financial support: they also encourage their employees to volunteer. The Oregonian and “Rosie 105” contribute space and time, respectively, for publicity.

Friends of Trees recruits and trains volunteers who learn which trees are appropriate to plant in specific locations, how to plant and care for them, and how to solve problems. Lin Harmon-Walker, who recently retired from the Executive Director position, says, “We can use shovels, hoes, and determination to transform our small part of the world, one tree at a time.” Typically, neighbors and a trained volunteer crew leader gather on Saturday mornings. When the planting activity is in Portland, the city’s Urban Forestry department provides a list of approved trees and locations. The volunteers plant trees and seedlings in neighborhoods, business districts, school grounds, and urban natural areas.

Businesses, individuals, and local organizations compose the membership of Friends of Trees. The paid staff of six professionals provides technical support to the community, coordinates and trains volunteers, publicizes programs, develops and coordinates sponsorships, and organizes a speakers bureau for classes and community groups. Technical support includes answering questions on the telephone and producing helpful materials about topics such as pruning and topping trees and choosing an arborist. The Friends’ Web site ( is also an information resource. Check the site to learn about recent activities, volunteer opportunities, and scheduled plantings.

Portland itself has spaces for more than 100,000 street trees. Government agencies lack the resources to plant all those trees, which creates the need for a non-profit organization like Friends of Trees to dig and fill the holes.

As urban trees live an average of 32 years, and rural trees live an average of 150 years, Friends of Trees slogan, “Our urban trees need all the friends they can get,” is no exaggeration. Friends of Trees engage in many activities to help existing and new trees exceed the average life span. The organization’s “Tree Team” consists of about 80 trained volunteers who evaluate trees and make recommendations to the owners.

Friends of Trees partners with many government agencies, including the city of Portland, Metro, and the U.S. Forest Service to coordinate restoration projects in natural areas such as Johnson Creek, the Sandy River delta, and Forest Park. New and healthy trees contribute to cleaner water and air, and erosion control. Volunteers also weed, water, and mulch the natural areas. They try to undo some of the damage caused by human and natural invasions such as grazing and overgrown blackberry vines. Restoring streamside and upland areas is a long-term goal. Volunteers are often assisted by youth community service workers. On Earth Day, 1999 nearly 200 students and teachers worked to restore Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and plant trees in Sellwood Park.

Few volunteer activities offer the variety and duration of rewards gained from planting trees. People get to meet neighbors they don’t already know, have fun while getting exercise, improve the ecosystem, and enjoy a more beautiful area. Volunteers also learn about trees and ecology. Volunteer Susan Landauer’s relationship with Friends of Trees began when she inquired about a street tree for her home. She has coordinated three neighborhood tree-planting projects, helps to monitor street tree health, staffs information tables, and assists in the office.

Friends of Trees’ roots go back just a decade. Since Richard Seidman founded the organization, they have already contributed to more than 130,000 trees taking root in the Portland area. New Executive Director, Jane Foreman, is now leading Friends of Trees’ efforts to improve the environment and build stronger communities. She asserts, “Volunteers are essential in helping us grow a flourishing urban forest and strengthening neighborhoods throughout the Portland metropolitan area.”


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