Portland's large trees are a community resource (OPINION) – OregonLive.com
By Robert “Bobbo” Bernstein
Unlike The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial, “Nuts about trees,” I have no pictures of homebuilders or the editors in costumes to accompany my post. I viewed the editorial’s use of “frogman’s” photo as an affront to the many Portland residents who care deeply about this town’s trees by giving testimony and attending meetings, some risking bodily harm. I don’t judge based on appearance. If someone in a clown suit tells me two plus two equals four, he’s still correct and likely not a nut. ‘Nuff said.
The proposal, and that’s all it was, was to add short-term protections for our largest trees — those over 48 inches in diameter. From this year’s data, this would have affected merely two-tenths of 1 percent tree removals. At this very meager attempt to staunch the cutting, four members of the Tree Project Oversight Advisory Committee balked and walked. Had they mistaken the negotiation table for a banquet?
Truly, Portland has more trees than other places. That is as much a statement about other places as it is about Portland. Nor should this be a source of pride, as we have done little to make it so. Until recently, Portland has not had to deal with heavy development pressures, so it maintained a goodly number of remnant second-growth and older residential or park plantings.
Now, these pressures are real and pressing. The correct issue to focus on is how we maintain our tree canopy.
The tree canopy is daily under assault, even while it gives us shade in a warming climate, habitat for songbirds and the oxygen we breathe. It buffers traffic noise, slows stormwater runoff, improves our well-being and raises our home values. Portlanders have rightly noticed the loss of this canopy. The footprint of a big tree extends past the property from which it grows. They are a community resource. Many jurisdictions do far better at protecting trees. We allow ridiculously low mitigation for the loss of big trees. Cut down a 150-year-old sequoia and pay a pittance to replace it elsewhere, with a couple of ornamental saplings. It boggles one’s mind to think these are of equal benefit.
Many of Portland’s trees are being removed for homes that do nothing to increase our density. Just look at the modest single-family homes torn down for lavish single family homes. Others are cut to maximize profits or to allow use of “cookie-cutter” designs. Some fall victim to building or lot requirements. To the Tree Project Oversight Advisory Committee’s credit, these are being given scrutiny.
It’s flawed reasoning to think that Portland, by developing more and more housing, will in turn lower home prices. This would most likely occur in a “closed system” where you have 100 folks coming in, and you build for 110. Sadly, this is not the case. There is such huge demand from people with money that it won’t level off until we become as pricey or ugly as elsewhere. Even with all the recent development, prices have not come down or stabilized. Big money is being made at the expense of affordability and livability.
We current residents subsidize development and we should have our say. Rather than choosing to act like a good neighbor, one large developer has blamed the lax laws for the cutting of trees. Got it! Change the laws.
We’d best protect what we can and bring Portland closer to its stated goals to “protect, preserve, restore, and expand Portland s urban forest,” to avoid cutting if possible and to mitigate fully.
There are creative architects and builders who attend to the landscape and listen to neighborhoods. They should be seated at this table.
Robert “Bobbo” Bernstein lives in Southeast Portland.