Armed with clipboards, guidebooks and measuring tapes, a small army of volunteers in yellow safety vests spread out around the Overlook neighborhood on the morning of Saturday, June 25. Their mission? To make sure that every street tree in the area had the opportunity to stand and be counted as part of Portland Parks and Recreation’s Tree Inventory project.

The inventory, which is a collaboration between Urban Forestry and neighborhood volunteers, will take place in five Portland neighborhoods (Sellwood-Moreland, Eastmoreland, Kenton, Overlook, and St Johns). During a series of workdays taking place over the course of the summer, participants will canvas the designated neighborhoods, effectively conducting a census of the estimated 25,000 trees that line the neighborhoods’ streets.

Volunteers Matt Zilliox, a self-described “tree dork,” and Vinny Parisi, the inventory coordinator for the Overlook neighborhood, demonstrated the process. Moving methodically down the block, they stopped in front of each tree, noting the species and location in a log book. After measuring the diameter, they recorded additional notes about the size, health, and presence of high-voltage power lines.

According to Parisi, one of the major goals of the inventory is to gather more information about species diversity in the urban canopy. A forest with a wider variety of trees is less susceptible to pests and blights, and thus it is more stable. By making determinations about the health and quantity of each type of tree, Urban Forestry experts will be able to give residents better recommendations for future planting and stewardship.

Volunteers Julie and Rodger Hedges check the health of each tree.
Photo: Natalie St John

Once the inventory is complete, experts at Urban Forestry will analyze the data and use their findings to help each neighborhood association create a “neighborhood stewardship plan.” This plan will help ensure that residents are planting trees that are appropriate for the neighborhood and the available space.

Only “street trees,” those growing between the sidewalk and the curb, will be counted as part of the inventory, explains Angie DiSalvo, a botanic specialist with Portland Parks and Recreation.

While these trees grow in the public right of way, many residents of Portland do not realize that the responsibility for caring for a tree in the planting strip falls to the adjacent property owner.

By engaging community members in the process of looking after the trees, the City of Portland hopes to engender a stronger sense of stewardship for the city’s urban canopy.

“The city is realizing that they don’t have the budget to care for the trees alone, so they’re hoping by empowering residents to know what to do, they’ll actually come out and take care of the trees,” explains Parisi.

There are many compelling reasons for residents to get involved in the project, according to Matt Zilliox. In addition to being essential to the environmental health of the city—trees reduce runoff in the watershed and remove carbon from the air—fostering the city’s canopy also contributes directly to the beauty of the neighborhood. But most importantly, “It’s fun,” Zilliox says. “You get to meet your neighbors and take a nice walk on a sunny Saturday morning. There’s no cost at all. it’s all benefit.”

Portland Parks and Recreation still seeks volunteers to participate in upcoming workdays. Those who are interested can find a schedule and more information by visiting the website or by contacting Danielle Fuchs or Angie DiSalvo at 503.823.4484.