Portland begins proactively pruning trees in public parks for the first time in its history

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Jan. 23, 2023 2 p.m.
A large tree limb is tangled in a power line, lying across SE Ash St. near SE 20th Ave., on Feb. 16, 2021.

A large tree limb is tangled in a power line, lying across SE Ash St. near SE 20th Ave., on Feb. 16, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

The city of Portland will begin proactively maintaining its park trees — a crucial task that Parks & Recreation Bureau leaders say they couldn’t afford to do in the past.

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Portland has 1.2 million trees spread across its public parks and natural areas, including 25,000 trees in neighborhood parks. The sheer number of trees and limited staff capacity has kept city arborists from regularly pruning or doing other preventative work to ensure trees’ longevity, according to Parks leaders. Instead, they’ve focused on responding to emergencies, like removing dangling limbs or fallen trees that block roads following winter storms.

That changed with a windfall of funds from a 2020 levy, which added an estimated $48 million to Parks’ annual budget through property taxes.

Urban Forestry operations manager Paul Anderson said his department has boosted staffing by about 40%. The department’s last posted staff numbers showed 52 full-time employees in March 2021, including 35 arborists. Anderson said with the new additions, there are now enough city arborists to carefully assess and treat trees.

“It’s kind of like going in for a physical and getting a prescription and carrying out the doctor’s prescribed actions,” Anderson said. “We’ll go in and remove dead wood, lift the canopy, improve light penetration, and ensure longevity of the trees.”

Some of that work has already started. In October, staff treated about 70 trees in four parks: North Park Blocks, John Luby Park, George Himes Park and Pettygrove Park. Urban Forestry, the department within Parks & Recreation that handles trees, will continue working through one city park a month.

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