Officials say urban development, particularly in East Vancouver, Wash., is to blame for the city’s shrinking tree canopy.
By 2030, Vancouver Urban Forestry hopes to boost the city’s tree canopy — the portion of land covered by tree crowns — by nearly 10 percent.
“Our canopy is only 18.4 percent. The canopy cover of a typical Pacific Northwest city should be 40 percent,” said Emma Stammer, the Vancouver Neighborhood Trees coordinator with the nonprofit Friends of Trees. “All of the cities, especially in the Pacific Northwest, are looking to increase their canopy.”
Stammer said urban development, particularly in East Vancouver, is to blame for the city’s shrinking canopy.
Urban canopy cover has many benefits, she said. It improves air and water quality, lowers people’s stress, decreases energy costs, provides wildlife habitat and increases property values.
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“It also comes down to aesthetics,” Stammer said. People like to see trees lining city streets.
That’s where Friends of Trees comes in.
The nonprofit works with neighbors to plant trees in urban spaces, and has planted more than 500,000 trees and native shrubs in the Portland metro area over the past 26 years. Although Friends of Trees has planted in Vancouver for the past 12 years, the organization wants to expand its program and bring more awareness to residents.
Four times a year, with a cycle beginning in November, volunteers set out to different areas of Vancouver to help plant trees.
Homeowners buy discounted trees through the nonprofit’s Neighborhood Trees program and then plant them during the designated planting event for their neighborhood.
Friends of Trees matches the purchased trees with the appropriate places to plant, takes care of the planting permits and hole-digging, and provides all of the necessary tools. Trained crew leaders also guide volunteers at the planting events.
“It’s a really great community-building event, and a chance to meet your neighbors,” Stammer said. “Improving the canopy is just like the cherry on top of everything.”
Cynthia Thornton-Tang, program coordinator for the Lincoln neighborhood, said she joined the program in 2008 after her son, who was in high school at the time, began volunteering.
“I was impressed by what was being done, so I volunteered,” she said. “I just wanted to help get more trees around.”
Apart from helping to improve the environment, Thornton-Tang said she was impressed by the way the program helps build community.
“It just makes it a more beautiful place. It makes it so people want to be outside and meeting each other,” she said.
However, the best part, she said, is that volunteers get to see the difference they’ve made.
“At the end, you will see all of these little trees with signs on them around the neighborhood. Over the years, you will see those trees and they will be growing,” Thornton-Tang said.
During the program’s last planting season — November 2014 to spring 2015 — 328 volunteers planted 358 trees in Vancouver. The program is aiming higher this planting season and is off to a good start. More than 100 volunteers planted 77 trees in southeast Vancouver in November.
The next planting event is Jan. 16 and will cover central Vancouver. About 12 crew leaders have signed up, Stammer said, but it’s unclear how many volunteers will serve with each crew because people can sign up individually or in groups.
People have already ordered 150 trees and each crew plants no more than 10, she said, so the more volunteers, the better.
Volunteers do not have to live in central Vancouver neighborhoods to participate.
“Anyone can help. We are improving Vancouver as a whole,” Stammer said.