Oregon Community Trees award recognizes city's efforts to ensure its urban forest provides wide range of benefits.

COURTESY PHOTO - Milwaukie's urban tree canopy is visible in the aerial view facing north from Kellogg Lake, with Portlands skyline in the background.Milwaukie has been named Oregon's Tree City of the Year for 2021, an award commending the city for the top commitment to its urban forest among communities statewide.

Oregon Community Trees President Samantha Wolf said the award is intended to highlight a city for delivering the best urban forestry practices to its residents, and each year OCT partners with Oregon Department of Forestry officials to select one of Oregon's nationally recognized Tree City USA cities for special accolades.

"Residents of Milwaukie have an improved quality of life because they live in a healthy urban forest," Wolf said. "This award recognizes the efforts the city of Milwaukie makes to ensure its urban forest continues providing a wide range of social, health and ecological benefits far into the future."

According to ODF's Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program Manager Kristin Ramstad, "Milwaukie is a fine example of what a Tree City USA can be. They have only been a Tree City USA for five years and already they've earned two Tree City USA Growth Awards for building their community forestry program."

Milwaukie's path to statewide tree-preservation honors hasn't been without its challenges. Even prior to February's ice storm that took down thousands of trees throughout the Willamette Valley, Milwaukie has faced various challenges in maintaining its tree canopy.

Ten large trees were logged last year in central Milwaukie as part of the $2 million Meek Street pipeline project, as previously reported by this newspaper. City officials replaced the large trees with 16 smaller trees as they contracted for the construction of stormwater infrastructure for a future 14-acre development.

In 2017, Mission Park's development of 14 houses at the corner of 51st Avenue and King Road committed city-identified permit violations in clearing the 2-acre forest for the subdivision. Milwaukie required 11 trees out of more than 100 in the development area to be saved as part of its conditions of approval, but Milwaukie Associate Planner Vera Kolias said the developers logged trees that didn't need to be cut to make way for the subdivision.

At the time, leaders of the Milwaukie Tree Board said the advisory body created in 2016 was still preparing a city code to protect trees on private properties within city limits. Tree board members agreed the incident was an example of where Milwaukie's tree code has fallen short, calling it "a real loss for the town." Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba agreed there needs to be a tree ordinance that protects trees on private properties in order to prevent future tragedies like Mission Park.

Gamba is now thanking Oregon Community Trees and the Oregon Department of Forestry for the 2021 Oregon Tree City of the Year recognition. State officials said that the city's work to put tree preservation and planting at the forefront of planning documents was an especially important consideration in its receiving statewide recognition.

"Milwaukie has prioritized trees in our city vision, our Climate Action Plan and our recently passed Comprehensive Plan," Gamba said. "We recognize that trees increase property values, reduce heat island effect, absorb storm water, store carbon and improve human health and well-being. We are investing, at unprecedented levels, in our tree canopy for future generations of the residents of Milwaukie."

Ramstad said Milwaukie's newly created urban forest team has worked nonstop in recent years to reach the city's canopy goal. Milwaukie city staff closely collaborate with the tree board and assist the City Council on tree actions. Milwaukie's Public Works Department newly dedicated natural resource team includes an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist to provide technical expertise and guidance.

"It's deeply gratifying that all the hard work that Peter Passarelli, our public works director, Julian Lawrence, our urban forester, and our tree board have done to preserve our existing trees and meet our goal of nearly doubling our tree canopy, has been recognized with this important award," Gamba said.

"The city has developed new urban forest webpages to provide resources and educational materials on trees to the community and to connect interested volunteers with local organizations improving habitat and ecosystems in Milwaukie," Ramstad said.

She said the city's urban forest team hosts a popular Arbor Day celebration each year, featuring tree giveaways, ceremonial tree plantings and community plantings with local organizations, such as Friends of Trees.

"Also popular on Arbor Day are tours of the city's new greenhouses, where Milwaukie's urban forester grows experimental tree species whose seeds he collected on a trip to California in search of climate-change adapted trees," Ramstad said.

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