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“Logging sparks neighborhood revolt” was a headline in the Dec. 17 issue of the Clackamas Review. But it could have run in many of the Pamplin Media Group newspapers last year, including the Portland Tribune.


The headline was about local reaction to the owner of the Riverbend Mobile Home Park in Clackamas clear-cutting more than 100 old-growth Douglas fir trees because of “a concern for safety due to recent large limb failures resulting in property damage.” In Portland, most such stories concerned neighbors pushing back against trees being cut for infill residential developments.

Perhaps the biggest tree fight in the city ended when neighbors agreed to buy a lot with giant sequoia trees from a developer in Southeast Portland for $900,000. Demonstrators included a tree sitter and a ragtag group calling themselves the Ewok Village. Among their supporters was “South Park” co-creator Matt Stone.

But threats to trees sparked protests in other parts of town throughout the year, too, as well as a yet-to-be-completed rewrite of the city’s tree code. Developers responded that they are only trying to meet the growing demand for new homes in popular inner neighborhoods — spurred in part by a lack of available building lots within the urban growth boundary.

Portland tree-related controversies will continue into 2016. A group has formed in Southwest Portland to oppose Macadam Ridge, a 46-home subdivision planned in a wooded area above Southwest Macadam Avenue just north of Southwest Terwilliger Boulevard. Among the reasons listed for opposing the project: It will result in the removal of 800 trees.

Back in Clackamas County, many Jennings Lodge residents celebrated in November when Hearings Officer Fred Wilson denied a developer’s bid to clear-cut hundreds of old-growth trees to build 72 homes on the 17-acre former evangelical site. But the developer appealed Wilson’s decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals, and also submitted plans to build 62 homes on the site, thereby not requiring a zoning change.

Having heard many ideas regarding alternative uses for the site, Karen Bjorklund, chair of the Jennings Lodge Community Planning Organization, is hoping for a way to create a development that could contribute to and be an integral part of the existing community.

“Opportunities continue for us to work toward the kind of future where everyone wins,” Bjorklund said.

Trees became a hot issue in 2015 in part because development is returning with the end of the Great Recession. While developers have clear-cut before, the latest round in the fight to save trees comes with increased public concern for climate change and awareness of how trees could stem the tide against global warming.

Sue Conachan of Oak Grove expressed her sadness over this year’s clear-cutting of 78 mature oak trees for the development of 33 homes along Concord Road near McLoughlin Boulevard. Clackamas County approved the tree cutting in 2011, but the development was on hold due to the economy.

“Trees clean the air for us. Houses and pavement don’t clean the air for us,” Conachan said. “And replanting a few new small young trees is not the same as big mature trees.”

With the economy picking up, Happy Valley is now considering the largest development in its recent history, a controversial 600-home subdivision near Scouters Mountain Nature Park. At its Dec. 1 meeting, the City Council delayed making a final decision on the proposed Scouters Mountain project to receive more written testimony and will reconvene on the matter Feb. 2.

Current regional plans and local development codes can’t compel the developer, Scouters Mountain LLC, to preserve intact wildlife corridors. In 2005 the Metro Council decided to provide no regulatory protection for even the highest value regionally significant habitat such as Scouters Mountain. While the 2008 collapse of the housing market reduced the immediate habitat threats, the return of the housing market brings a return of environmental impacts from development.

“Developments like that proposed by Scouters Mountain LLC will likely grow more frequent as the housing market recovers,” Jim Labbe, urban conservationist for the Audubon Society of Portland, wrote to the council, urging better codes to protect trees and urban wildlife habitat.

In Hillsboro, public objections to cutting large sequoia trees for a new Walmart and other trees along Jackson School Road made news. But a developer compromised with neighbors, preserving and protecting two of three beloved white oak trees when building the Orenco Station Plaza over the summer.

In Beaverton, the school district was forced to defend removing two large sequoia trees to remodel Vose Elementary School.

“That’s the only place to put (the entrance), unfortunately,” said Aaron Boyle, the district’s project manager. Officials will study whether the wood from those trees can be incorporated into the new school in some way, he added.

As it turns out, even when someone repeatedly violates tree codes in the region, sometimes the consequences are surprisingly lax.

On Dec. 15, the Oregon City School District hired someone without a city business license to cut down some large, healthy trees behind a shuttered elementary school. After a warning from a code enforcement officer, Fred’s Quality Tree Care went to City Hall for the permit and was able to continue cutting.

Although a district committee is considering the future of the Barclay Elementary School property and it’s likely that the site will see development, tree-cutting restrictions wouldn’t take effect until the district or a developer buying the site submits a formal land-use application.

While developments and clear-cutting will always be controversial, sometimes public agencies find ways to make some lemonade out of those lemons.

In order to build the light rail line to Milwaukie and Oak Grove that opened in September, TriMet had to cut down 850 trees. In addition to replanting 3,325 trees, TriMet developed a program to recruit and commission artists who work with wood, who were then invited to choose their tree from the ones that had been cut down to make way for the light-rail line. On a budget of $60,000, six sculptures sprouted along the new portion of the Trolley Trail as part of the $1.49 billion project.

“We recognized that there was a lot of sadness with the changes and the loss of landscaping along the Trolley Trail, so we wanted to honor the trees and the feelings of the neighborhood,” said Mary Priester, TriMet public art manager.

The Beaverton Valley Times and Forest Grove News Times contributed to this story.

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