A Canopy for Cottage Grove

May 19 - The City Council of Cottage Grove created The Urban Forestry Citizens Advisory Committee on December 12, 1994, with the mandate to assist in developing an urban forestry plan and make recommendations to council regarding urban forestry issues.

Urban forest includes all the trees within a densely populated area, including trees in parks, on streets, and on private property. Though the composition, health, age, extent, and costs of urban forests vary considerably among different cities, all urban forests offer some common environmental, economic, and social benefits.

According to the World Resources Institute, trees should be a part of any climate action plan. Trees in a community help to reduce air and water pollution, alter heating and cooling costs, control storm run-off, reduce noise pollution, and increase real estate values. Trees can improve physical and mental health and strengthen social connections. Trees, community gardens, and other green spaces get people outside, helping to foster active living and neighborhood pride. Here are some specific ways trees benefit a community:

· Trees help absorb the sounds of traffic in urban areas by 40%.

· Neighborhoods with trees are seven to nine degrees cooler than those without.

· Trees reduce energy costs up to 25% by shading buildings and protecting them from winter winds.

· Green spaces play a major role in improving mental and physical health.

· Planting and maintaining trees absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, mitigating the effects of climate change.

An urban tree canopy encompasses the total amount of shade trees provided to a city. This canopy is of increasing importance in cities all over the world. As climate events, such as the heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest in June of 2021, which led to the deaths of almost 100 Oregonians, become more common, trees help moderate their effect. And, it is the goal of Cottage Grove to increase its tree canopy to help offset these hazards.

Since the Urban Forestry Committee (UFC) began its work, the Arbor Day Foundation has awarded Cottage Grove the title of Tree City USA for over 26 years. In recognition for their efforts to expand the city’s tree canopy, Cottage Grove was named Oregon's Tree City of the Year in 2022. 

UFC Chair, Reilly Neman, was thrilled to receive the recognition. “Some of the work we have done to get the Tree City USA Growth award includes bringing on new tree board members, starting a tree inventory, and running the City's leaf and branch pick up program.”

To honor Arbor Day last year, the UFC hosted a tree giveaway for community residents to increase the city’s tree canopy.  Reilly said, “Our Arbor Day work with the community tree giveaway was a very public-facing event. This year, we opted to do things a little differently and focused on planting street trees in areas that have less canopy cover than others. We also planted trees at the new City dog park across from the HS, and along the roadway along the backside of Bohemia Park.”

Besides working with the committee for the past 5 years, Reilly serves as the Projects Director for the Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council (CFWWC) and has a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences with a specialization in Wildlife Ecology. “A lot of my previous work dealt with conservation genetics labs, GIS mapping, and field research around spring Chinook.”  Over the past 10 years, she has worked on large-scale riparian and oak restoration projects.

When asked about the tree assessment, Newman explained, “During my tenure with the UFC, we started a tree inventory, this gave us a platform to inventory trees on public property. We can input species, size, condition, and other factors such as overhead power lines or underground utilities that may affect tree growth in the future.”

Newman noted, “Now, when the City plants a new tree it will be included in the inventory. We were very fortunate to have the CFWWC Youth Crew participate in the inventory over the last few summers, focusing on trees in and around downtown. This inventory allows you to look back and see the history of the tree and having this information means we can monitor these trees over time.”

To conduct the survey, Susan Johnson, a UFC committee member, used a software program called i-Tre which provides the tools to assess the city’s tree canopy coverage. According to Cottage Grove City Planner, Eric Mongan, the current level of tree canopy in Cottage Grove is estimated to be 23.4% and the goal for tree canopy established by the Urban Forestry Committee is 28%. Planners once believed that 40% was the optimal amount of canopy for any urban forest, but looking at the surrounding habitat now plays a larger factor and sets realistic baseline targets such as 20% in grassland cities and 15% in desert cities.

The UFC also monitors the health and viability of the trees throughout the community on both public and private land. As Newman states, “Our work focuses on City owned spaces and street trees, the committee reviews applications from private landowners who may wish to remove a street tree. We can then look at the situation and decide whether we recommend its removal or not. Typically, these are potential hazard trees or trees planted in the incorrect place and are causing damage to sidewalks etc.”

All of these efforts by the UFC work together to build a healthier urban forest for the City of Cottage Grove and its residents.