Oregon college takes stock of its growing assets — its 3,800 trees

Portland Community College's Rock Creek Campus surrounded by a critical natural resource. (Photos: PCC)

Money may not grow on trees, but a recent survey of Portland Community College’s own trees shows that they are a major financial asset.

The district-wide survey, conducted last fall by Bartlett Tree Experts and funded by the 2008 voter-approved bond measure, documented that the Oregon college has about 3,800 trees, which represents a retail value of more than $13 million. This tally doesn’t even include the thousands of trees that are in a dense forest behind its Rock Creek Campus.

Anne LeSenne, an instructor with Rock Creek’s landscape technology program and one of the college’s two certified arborists, said the survey made clear how important it was for the PCC to take stock of its trees — not just for financial reasons but also for helping PCC meet the sustainability goals in its climate action plan.

“The value we have on each of these campuses is incredible,” LeSenne said. “People didn’t realize that. They say, ‘Yeah, we like trees, they make us feel good and make the campus look great.’ They didn’t realize how valuable some of these trees are.”

LeSenne said people also often overlook trees’ many other benefits. They can:

• Remove harmful particulates from the air.
• Lower energy costs by shading buildings from the sun or shielding them from cold wind.
• Reduce stormwater runoff.
• Filter contaminates from the soil.
• Increase biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

A trunkload of info

The project was managed by Krista Phillips, managing architect with PCC’s office of planning and capital construction, which contracted with Bartlett to visit each PCC location except for Downtown Center. The arborists placed a numbered brass tag on each tree trunk and identified 50 data points, including common name, botanical name, height, canopy size and GPS coordinates.

Sean Rinault, regional inventory arborist with Bartlett, explained that his firm typically works on large commercial and industrial sites where he doesn’t often encounter the diversity he saw at PCC.

“There were several species of trees (at Rock Creek) that were unknown to me when I first encountered them, such as medlar, Amur cork tree, knobcone pine and pawpaw,” he said. “There were even species I’d learned before, but aren’t in the Pacific Northwest list of common tree species maintained by the International Society of Arboriculture and needed to be added. It was a challenge at times but definitely a welcome departure from seeing the same tree species all the time.”

The findings were uploaded to ArborScope, Bartlett’s interactive landscape management website, where the information is searchable using the many data points Bartlett gathered, including using Google Earth satellite imagery. Jack Lussier, grounds manager for PCC’s facilities management services (FMS) and administrator of the ArborScope application, said the program has been a big help to FMS staff.

“This tool is great for many things in relationship to the tree work we do here at the college. The software is easy to use and user-friendly, and everyone can access it from their computers or cell phones,” he said. “We spend about 10 percent of our time looking after the trees in the district. The city of Portland requires a permit for removing trees over 12 inches DBH (diameter at breast height). This software allows us to track and report to the city the trees we have removed and planted.”

Lussier also said that ArborScope helps PCC maintain its certification as a Tree Campus USA member of the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit organization that, among other programs, certifies tree conservation and education efforts by communities, schools, colleges and health institutions.

“We can now ID the tree from the software and not question whether we’re talking about this tree or that one,” he continued. “Tree managers can now systematically track and plan for tree-maintenance needs.”

Into the classroom

LeSenne added that the database is enhancing how the landscape technology program teaches curriculum. The staff is also working with PCC’s District Campus Tree Advisory Committee to integrate the college’s canopy coverage with its climate action plan. PCC’s goal is to increase its canopy from its current level of 19.7 percent to 30 percent, a level that many cities — including Portland — have set.

“There’s excitement about having this information and what we can do with it,” LeSenne said. “Let’s plant more trees, let’s take better care of our trees, let’s protect our trees. We’re moving in that direction, and I think it just takes educating the student community, the staff, educating our architects and engineers when they’re making new designs. We’re helping educate everyone so that we can be more sustainable in all of our actions.”

Related article: Call it a climate emergency

About the Author

Katherine Miller
is a communications specialist at Portland Community College in Oregon.