The European white birch tree is highly susceptible to a destructive beetle whose presence in Portland since 2003 has threatened the city's birch population.
But that doesn't seem to matter to some members of Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Development, this week's Rogue for its devotion to a vulnerable tree. To HAND, a neighborhood association that represents Ladd's Addition in Southeast Portland, the European white birch is a critical component of the area's historic character—and the only acceptable street tree for portions of the neighborhood.
Diane Brodie owns a home in that area of Ladd's Addition. When she spruced up her front yard on Southeast Palm Street last fall, she wasn't keen on planting European white birches. In addition to her concerns about the lethal bronze birch borer beetle, Brodie worried birches' root systems can be weak, making them prone to falling over.
With her landscape designer, Brodie instead chose a magnolia and an Arbutus 'Marina,' an increasingly popular tree related to the madrone. Commonly known as a strawberry tree, it boasts clusters of blooms and red fruit. As far as Brodie and her designer were concerned, a 1986 city document that HAND says requires birch trees along Southeast Palm Street only recommends them. Nonetheless, because the trees would be planted in the city's right of way in front of Brodie's house, Portland required planting permits. Portland Parks and Recreation granted the permits in October, saying it was OK to plant the magnolia and strawberry trees.
That's where HAND comes in. On Jan. 3, the land-use chairwoman for HAND wrote to David McAllister, the urban forester in the parks department. The neighborhood representative requested Brodie's two trees be uprooted and replaced with European white birches. "The two trees are not the approved genus and species," the letter states, "and do not resemble the approved deciduous street trees in scale, color and texture."
In March, the forester reversed course and sided with HAND, sending Brodie a letter ordering the removal of the two street trees that had been "erroneously issued planting permits." He gave her a deadline of April 7 and two choices: Let the city remove the trees and plant European white birches or go without street trees altogether. (The hope was that a future home-owner might not object to birches.)
Joanne Stainbrook of HAND calls the dispute a "misunderstanding" that could have been avoided had city officials heeded the guidelines and declined to issue the original permit.
The Rogue Desk gives all of this a big green thumb down. Historic guidelines are great. But so is common sense. We're heartened to hear the parks department will allow an appeal by Brodie, letting the April 7 deadline slip while cooler heads mediate. We don't think much time should be wasted doing the obvious. Keep the trees.