Feb 1, 2024 - News

Portland's big trees cause mayhem in latest storm

A large horizontal fir tree splitting a house in two in a forested Portland Oregon suburb

Four trees fell on Shu-Ju Wang's family home in leafy SW Portland during the Jan. 13 storm. Photo: Courtesy of Shu-Ju Wang

At least 675 trees were downed in the wind, snow and ice storm that hit Portland last month, city officials said.

  • Many were mature trees that devastated properties in their paths.

Why it matters: Big trees are part of the Portland brand but can sometimes seem like a liability.

  • Trees don't observe class boundaries — large trees thrive in the exclusive West Hills and on the large lots of The Numbers, those high-numbered avenues east of I-205.

Zoom in: Portland filmmaker Irene Taylor's 2023 documentary, "Trees, and Other Entanglements," opens with her hacking English ivy off a tree next to her Council Crest property.

  • Taylor made the tree's 6-inch-thick ivy a metaphor for her father's Alzheimer's disease.
  • On Jan. 13 she watched the tree fall and crush the side of the house next door.
  • "I truly felt haunted by the vulnerability of that tree," she told Axios.

Taylor blames the ivy for weakening the trees. "It takes the groundwater and it covers the tree like a sweater, the bark suffocates."

Shu-Ju Wang was unluckier. Four falling trees carved apart the SW Portland artist's house.

  • Then, while she was relocated to a Beaverton motel, the house was burglarized.

Be smart: Wang urges anyone with large trees nearby to establish a relationship with a certified arborist and have regular inspections.

  • "Our increasing climate stress (heat/drought/cold) and the extreme wind meant that even healthy trees were susceptible to coming down," she emailed Axios.

Even though Wang's arborist came every three to five years, the 60-mph gusts proved too much.

The bottom line: Waiting until the damage is done can be costly.

  • Portland Parks & Recreation's Urban Forestry division has an emergency number (503-823-TREE) for when trees fall in parks and highways.
  • Private citizens are on their own. A family in Lake Oswego paid $10,000 to have a leaning tree removed in case it fell, and insurance would not cover it.

What they're saying: Arborist Damien Carré, founder of Oregon Tree Care, said that some companies were charging up to $600 an hour in the days after the storm to cut up and remove fallen trees.

  • Many trees that fall in windstorms have been compromised by a driveway or drought which weakens roots, Carré told Axios.
  • "If you own trees, pay $150 to have them inspected every year or so. I can usually tell the trees that are in danger just by looking at them," he said.
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