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City Club of Eugene: Seeing The Forest For The Trees: The Emerald Valley's Urban Forest

Program Date: April 30, 2021

Air Date: May 3, 2021

From the City Club of Eugene:

Everyone knows the Emerald Valley is home to Tall Firs. But what is the health and status of Eugene’s urban forest, the interconnected network of trees, vegetation, and open space within our urban area? What are its unique characteristics, and how does it impact Eugene’s sustainability, equity, and climate resilience goals?

In the 1800s, the Willamette Valley was described as a wide expanse of prairie interspersed with oak savanna and oak woodland, a rich habitat actively managed by the Kalapuyan peoples. Much of Eugene’s current urban forest has been planted as this area urbanized and neighborhoods developed over the past 150 years, though the resulting canopy is not equitably distributed.

Today, Eugene’s trees are essential infrastructure for city life—capturing rainwater, trapping pollution, providing habitat, and supporting our community’s health and vitality throughout the seasons. Among their most profound contributions is to mitigate “urban heat island effect,” the phenomenon by which unshaded, impervious, heat-absorbing areas become significantly hotter and less healthy than surrounding areas, which translates directly to disparities in human health.

Increasing urban forest cover is among the actions outlined in Eugene’s Climate Action Plan, a goal that sits alongside objectives to encourage compact development to reduce emissions and preserve forested areas and agricultural land beyond the urban growth boundary. This program will discuss ways in which these goals might intertwine, and the profound role of the urban forest in supporting a more equitable and resilient community.


Scott Altenhoff is the Management Analyst for the City of Eugene’s Urban Forestry Program. Scott has been working as a municipal arborist/urban forester for the City since 2005. Prior to that, he worked for many years as a commercial arborist and forest surveyor, based in Eugene but working throughout the Pacific Northwest. He currently serves as President of the Society of Municipal Arborists and as a board member for Canopy Watch. Over the last several years, Scott has been on working with an array of community partners to promote understanding of the important role that trees play in making our city a more sustainable, resilient, equitable, and just place to live. Scott holds a B.A. in Classics from the University of Oregon and a Graduate Certificate in Urban Forestry from Oregon State University.

Bart Johnson, PhD is a Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oregon. His training in agronomy (B.S.), landscape architecture (MLA), and ecology (Ph.D.) reflect his lifelong passion for learning how to integrate people and their use of the land with native ecosystems and evolutionary processes. His research is collaborative and interdisciplinary, with the goal of enhancing society’s capacity to adapt and innovate in the face climate change and human population growth. He believes that solutions must be founded in deep knowledge of how earth’s ecosystems sustain the foundations of life and provide the keys to humanity’s resilience and our ongoing quest for environmental justice and equity.

Dr. Vivek Shandas is a Professor of Climate Adaptation and Director of the Sustaining Urban Places Research (SUPR) Lab at Portland State University. Professor Shandas supports public, private, and non-profit organizations in identifying and evaluating adaptations to climate-induced stressors, including extreme events such as urban heat, air quality, and storms. He has published over 100 articles, three books, and his research has been featured in The New York Times, National Geographic, The Guardian, Scientific American, and dozens of other national and local media. Dr. Shandas chairs the City of Portland’s Urban Forestry Commission and serves on several local and national advisory boards.

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