Renee Myers, Executive Director, Forest Park Conservancy
Date of Award
Master of Environmental Management (MEM)
Environmental Science and Management
Ecosystem services, Forest Park (Portland, Or.) -- Ecology, Urban forestry -- Oregon -- Portland, City planning -- Oregon -- Portland -- Sustainability aspects, Sustainable development
Urban forests provide an escape from the noise and chaos of cities. Other services can be overlooked and under-valued. Urban forests cool and filter the air, sequester carbon, filter water removing toxins and sediments from urban runoff, provide habitat for wildlife and improve human health and well-being. Commonly urban forests in the United States (US) lack funds for restoration and research because there is lack of understanding of the need to actively manage what are perceived as wild lands. Generally urban forests are highly disturbed and novel ecosystems that require ongoing active management to remove invasive species, replant native species and restore streams. Pressures from urbanization threaten the health of these ecosystems with air pollution from transportation and industry, increasing demand for recreation from rising urban populations and climate change.
Portland’s Forest Park is touted as the crown jewel of the Portland parks system, yet it suffers from the same lack of dedicated funding as many other urban forests and there are signs that the forest’s health is at risk. Surprisingly there are few long-term studies of the ecological trends in Forest Park and no formal research agenda. A comprehensive review of the studies that do exists reveal a highly disturbed ecosystem, one that was logged extensively in the 19th and 20th centuries with downed wood removed. Ecological studies conducted within Forest Park over the past decades by academic researchers from Portland State University and Linfield College, reveal that heavy tree mortality and lack of recruitment of late seral species indicating a lack of resilience. Continued disturbance from recreation on the 80+ miles of trails, invasive plants and climate change continue to put pressures on this ecosystem with the risk of a regime shift in some areas of the park.
Forest Park is a municipal natural area managed by Portland’s Parks and Recreation Department in close partnership with the Forest Park Conservancy (FPC), a citizen-led non-profit organization that maintains trails and promotes park stewardship. FPC is the community partner for this project. In 2013, FPC published the Greater Forest Park Conservation Initiative (GFPCI) developed to guide restoration and protection of the Forest Park ecosystem (Meyers et al. 2013). Recognizing that the management of Forest Park and the surrounding lands for conservation would take the commitment of multiple organizations working together, the GFPCI was jointly published by the Forest Park Alliance, a consortium of government, non-government and private organizations. Threats to the ecosystem along with conservation goals, objectives and activities are documented in this plan. The key barrier to implementation of the plan is lack of sustainable funding. FPC seeks to identify opportunities to secure such funding (Myers, personal conversation, 2017).
As public land protected from logging and without fees, there is no revenue from Forest Park. On the books, Forest Park has no recorded value to offset the costs of managing the forest for resilience, providing access to the park, building and maintaining infrastructure, and conducting ecological research to inform management actions. Assessing the value of ecosystem services is becoming a more common way to assign value to non-market goods such as those provided by urban forests. Without markets for these services, stakeholders must have tools to quantify the social-ecological values associated with the management of urban forests to be resilient to the ongoing disturbances from urbanization and climate change.
In response to this challenge, I developed the Urban Forest Services Framework (UFSF) which establishes a process and tools for identifying and analyzing linkages and dependencies between natural and human systems. It provides a tool for urban planners and natural resource practitioners to integrate conservation of urban forests into urban planning via inclusive stakeholder engagement in a way that offers an alternative to strict monetary valuation of the services.
Hardy, Carole, "A Framework for Incorporating Benefits from Urban Forests into Planning for Livable Cities: A case study of Forest Park" (2020). Master of Environmental Management Project Reports. 59.