In a bizarre analysis by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, it is proposed that Seattle no longer protect its large and old trees.  This is no joke.  They propose incentives as a better way to protect trees, but provide no clear examples or surveys showing this approach works.  They argue that because the current system doesn’t seem to work for them, that we should quit trying. This is like BP after a week saying they couldn’t stop the oil flowing into the Gulf so they were giving up.

Seattle’s current system doesn’t work largely because DPD doesn’t enforce it.  No permits are required by DPD to cut down trees of any size. Under the current interim ordinance someone can supposedly cut down up to 3 trees a year on their property.  Although they are not supposed to cut down exceptional trees (which are detailed in Director’s Rule 16-2008), unless diseased or a hazard, the only way DPD follows up is if someone files a complaint.  Of course by the time you hear the chainsaw it is too late to stop the tree or trees from being cut down.

This is why Seattle needs to put in place an expanded system to require that people get a permit to cut down any tree over 6 inches. I say expanded because we already have a permit program  for removing or pruning privately maintained street trees in the right of way. It is administrated by the Seattle Department of Transportation  (SDOT). Other cities also require permits before trees can be cut down.

The whole idea is to be sure that trees are not removed unnecessarily, that the tree is not really on someone else’s property and that it is not an exceptional tree. An expanded permit system could be required for removal of any tree 6 inches in diameter or larger by private property owners and by the city. Citizens need to know that the city has to follow the same rules as they do. The current DPD proposal only refers to private property.

Permits could be several tiered, with exceptional trees being harder to cut down because of increased fees and more requirements to get approval.  Hazardous or diseased trees would be able to be removed with minimal or no restrictions.

Permits could be applied for on the Internet and posted for a minimum of 1 week before being approved. Physical posting on the property and visible to the public would be required for 1 week before and 1 week after cutting.

Arborists working in the city would be required to certified by a professional group and register with the city.  They would be required to attend a briefing on the city’s tree regulations. If exceptional trees are cut down without approval, arborists would be fined and or lose their license to do business in the city.  It is easier to inform several hundred arborists of our tree and urban forestry regulations than it is to try to inform all the citizens.  Most large trees in the city require an arborist to cut in most cases, few homeowners are skilled enough or able to cut large trees in the city without facing potential damage and liability issues.

DPD’s analysis is flawed because it emphasizes trees as a burden rather than as a part of Seattle’s infrastructure. Our urban forest and its trees and vegetation  reduce storm water runoff, clean the air, reduce noise pollution, provide habitat for birds, insects and other animals, provide aesthetics as a green space and contribute to our quality of life in the city.

We can have trees and development; it is not an either/or situation.  We need to protect our green infrastructure.  Most of Seattle’s canopy increase is coming from increased planting of street trees.  We are losing the large old trees with their much larger canopy volume and resultant benefits to city inhabitants.  DPD proposal is a major step backward. Let the Seattle City Council and the Mayor know that you oppose the current proposal and that they need to put emphasis on retaining our trees.  They represent the green legacy that we need to protect and pass on to future generations living in the Emerald City.

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