Additional Comments to Urban Forestry Commission – regarding Seattle DPD’s latest draft tree ordinance updates
July 18, 2012
Steve Zemke Chair-Save the Trees- Seattle
Are DPD’s proposed revisions to our tree code the best we can do? It is important to compare them with what others are doing and one example is the new ordinance passed by Portland, Oregon last year. Portland’s adopted code is much stronger than that proposed by DPD for Seattle.
On April 13, 2011 Portland, Oregon adopted much stronger tree protection regulations to protect their urban forest. The ordinance became effective May 13, 2011 and the actual regulations go into effect on Feb 1, 2011. You can see the ordinance here:
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/index.cfm?&a=3457132 page summary
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/350786?&login=1Title 11 Trees Portland, Oregon
Portland currently has about a 26% canopy cover and has a goal of reaching 33%.
Their new ordinance consolidates tree rules under one title.
It addresses both public and private trees, both during development and outside development.
A City Forester is responsible for trees outside the development process and acts as a consultant during the development process with their development agency and also with a “responsible Engineer” overseeing utility, street trees and other public trees.
A two tier permit system to remove trees is established, applications being in writing or online.
Prior exemption for single family lots removed because of confusion.
It applies to street and city trees 3” or larger in diameter and private trees 12” or larger in diameter
private trees in some special zones 6” or larger also covered
Tree for tree replacement required for most permits, with inch for inch replacement or mitigation on 20 “‘ or larger trees.
A fee is assessed to process applications.
Tree permits must be posted on site.
Applicants can appeal city decisions on tree permits. Public can appeal decisions on trees 20” or greater or more than 4 trees per year 12” or larger.
Development process focuses on saving large healthy trees, native trees and groves.
Building permits require 1/3 of trees on site 12” or larger to be retained or mitigated.
Building permits require meeting tree density standards and achieving baseline canopy goals.
These are a few of the provisions in Portland’s tree ordinance. It is important to note that this ordinance was developed in a much more open and public process than DPD’ has used. We ask again that DPD post all meetings open to the public on their website so that citizens in Seattle can find opportunities to listen to the discussion and give feedback to the City. We also ask that DPD publicly post all comments submitted on their website, like Shoreline recently did, and like what is happening currently on comments on the Urban Forest Management Plan Update.
for ezrlier comments see:
The following comments were submitted by Save the Trees – Seattle to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission regarding the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s latest draft Tree Ordinace. You can see the draft proposal here: www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/trees
Preliminary Comments to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission –
regarding latest DPD draft of tree ordinance
July 18, 2012
Save the Trees-Seattle
Our initial observations: This draft is a disappointment but not unexpected considering DPD’s previous proposal. DPD spends the bulk of the 56 page draft ordinance on specific provisions regarding sites where they are issuing building permits and very little on protecting trees outside the development process.
While there are some good additions, like requiring all projects to add street trees, this provision already exists in most zones. They are adding it for Single Family Residential and Institutions. And while it appears they are now requiring permits to remove exceptional trees which they define as over 24″ in diameter, at the same time they remove any limitations on removing any trees smaller than this and also remove protections for tree groves. Brennan Staley made the comment at the UFC that one analysis showed that only 14% of the trees in the city were over 24″ dbh, meaning that 86% of the trees could be removed outside the development process with no limitations.
Their old definition for removing trees was that they would be saved unless they limit the development potential of a lot. They are now saying an exceptional tree will be saved “unless the location of proposed principle (sic) structure would not allow an adequate tree protection area…” It’s just a different way of saying the sane thing.
By simplifying their definition of an exceptional tree to one 24″ in diameter they are removing protections for many trees that the Director’s Rule 16-2008 on Designation of Exceptional Trees classified as exceptional with a much smaller dbh depending on the tree species. Madrona trees for example were classified as exceptional at 6″ dbh and Quacking aspen at 12″ and Pacific dogwood at 6″. They would no longer be exceptional under DPD’s new proposal.
Currently people are able to remove 3 trees a year from their property. This is way too many but DPD removes all protections for trees less than 24″ in diameter . The current system is not acceptable because the number needs to be less and because we need a permit system to track loss and hopefully slow loss by educating people on the value of our trees. Vancouver, BC, eg, limits removal to 1 per year. Shoreline’s recently passed ordinance varies the number based on lot size.
DPD does nothing to mitigate loss of non-exceptional trees. The problem remains that tree protection should not be under DPD. It should be administered by a department that has a vested interest in saving trees and can be an advocate for doing that, not a Department whose main mission is to help people develop their property and find ways to make it easier for them to remove trees. Possible Departments with more of a mission to save trees include Seattle Public Utilities, Office of Sustainability and Environment and the Parks Department. DPD could still oversee the process of tree protection during development but not over private trees outside development.
Some good things in the draft:
1. Adding single family homes and institutions undergoing development to list of zones that must add street trees.
2. Requiring an online permit to remove trees larger than 24″ dbh.
3. Implementing tree removal application fee for exceptional trees to help cover cost and evaluation
4. Removing single family home lots smaller than 5000 sf from not being covered by new ordinance.
5. Higher credit given for evergreens saved or planted during development
What is missing from this draft:
1. Protection of tree groves
2. Protection of trees smaller than 24″ dbh, including trees previously classified as exceptional
3. A permit system for trees smaller than 24″dbh
4. Extending the permit system for exceptional trees to include public trees
5. Consolidating oversight, regulation and enforcement in a Department without a conflict of interest like DPD has.
6. licensing and training for arborists and tree removal companies
7. posting completed tree removal applications on line and posting of property
8. requiring disclosure of exceptional trees on property by real estate agents when property is sold
9. incentives to save trees like utility rebates
10. replacement of trees removed so there is no net loss of canopy over time, except some during development for not meeting credits
11 requirement to id all trees on property in development plans.
12. more emphasis on native trees and habitat values in tree plantings and preservation
It is important to note that Portland has approved a much more far reaching ordinance last year to protect their trees citywide that goes into effect in 2013.
At the last Urban Forestry Commission meeting Brennon Staley, the DPD lead for the new draft tree ordinance, asserted that if his version is enacted we would have the strongest tree ordinance of any large NW city. I do not agree.
I forwarded this post last September to the UFC noting that Portland has made significant moves in their urban forestry protection efforts, including protections for private trees on single family lots.
Here are the two pertinent links in that post, You’ll have to log in to the city website to access them. Because the bulk of the new tree ordinance does not go into effect until next year (2013) it appears the new ordinance does not come up easily in a Google search of Portland’s tree policies. This may be the result of an effort by Portland to not confuse the public as to what they are currently required to do.
http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/index.cfm?&a=345713 2 page summary
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/350786?&login=1 Title 11 Trees Portland, Oregon
I will be providing more detail on Portland’s law in my public comments later but wanted to give UFC members a chance to check out the links before today’s meeting. We can do a lot more to protect private trees than DPD’s current draft proposes.
Chair – Save the Trees -Seattle
It was a long shot expecting the City of Seattle to come to the defense of the old trees at Ingraham High School. The Seattle School District also only sawthe trees as an impediment to their development plans. Now Seattle Hearing Examiner Ann Watanabe has also chose to ignore the evidence in the Hearing Record and Seattle City law requiring that priority be given to protecting uncommon plant and animal habitat in the City of Seattle. She has denied the appeal by Save the Trees-Seattle to stop the 70 year old 100 foot tall eveegreen trees from being cut being cut down at Ingraham High School in North Seattle.
The decision is not yet posted on the Hearing Examiner’s website. When it is I will post a link here.
The environmental review now goes back to the King County Superior Court. We will be appealing the decision and it will be up to the court to make a final decision. They previously issued a restraining order preventing the Seattle School District from cutting down the 70 year old 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific madrone trees until the environmental review was completed by the City of Seattle. That has now been done.
In her most recent decision Seattle hearing Examiner Ann Watanabe chose to ignore testimony from Save the Trees – Seattle that alternative sites for building the school addition were available on the Ingraham campus and that the Seattle School District padded the cost for other sites by adding in features like an additional 2000 square foot entrance on designs for the North side. Of course this raised the cost for any North side addition. The Seattle School District’s designs and cost estimates for alternative sites lacked credibility when closely examined.
Many of the issues raised were ignored by the Hearing Examiner. One obvious early sign of the Hearing Examiner’s limiting review of relevant issues was her upholding a preliminary motion by the Seattle School District to exclude testimony on wildlife by one of the witnesses we called, Kirk Prindle, a wildlife biologist who is a member of Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission. This was despite the submitting of new bird studies for the Seattle School District, which were included in DPD’s file.
The Hearing Examiner ignored basic ecological considerations, as did the DPD and the Seattle School District. Groves of trees, particularly groves with conifers are not common in Seattle. The particular association at Ingraham of conifers and madrone trees is an uncommon plant habitat in Seattle. The Hearing Examiner in her previous decision agreed with this. There are only about 52 acres total of conifer madrone forest in all of Seattle, mostly at Seward Park. While there are scatterings of Douglas fir and madrone trees here and there in Seattle what is unique about Ingraham is that it is a 1.2 acre site and a grove of some 130 trees rather than just a few trees.
The diversity of plants and animals in a grove is directly correlated with patch or grove size size. The larger the patch size, the more diversity of plants and animals. Because all of Seattle has been logged over, except for some 50 acres of old growth at Schmidt’s Park, the Ingraham Grove represents some of the oldest trees in Seattle. This older growth and uncommon plant habitat should be saved. City environmental law gives a priority for doing this. Yet at Ingraham High School, given the viable option of saving the grove in it’s entirety because alternative sites exist, the Seattle Hearing Examiner has chosen not to.
Unfortunately the so called Emerald City of Seattle has a policy that we will save trees unless they prevent the development potential of a site. When this was mentioned by an employee of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development at a recent urban forest symposium on saving trees, the whole room broke out in spontaneous laughter. Yes it was said seriously but it is a joke obviously when the absurdity of the policy sinks in.
Unfortunately the consequence is not a joke. Seattle continues to lose trees, especially during development. Exceptional trees basically have no protection at any time because the whole process is complaint driven. By the time you hear the chainsaw, it is too late to stop a tree from being cut down. So DPD’s proposal is that since the current system doesn’t save trees, let’s scrap the law mandating protection for old trees in the city altogether. It’s like BP after they weren’t able to initially stop the oil flow in the Gulf saying, well this didn’t work so lets just stop trying.
One way the city can get some control over continued tree cutting, especially old trees is to expand its current permit system, to require a permit to cut down any tree over 6 inches in diameter on public and private property. The Seattle Department of Transportation already requires a permit before a tree can be cut down or even pruned if it is on the public right of way. Yet the DPD in their just released proposal for a new tree ordinance for the City of Seattle dismisses tree permits altogether and basically argues that we need to just encourage people to do the right thing and save trees by more public outreach and education. Like this has worked.
What we need is a change of policy and priorities. In the past people used to shot songbirds to eat. Fashion also threatened the very survival of many bird speicies as birds were killed for their feathers to create lavish “fashionable” hats. Yet we changed public policy to end this absurd killing of birds for money and fashion.
Trees are no less valuable living life forms than birds. In fact birds need native trees and shrubs to survive. Unfortunately trees are not mobile like birds. That makes them even more vulnerable. They are living entities of beauty and its an ecological necessity to protect them if birds and insects and other species are to survive on our planet. Obviously the DPD’s proposal is ridiculous to eliminate protection for trees, especially exceptional trees.
We require hunting licenses to kill various wildlife and populations are monitored to ensure that overhunting does not occur and a species is wiped out. It’s time to do the same for trees in our city. Trusting that people will not cut down trees wantonly and drive species of associated animals and plants to extinction in our city should not be left to chance and wishful thinking.
The current underegulated and unenforced tree protections are resulting in a continued decline of our urban forest. Most tree increases in recent years have been the short lived, small trees that get planted in the parking strips. The large trees and few remaining groves of trees continue to be cut down. Its time to change this. The interim ordinace passed last year limits tree cutting to 3 a year yet even this is not monitored or enforced. Without permits and tracking of trees cut down we have no idea who is doing what. We see plenty of examples everyday however of trees being cut down.
Save the Trees-Seattle is working to stop trees being cut down in the city and come up with a workable new tree protection ordinance. You can help support our efforts by making a contribution to Save the Trees-Seattle. Click on the donate button below to make a contribution of $50 or $100 or or $25 or whatever you can so we can continue our efforts to save the trees in Seattle from the chainsaws.
The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission is reviewing our tree protection ordinance and will be recommending chages needed to help increase our urban forest canopy to meet the 30% canopy cover adopted by the city. We are currently at about 23% canopy cover but are losing trees in our park areas due to invasive species like blackberry and ivy. The biggest potential new tree cover is private property. The city has actually mapped out potential areas for canopy growth. But a new ordinance and plan is necessary to effectively implement a policy to increase our tree canopy.
Here are links to some articles relevant to developing and strengthening our urban forest and tree protection laws that I found helpful:
Urban Tree Conservation: A White Paper on Local Ordinances
Sept 2007, Montgomery Tree Committee. 68 pages
This paper deals with”conservation of urban forests on private land” and is one of the best overviews I have found. It discusses and compares many different ordinances and approaches it from a holistic viewpoint, looking not just at trees but also biodiversity and ecosystem concerns.
Tree Ordinance Development Guidebook
Sept 2005 by the Georgia Forestry Commission, Urban and Community Forestry Program. 25 pages
This Guidebook is not very long but it has a good overview, including a Tree Board/Tree Ordinance Evaluation, and a Resource List.
Guideline for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances
International Society of Arboriculture, Oct 2001. 181 pages a real compendium of information on tree ordinance issues
October 2010 update:
several other links also provide guidance in developing a tree ordinance.
Scenic America – outlines key elements of a model tree protection ordinance
Tree Ordinance – ConservationTools.org – a good 7 page overview
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