Save the Trees- Seattle
Support a Stronger Tree Protection Ordinance for Seattle
The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has released a draft tree ordinance that they want the Seattle City Council to pass. While it has some good points, it unfortunately weakens our current protection of trees and tree groves in Seattle and will result in further decreasing our urban forestry infrastructure that benefits all citizens by reducing storm water runoff, cleaning our air of pollutants, sequestering carbon, providing habitat for wildlife and many other benefits.
DPD’s draft proposal can be seen here:
The following is a brief evaluation by Save the Trees-Seattle of the pluses and minuses of the DPD proposal. Most of the proposal deals with trees during the development process and needs to be expanded to better protect trees outside development. We need to do better to save our trees.
Some good things in the draft:
1. Adding single family homes and institutions undergoing development to the list of zones that must add street trees.
2. Requiring an online permit to remove trees larger than 24″ diameter breast height (dbh).
3. Implementing a 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 the current ordinance.
5. Higher credit is 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 many trees previously classified as exceptional
3. A permit system for trees smaller than 24″ dbh. Portland Oregon will cover all trees 10”dbh and larger.
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. Trees need an advocate for their protection and Seattle Public Utilities or the Office of Sustainability and the Environment make more sense for overseeing protecting trees in the city
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 Requirements to id all trees on property in development plans.
12. More emphasis on native trees and habitat values in tree plantings and preservation
You can see more extensive detail on these concerns in comments delivered to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission and posted here:
Trees in Seattle need your help and support to survive. Only about 14% of the trees in Seattle are larger than 24” dbh. This proposal would allow all trees less than 24” dbh to be cut down in Seattle!
Please send in comments in your own words expressing your concerns. Your voice needs to be heard to help protect Seattle’s trees for future generations.
Comments will be received through Oct 1, 2012. To have maximum effect, besides sending comments to DPD at
you should also forward them to the Urban Forestry Commission at
and to the Seattle City Council members at
and to the Mayor at
Please bcc firstname.lastname@example.org so we can track public comments being sent in.
Join us on facebook by liking our page – “Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest”.
Financial contributions to support our campaign for a stronger tree ordinance are needed.
Make checks out to Save the Trees-Seattle and send them to:
Save the Trees-Seattle, c/o Steve Zemke, 2131 N 132nd St, Seattle, WA 98133
e-mail us at email@example.com
Citizens file public records request for Mayor McGinn and DPD to disclose who is involved in drafting legislation to significantly reduce protection for trees in Seattle
On Friday, May 25, 2012 Save the Trees-Seattle filed public records requests with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and with the Office of the Mayor regarding their roles in implementing and carrying out the directives in Seattle City Council Resolution 31138 and to find out who else is involved.
Resolution 31138 passed August 3 2009 and requested “that the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) submit legislation by May 2010 to establish a comprehensive set of regulations and incentives to limit the removal of trees and promote the retention and addition of trees within the City of Seattle on both private and public property, including city park land. DPD shall consult with all city departments that own lands that will be affected by these regulations or incentives.”
However in response to this resolution DPD submitted a scoping document in 2011 that mostly ignored the issues and direction that the Seattle City Council asked to be considered. Instead they proposed dropping all existing regulations to protect significant trees and tree groves in Seattle. saying that all that was needed were incentives and education. This is contrary to the direction most other cities are moving.
The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission and tree advocates strongly objected to last year’s scoping document’s conclusions and the flawed public review process that DPD held. When asked, DPD’s representative on several occasions publicly stated that they did not have to tell the public where and when public meetings were being held where people could give input. They would not post on the city’s website the places and times publicly paid city workers were discussing the proposed ordinance. They then tried to claim that they sought public input.
Unlike Shoreline which last year conducted a public process to receive citizen input on their proposed tree ordinance and posted citizen comment on the website, DPD only “summarized” what input they received and did not release or post what citizens and others actually submitted. They did not as far as we could tell record most public comments at meetings we attended or have a form for people to respond to nor did they take notes of most comments. In other words we did not really see a public record being kept of public input.
A DPD representative who is the point person to the Urban Forestry Commission informed the Urban Forestry Commission earlier this month that DPD has now drafted a new proposed tree ordinance. This was news to the Urban Forestry Commission as none of them appeared to have been involved in reviewing or writing this new proposed ordinance even though there are many experts on the Urban Forestry Commission.
Who drafted this proposed ordinance which we are told will be released in July for public comment? The recent article in the Seattle Times entitled “Developer interests guide mayor Mayor’s growth proposals” seems to answer the question – Mayor McGinn’s shadow government which is operating out of the public eye. No one in the urban forestry and tree protection community was involved to our knowledge.
This secretive cabal of special interest adviser’s to McGinn is operating outside the public eye and without public scrutiny. Yet DPD’s Head – Diane Sugimura is involved and that probably explains how last year’s flawed tree protection proposal supposedly written by DPD and that represents the developer’s position and would have removed protection for most trees in Seattle and that opposed a tree permit system to remove trees, came to be the exact opposite of what the Seattle City Council requested. DPD’s proposal pushed for deregulation rather than protection for trees and Seattle’s urban forest.
There will always be differences of opinion on proposed legislation but a process that is a sham and shuts out the public, but listens to special interests, has no place in Seattle. It has no credibility. That is why we are seeking information so that the public knows who is driving this effort to deregulate tree protection in Seattle. We believe the City Council needs to remove the drafting of a new tree ordinance from DPD which has a conflict of interest in representing development interests and not tree protection. They get revenue from issuing building permits, not saving trees.
Seattle Public Utilities or the Office of Sustainability and the Environment would be better city Departments to propose draft legislation and oversee such legislation. Nine city Departments deal with tree issues. A combination of the Urban Forestry Commission, the Planning Commission and the Parks Commission would not have a conflict of interest in overseeing a public review process of proposed legislation. DPD did a terribly flawed process and is not to be trusted.
This flawed DPD faux public process is in danger of being repeated again. This is the wrong way to draft legislation. Seattle should look to Portland as an example where a public process involved public meetings conducted jointly by their Urban Forestry Commission and their Planning Commission and received strong public support.
Legislation crafted by special interests behind closed doors has no place in Seattle and needs to be rejected. It’s up to the City Council to step in to change this flawed process. DPD and their developer interests have a conflict of interest in drafting a tree protection ordinance and should not be in charge of doing so.
In a brief decision, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle recently ruled against the appeal of Save the Trees-Seattle to prevent clear cutting a quarter of a grove of 70 year old, 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and western madrone tress in an uncommon plant habitat at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. This was despite the fact that only a few hundred feet away the Seattle School District had identified in a Master Plan a large open lawn area as a future building site.
The decision clearly says that in Seattle trees have no legal standing. Judge Doyle’s decision in essence says that development of any property in the city trumps tree protection and preservation. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s stated policy is that they are all for protecting trees unless it limits the development potential of a lot. In this instance Judge Doyle is saying it does not even matter if there are alternative locations close by on the site that the building could be moved to or even if habitat is uncommon.
Despite Seattle City law saying that priority should be given to protecting uncommon, unique, or rare habitat, the Judge’s decision ignored a Seattle Hearing Examiner’s decision that the NW Grove is an uncommon plant habitat in the city of Seattle. It is a remnant of a conifer madrone forest in the City of which only 52 acres remain elsewhere. The species diversity present at the Ingraham site, some 14 different tree and shrub species, is comparable to that at the other major site where this plant community exists, namely at Seward Park in South Seattle.
What is disturbing about the decision is that it supports DPD’s tacit authority to ignore City tree protection laws and gives more impetus to DPD’s current proposal to actually remove from current city law, all protections for trees outside development. In any given year only 1% of city property is being developed. That means that 99% of the City’s trees in any given year would have no protection.
DPD’s proposal was reviewed by Mayor McGinn before it was released. It would remove all protection for exceptional trees and for tree groves. It is a death warrant for our city’s trees and will make it impossible to reach our goal of increasing the city’s tree canopy over the next 20 years or so.
The proposed clear cutting of the trees at Ingraham High School is just a continuation of the unofficial policy of the City of Seattle to prioritize development by any means over protection of our urban forest infrastructure. And now DPD wants to formally make it City law to prevent citizens from even questioning the misplaced priorities of the City.
Citizens need to speak out against this senseless slaughter of trees and our urban forest infrastructure without regard for the social, environmental and economic costs of this loss and the loss of what citizens value in living and enjoy in a city with trees and a vibrant urban forest.
Send an e-mail to Mayor McGinn and all 9 members of the Seattle City Council and urge they reject DPD’s proposal and instead work to add additional protections to the interim ordinance passed last year by the City Council.
Councilmembers’ e-mail adresses:
Send a letter: Mayor’s Office, Seattle City Hall 7th floor, 600 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749
The following press release was issued today by the Seattle City Council after they voted on two measures to increase tree protection in Seattle.
Council approves new tree protection guidelines Implementation begins in 2010, establishes an Urban Forestry Commission
SEATTLE – The City Council today unanimously passed two measures to improve the management of the city’s trees and strengthen protections to ensure the health, quality, and overall coverage of Seattle’s tree canopy.
Resolution 31138 asks the Department of Planning and Development to write a new tree protection ordinance. It outlines specific policy initiatives that the Council believes critical to successful urban forest management. Council Bill 116557 establishes a nine-member Urban Forestry Commission to advise the mayor and Council and help educate the public on urban forestry issues.
“Our urban trees are an incredibly valuable resource — and we must act if we want to keep them,” said Council President Richard Conlin. “The review by the City Auditor told us that the city must improve our system for protecting and managing trees. We need updated code that recognizes the economic, environmental, and social values that trees offer.”
Both measures are in response to a dramatic 50 percent loss of tree cover over the last forty years. The city continues to lose mature trees that provide cooling shade, improve air quality, provide wildlife habitat, sequester climate changing carbon, help with drainage issues by retaining water and improve property value.
“The Urban Forestry Commission will provide well-rounded expertise to assist the city in protecting and expanding our tree canopy while accommodating growth,” added Councilmember Nick Licata.
A report by the City Auditor in 2009 highlighted that most of the implementation work outlined in the Urban Forest Management Plan has not been completed.
Resolution 31138 requests that DPD write new regulations that consider preventing tree removal in required yards and setbacks, create a permitting system and fines for non-permitted tree removal, provide clearer direction for tree relocation and develop incentives for retention. It also asks DPD to consider Transfer Development Rights to developers, giving them more flexibility for creative solutions to Seattle’s urban canopy crisis.
The Urban Forestry Commission will include a community group representative, experts with technical backgrounds in wildlife biology, arboriculture, landscape architecture, and a representative of the development community. It will be staffed by the Office of Sustainability and Environment.
The Seattle City Council today unamiously passed by 8-0 votes two measures designed to help protect Seattle’s urban forest. The two measures were Resolution 31138 to improve City tree policies sponsored by Councilmember Conlin and Ordinance 116577 to create an Urban Forestry Commission that was sponsored by Nick Licata.
Councilmember Licata sent out the following e-mail:
“I believe we must expand our urban forest canopy. Our urban forest provides benefits to drainage, air quality such as CO2 reduction, as well as aesthetic benefits. It also provides useful shade on the 95+ degree days we had last week.
The Urban Forest Commission can assist the City in meeting the challenge of expanding our tree canopy while increasing residential density, as foreseen in the Seattle Comprehensive Plan, by providing broad-based expertise.
The Urban Forestry Commission passed by the EEMU Committee would have nine members: a wildlife biologist, an urban ecologist, a representative of a local, state, or federal natural resource agency or an accredited university, a hydrologist, an arborist, a landscape architect, representative of a non-profit or NGO whose mission is to advocate for the urban forest, a representative of the development community, and an economist or real estate broker, preferably with expertise in land use or environmental planning.
The Urban Forestry Commission has the following duties:
* to provide recommendations regarding City plans, major or significant policy recommendations, and any City department’s recommendations related to urban forestry, arboriculture, and horticulture;
* to provide recommendations on any Urban Forest Management Plan, or similar document designed to provide policy direction on preserving and protecting the City’s urban forest habitat;
* to provide recommendations on legislation concerning urban forest management, sustainability and protection of trees on public or private property;
* to review and comment on any proposal to inventory trees within the City of Seattle;
* Monitor implementation of City plans and policies related to the urban forest, and provide review and comment to the Mayor and City Council
* to educate the public on urban forestry issues;
* to review programs for identifying and maintaining trees with significant historical, cultural, environmental, educational, ecological or aesthetic value; and
* comment on the proposed Office of Sustainability and Environment work program, and any work by any City interdepartmental advisory body relating to the Urban Forest.
In addition, the Urban Forestry Commission will consider making recommendations for items included in the resolution, including incentives for developers to preserve existing trees and/or plant new trees. While I understand some might prefer to not have developers represented on this commission, it would be difficult to carry out this task, and reach practical, sensible incentives that can be used by developers to preserve and add to our urban forest canopy without their being represented.
Resolution 31138 passed tree protection guidelines, with City departments due to report back to the City Council in 2010 on various tree-related policy questions.”
The Seattle City Council’s passage last week of Council Bill 116404 – the Interim Tree Protection Ordinance is a small step that is long overdue. The bill closes a loophole the Seattle School District tried to use at Ingraham High School to stop further environmental review of their ill advised decision to build a new addition to the school in a grove of mature trees.
The new interim ordinance will limit to 3 per year the number of trees larger than 6 inches in diameter tthat can be cut down on undeveloped property and on single family property larger than 5000 square feet. The bill extends tree protection to groves of trees by adding them to a definition of exceptional trees.
The interim tree protection ordinance is and has to be viewed as a stop gap measure to give the Mayor and the Seattle City Council time to develop a truly comprehensive approach to protecting and preserving Seattle’s natural green habitat for plants and animals and the rest of us that live in Seattle.
The interim tree protection ordinance is not a comprehensive tree ordinance and only partially addresses the issue of trying to stop the senseless cutting down of trees and tree groves, by limiting tree cutting on lots prior to development. But an even bigger problem is that it did not address what happens during the permit approval process.
Once developers decide to build somewhere, saving trees is not a high priority of the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD). In most cases trees always lose out to construction and development. The job of the DPD is to assist developers in their plans for construction and to gain approval for their projects. The interim tree ordinance still allows trees to be cut down during the development process, even if they are exceptional.
The Department of Planning and Development’s current tree policy is guided by the Director’s Rule 6-2001 on exceptional trees. The exceptional tree rule has a very limitied definition of exceptional that only applies to a small number of trees. . This policy, by Council staff’s own admittance, only potentially protects 1% of Seattle’s trees. That means 99% of Seattle’s trees are not protected.
Even that percentage is questionable because right now any property owner proposing a construction project can cut down almost any tree, no matter how exceptional; all they have to do is say they can’t build if they can’t cut down the tree. This is what just happened in trying to save an old cedar called Big Red in the Ravenna neighborhood.
One trick they use, which DPD seems to buy off on, is that the developer can propose to plant new trees, maybe even 2 to 3 for each one they cut down. Planting two inch saplings while taking out 100 year old trees is not any kind of equivalence. It is a rip off of our urban forest.
The rules to be classified an exceptional tree are very restrictive. Very few trees actually qualify to even be considered exceptional under the DPD’s decision process. For example, DPD’s exceptional tree rules says Douglas fir trees have to be larger than 36 inches in diameter to be considered. Of the 72 trees the Seattle School District wants to cut down in a grove on the west side of Ingraham High School, the largest Douglas fir is 30 inches. The trees in the grove are 75 years old, 25 years older than the school, but none of the Douglas fir qualify as exceptional.
The Ingraham site also has Pacific madrone trees which are rare in the city and declining in numbers but at Ingraham they are labeled as not exceptional because they are not young. The DPD says young madrone trees may be protected. At Ingraham the School District has been moving the understory area and cutting down young trees shoots of madrone. So mismanagement of the habitat is being rewarded by the City.
Tamara Garrett of the DPD in reviewing the Ingraham High School Construction Project repeatedly described the cutting down of the 72 trees that are 75 years old and represent 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and pacific madrone trees as “Several mature trees situated in the Northwest Grove have the potential to be affected by the proposed project.” And “conversely, members of the public opposed to the proposal mainly cited concerns about negative impacts associated with the removal of several mature trees on the site” and “The planned removal of several mature trees from the area of the site could negatively impact the survival of existing spawning, feeding or nesting areas of the birds.”
One has to wonder at what point DPD considers the removal of trees more than several. Would cutting down Seward Park or the trees at Green Lake also be nothing more than ‘the loss of a few trees?” The problem is that the DPD has given no consideration to the value of tree groves (read urban green habitat) as distinct from whether any tree in a grove is exceptional.
Taking 1% of our current 18% tree canopy means we could potentially save only .18% of Seattle’s tree canopy according to the DPD’s Director’s Rules on exceptional trees. Can you really call this any kind of tree protection measure? This is a gross misinterpretation of the SEPA laws of the City of Seattle.
From a habitat sense, birds are not avoiding the Ingraham grove because it doesn’t have a 36 inch Douglas fir present. They are using the grove because it has many trees present, some 130 in all. And scientific studies show that the larger the grove, the greater the diversity of bird species. In an older grove of trees, like at Ingraham, vertical stratification also occurs as different species occur at different height levels of the tree canopy.
The Seattle City Council passed an ordinance last year asking the DPD to revise it’s tree policy to reflect the intent of the SEPA provisions in the Seattle Municipal Code and give protection to tree groves. While the DPD has drafted a new interpretation it still has not approved it.
The guiding rule that DPD should be using for tree protection is SMC 25.05.675 (N). How does one go from the requirement to protect rare and uniques plant and animal habitat to only protecting .18% of the tree canopy in Seattle?
You do it by not giving any value to Seattle’s urban green natural habitat. The City needs to take the environmental review out of DPD’s hands and make it independent from those involved in approving construction permits. One way to do this is to move environmental review of construction projects to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. That sounds like their job is to promote sustainability and the environment. The DPD’s is not; it is to promote construction and development.
One other problem in trying to stop tree loss in the city of Seattle is that no one is tracking the trees being cut down. Current city law does not require anyone to get a permit to cut trees down, like many other cities do. DPD does not keep track of how many trees are cut down each month or year.
Seattle also has no tree inventory, so it truly does not know what it losing or gaining. The best estimate of the state of Seattle’s urban forest status comes form the Urban Forestry Plan which estimated an 18% canopy cover city wide two years ago, down from 40% in 1973. Without a city wide inventory and tracking system and permits no one is keeping count of the trees being cut down. No one.
There is no tracking possible without a permit system of what we are losing. We need to require permits before trees can be cut down.
Environmental review of habitat and trees really needs to be moved out of DPD and done independently – like by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. It is obvious that when DPD interprets protecting rare plant and animal habitat under SMC 25.05.675 (N) as only requiring protecting so called “exceptional trees”, that it gives no real protection to our natural green habitat or priority to basic ecological values within the city.
Such a limited narrow interpretation is a serious misreading of the Seattle Municipal Code and the intent of SEPA law. It hinders and prevents efforts to sustain and expand Seattle’s urban tree canopy. It is allowing the continued destruction of important plant and animal habitat.
Any new urban forest plan and tree protection ordinance needs to be based on sound urban forest management practices and basic ecological principles. The current system run by DPD is allowing the continued destruction of Seattle’s green natural habitat and needs to be ended.
By a vote of 8 to 1, the Seattle City Council yesterday passed an emergency interim tree protection ordinance. Council Bill 116404 is a step in the right direction to try to halt the continued loss of trees, especially mature ones in the City of Seattle.
Since 1973 the city tree canopy has decreased from 40% down to 18% according to the Mayor’s Office when he announced his 2006 – 2007 Environmental Agenda.
Council Bill 116404 would limit tree removal and topping to no more than 3 trees that are 6 inches in diameter per year. It expands the definition of exceptional trees to include “group of trees”. Hazardous trees and dangerous trees would be exempt from the law.
While a step in the right direction the interim tree ordinance mainly gives protection to trees that are not being threatened by construction or building permits. Unfortunately the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) still will have the authority to approve construction projects without significant regard for the loss of trees in the process. This is why there is an urgent need to pass new strong legislation to protect trees in Seattle.
The DPD’s recent approval to cut down 72 trees in a rare plant habitat at Ingraham High School near Haller Lake in North Seattle because the understory was not in a pristine condition and the approval of cutting most of a grove of mature Douglas fir trees at Waldo Woods in North Seattle finds the DPD’s bias is to cut down trees without regard to its impact on Seattle’s urban canopy and continued loss of natural habitat.
The understory in most urban forests needs restoration. Many of Seattle’s Parks have little native understory because they have been overrun with ivy and blackberries. Understory can be restored in a few years time while 75 year old trees like at Ingraham literally take 75 years to be restored.
Waldo Woods is being appealed in King County Superior Court and the Ingraham decision is being appealed by Save the Trees- Seattle before a City Hearing Examiner on April 1, 2009.
You can watch the watch the full council meeting here , listen to the public comment and and to the Council members as they discuss their support for the measure before they take their affirmative vote. The tree ordinance vote is their first action item on the Agenda.
All the Council members except McIver spoke in favor of the ordinance and voted for it. They did express the need to do a tree inventory for Seattle so we can track how fast trees are being lost and whether we are reversing the trend.
Save the Tree-Seattle noted the need to require permits before trees can be cut down as the only way we can track tree loss accurately. They also suggested that the Environmental review process should be turned over to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment for independent review, rather than DPD doing it.
The ordinance that was passed will only be in place until a long term tree protection law can be put in place, hopefully this year. Unfortunately such a new law has been talked about for years and little publicly has been seen coming from the Mayor’s Office. Hopefully this will change.
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