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
To Shoreline City Council
June 18, 2012
Regarding Amendments to Code regarding Trees
Dear City Council and Mayor:
I want to urge your support for Ordinance No 640 as in Attachment A-1 as recommended by the Planning Commission.
While I do not believe the amendments go very far in terms of protecting trees in the future, they are a step in the right direction. The proposals from staff labeled as Attachment A-2 in the May 21st Council memo for Agenda item 8(a) at your June 18, 2012 meeting do not take into account future development or the lack of precision in your canopy calculations in your March 2011 Canopy Assessment. That study noted that it has a 2 foot resolution and the earlier study had a 90 foot resolution. The earlier data are called approximations – I could not find what the range of accuracy was. The study does note that a “1% increase would take approximately 6000 trees with a mature crown diameter of 30 feet”. Thus if the earlier value was 32% or 33% canopy cover you’re talking about 6000 to 12,000 trees being removed.
If you do not require some type of tracking of trees being removed you have no good way of tracking your success and how many trees you need to replace just to keep at the same level of canopy. This is why a tree removal permit would help. And a requirement that trees being removed be replaced either on or off site would help you to maintain canopy. But saying you can remove 6 trees in 3 years and not be required to replace them says you are going to lose canopy over time.
I find the most recent comments by the Innis Arden Club as not credible. They are arguing for being able to remove trees with no regard for the impact on storm water runoff, habitat value, noise screening, air pollution reduction as biased by their position that “ view” trumps all other considerations. Innis Arden is only one area of Shoreline and they need to join the rest of the Community of Shoreline in working to protect the common urban forest and the values it provides to urban living.
One example of their lack of scientific credibility is their statement that there is no justification for protecting 30”DBH trees. Tree Services magazine for example notes that:
“One hot issue in cities now is managing storm water. Only the big trees have the capacity to intercept about 80 percent of a 1-inch rainfall, compared to small trees, which intercept only 16 percent. “To a storm water engineer, a large tree is the perfect management system,” said Kirwan.
Large trees in urban areas, however, are on the decline—about 25 percent of city tree canopy has disappeared in the past 30 years according to a satellite image analysis conducted by American Forests (www.americanforests.org), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group. The organization estimates that 634,407,719 trees are currently missing from metropolitan areas across the United States as a result of urban (and suburban) development.
In terms of pollution, big trees are sorely being missed in cities. They remove 60 to 70 percent more pollution than small trees, and they can also absorb more than 1,500 gallons of water a year. They also keep temperatures down. In Atlanta, Ga., for example, where 380,000 acres of trees have been cut down in the city and surrounding areas in the past 30 years, the average temperature is 5 to 8 degrees higher than surrounding woodlands. “http://www.treeservicesmagazine.com/article-1300.aspx
This is just one example of why big trees need to be protected and why you need to put in place measures to maintain or increase canopy and trees in Shoreline.
So I urge you to consider these issues carefully and realize that pressures to remove the urban forest trees will only increase. Now is the time to act to put in place to protect trees, not keep the status quo or weaken protections that will cause more problems and costs for future citizens living in Shoreline .
Chair – Save the Trees – Seattle
On June 18, 2012 the Shoreline City Council by a vote of 4 to 3 did approve most of the recommendations of their Planning Commission, including reducing the numbers of trees that could be removed in a 3 year period from 6 on all lots to a variable 3-6 depending on lot size. They also required a permit to remove trees over 30 inches in diameter at breast height.
for more information see – Of Paramount Importance – “Shoreline’s Trees: A triumph of Hope Over Fear”
June 11, 2012
To the Shoreline City Council
Regarding your proposed Tree Code Amendments, I wish to express my concern that they appear to do little to add tree protection to Shoreline. My wife and I have owned a rental house in Shoreline for about 15 years. My observation has been that trees continue to come down and replacement trees are not planted. One neighbor next door removed an evergreen tree taller than their house and a mature Mountain ash. No replacement trees were planted. Several older Douglas firs have also been cut on other properties in the neighborhood and these are only ones I saw cut down and had firsthand knowledge of.
These first hand observations lend concern to your Urban Tree Canopy Assessment of March 2011. While the accuracy of evaluating canopy area has significantly improved by the 2009 study, I find it difficult to accept any statement that canopy cover is about the same as in 1992 and 2001. As the study acknowledges the earlier studies are “rough estimates of canopy and impervious land cover based on coarse 30 meter resolution land use data “. 30 meters is over 90 feet or about a third of the length of a football field. Later it says that the 30% values for canopy “are approximates” and “This data is generalized and therefore not to be compared to the more detailed CITYgreen data.”
What this says to me is that you have a much more detailed and more accurate analysis based on the 2009 data that indicates a present value of about 30.6% canopy. This is below your stated goal of 35%. What you do not have are reliable comparison points because of the lack of resolution of the previous studies. You also state a goal of not losing more canopy.
Besides reducing the number of trees that can be removed over a three year period based on lot size you are really not increasing tree protection in my view. This is particularly true when one considers that removing the prohibition on removing trees from undeveloped lots will increase the probability of more trees being removed. This is a step backwards and increases the probability of trees in remaining groves being reduced.
You put in place no mechanism for tracking trees being removed which is what a permit system does. Requiring permits for trees over 30 inches to be removed only deals with one segment of the trees in the city. A 30 inch Douglas fir is going to be about 75 years old and 100 feet tall. One problem here is that by only giving some protection to the oldest trees you allow younger replacement trees to be cut. What happens when the old trees die if you do not have replacement trees to take their place. A healthy urban forest needs a range of tree ages and sizes for both replacement as old trees die and also for varied habitat for birds and insects. Bird species typically stratify in trees such that older Douglas firs for example actually have 3 different vertical layers of bird habitat.
I believe a permit system is the best way to track tree loss and also understand the health of your urban forest. It also functions to educate people about the value of trees. Such a system is important in maintaining a diverse habitat for wildlife and replacement. Such a permit system does not have to be cost prohibitive but can be set up as an online system with approval given online. Google street maps for example have street views which can be used to visually see things from a street level as well as Google maps viewing from space.
It also seems imperative if you don’t want to lose canopy and trees that you must require replacement of equivalent trees either on site or off site. While canopy may increase due to existing tree growth, without replacement you are decreasing the absolute number of trees as well as the potential diversity of trees. From a stormwater runoff sense coniferous trees provide value year round. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall. They provide little help in the winter. This is another reason to track tree loss, to see which species and what size trees are being cut down.
Another issue that needs to be considered is the use of native trees for replacement trees. Native trees are supportive of native insect and bird species as well as adapted to climate and rain conditions in the NW.
Tree canopy as defined in your 2009 study is also only two dimensional whereas the value and worth of canopy to the urban forest is also based on canopy volume. Cutting tall old conifer trees and replacing them with small trees like street trees are not an equivalence in value to the city in terms of the benefits different size and species of trees provide to the city and its residents.
Something Shoreline should look into is setting up a tree wiki like San Francisco and Philadelphia have. It is an excellent tracking tool for change and a great educational tool for citizens, students, community groups and others. You can check these out at these two links:
Seattle Audubon currently has a grant to start up a tree map wiki in Seattle. Joining this effort by adding Shoreline would be a great asset for both cites in trying to evaluate and protect the urban forest resources both have. I urge you look into this.
Chair – Save the Trees – Seattle
Note added for update:
On June 18, 2012 the Shoreline City Council by a vote of 4 to 3 did approve most of the recommendations of their Planning Commission, including reducing the numbers of trees that could be removed in a 3 year period from 6 on all lots to a variable 3-6 depending on lot size. They also required a permit to remove trees over 30 inches in diameter at breast height.
for more information see – Of Paramount Importance - “Shoreline’s Trees: A triumph of Hope Over Fear”
There is some exciting news out of Portland, Oregon. Earlier this year they completed a lengthy several year process to enact a new Urban Forest Ordinance to significantly increase protection for trees and tree groves in their city. It has incorporated many of the features tree advocates have been asking for here in Seattle, including a requirement for tree permits to remove trees on both public and private property, tree replacement required for trees removed on private property and shifting most or all of tree oversight out of DPD (Department of Planning and Development).
Portland removes tree oversight, except during development on private property, out of their Development Agency to their City Forester.They developed their new ordinance through their “Citywide Tree Policy Review and Regulatory Project“. As noted on their 2 page summary sheet, their involvement and collaboration involved “more than 1000 hours with their stakeholder group, 250 meetings in the community, two sets of open houses, five-month joint Planning Commission/Urban Forestry Commission hearing process and ongoing collaboration between six City Bureaus“.
Portland has slightly less population than Seattle, has a larger area and is striving for 33% canopy cover. (Seattle current goal is 30% in the Urban Forest Management Plan)
What is significant about Portland’s proposal is that Portland is doing a lot of what DPD says we can’t do here or doesn’t want to do. Portland is expanding their permit system to include both public and private trees. They are requiring permits (which are a way of tracking tree loss and gain) for public trees 3 inches and larger in diameter and for private trees 12 inches and larger in diameter with some overlay areas using 6 inches and larger diameter.
They are requiring tree for tree replacement for most permits, with inch for inch replacement on larger trees and groves. Seattle currently has no such replacement requirements for most trees removed on private property which makes it difficult to comply with the City Comprehensive Plan which actually calls for no net loss of canopy and increasing our tree canopy to 40%.
Portland divides their tree protection process oversight by allowing their Development arm to oversee tree protection during development and their City Forester to oversee all other tree protection. This would make sense also in Seattle as DPD is only involved with about 1% of the city’s land in any given year that is being developed. As the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission noted in their review of DPD’s proposed tree regulation changes earlier this year, DPD did not address protection for 99% of the city’s land in any given year.
Portland has taken the regional lead in setting the new standard for comprehensive urban forestry protection and Seattle needs to look closely at what Portland has done and the public process they used to arrive at their new ordinance. It is a very different model than DPD has proposed. Portland’s new ordinance is the way many other cities in our region are moving in increasing protection of trees and their urban forest. It is the way Seattle needs to move.
Links to new Portland, Oregon tree regulations:
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
Resolution of the battle to save the Ingraham Tree Grove is moving forward. On Friday, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle turned down the Seattle School District’s petition to remove the Court Injunction put in place by Judge Erlick two years ago to prevent the Seattle School District from cutting 70 trees in the grove to end further environmental review.
Judge Doyle also denied the Seattle School District’s request for a $187,000 bond. It should be noted that Save the Trees-Seattle has in fact lowered the cost of whatever is built at Ingraham, not increased the cost. The bid, eg, for the compressed west addition came in at $6.5 million dollars. That’s $3.5 million less than the original estimated cost by the Seattle School District.
Save the Trees-Seattle agreed to consolidate the two cases before the court. The original case was an appeal of the School District’s Hearing Examiner process arguing that an EIS should have been performed and that a DNS was not appropriate.
The second case was an appeal of the City of Seattle inadequate mitigation of the Project. City law calls for giving a priority to protecting rare and uncommon plant and animal habitat. The City Hearing Examiner agreed the NW Tree Grove was an uncommon plant habitat in Seattle but did not require the Seattle School District to move the Project to another site on the campus.
Save the Trees- Seattle argued that moving the project to save the NW Tree Grove was one of the legal mitigation options the City had but did not exercise, despite the fact that the School District’s BEX Project manager agreed under oath that the Seattle School District could build the Project on the open North Lawn and not have to cut down any mature trees.
The Seattle School District continued to deny that the North Lawn was feasible to build on until forced to acknowledge while under oath the existence of an internal e-mail obtained through public records disclosure that the North Lawn Area was actually considered a future building site for a 2 story addition to the school. Save the Trees – Seattle argues that the School District should build there now and save the NW Grove from being cut down or diminished in size needlessly.
The consolidated case is now scheduled to be heard before King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle on Nov.5, 2010 at 11 AM. Save the Trees- Seattle has been working now for almost 3 years, trying to save the NW Grove.
Maybe it’s time to check if Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn is still carrying his Sierra Club Card. His Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has issued a controversial draft proposal, entitled City of Seattle Proposed Tree Regulations Dated July 14, 2010.
Unfortunately the proposal represents a complete reversal of recent tree protection legislation passed by the Seattle City Council and signed by McGinn’s predecessor, Mayor Greg Nickels. The proposal calls for ending all protection for mature trees in Seattle. It would rescind Director’s Rules 16-2008 which protects exceptional trees in Seattle.
It would also repeal the interim tree ordinance passed last year by the City Council which among other things protected tree groves and limited the number of trees which could be cut down in any given year. DPD’s proposal runs counter to Resolution 31138, passed by the Seattle City Council last year calling for strengthening trees protections, not weakening them. And it ignores most of the problems identified by the City Auditor in 2009 entitled “Management of City’s Trees Can be Improved.”
Seattle’s urban forest and trees comprise an important component of Seattle’s green infrastructure. Our urban forest reduces costs to taxpayers by reducing storm water runoff and cleaning pollutants from the air we breathe. It provides habitat for wildlife, screens noise and reduces weather impacts. Seattle’s urban forest has been in decline in recent decades, losing canopy and mature trees.
The report was prepared in secret without a public process and is being marketed by DPD as the best way to increase our urban forest canopy. Comments will be accepted until Oct 31, 2010. The report proposes that instead of regulation, the city rely on education and incentives to protect trees. Unfortunately there are no good examples of places where this approach has worked.
Other cities are strengthening their tree regulations rather than proposing eliminating them. Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission has reviewed the preliminary draft report and does not support the approach being proposed by DPD. They note that the proposed DPD framework would eliminate protections for trees on 99.5% of Seattle’s property and only apply to the .5% of property being developed each year. Once a building site is complete, there would be no ongoing protections for trees under DPD’s proposal.
DPD is presenting their draft proposal to the Regional Development and Sustainability Committee of the Seattle City Council this afternoon, August 17, 2010 from 2 PM to 4 PM. The Urban Forestry Commission will also be discussing at this meeting their problems with the proposal. They have prepared a written response to DPD’s proposal.
Neighborhood and environmental activists across the City are outraged by the proposal. They held a public meeting at the Broadview Library on August 8, 2010 and decided to organize a Coalition effort to draft a citizen’s alternative to DPD’s proposal. The consensus of the meeting was that the DPD proposal was so extreme and contrary to public opinion and went in the opposite direction from that which other cities are moving; that DPD could not be trusted to prepare a forward looking and comprehensive proposal that addressed the need of the city to protect and expand our our urban forest and trees.
The organizations and community representatives meeting decided to consolidate and focus their efforts to enact a strong urban forestry ordinance under one umbrella group. The group agreed to organize under the auspices of Save the Trees-Seattle which has been fighting to save the old trees at Ingraham High School for the last two and one half years. Save the Trees-Seattle also came up with the idea of Seattle having an Urban Forestry Commission based on science. The City Council created the Urban Forestry Commission last year and they have been meeting since January. Save the Trees – Seattle also worked to pass the interim tree ordinance enacted last year.
The new coaltion under the name Save the Trees – Seattle established a legislative committee which will be putting together a citizen’s draft ordinance. They will be seeking public input and welcome tree advocates and others from around the city to participate in the process. They will send their draft proposal to various groups and organizations around the city for review and will be speaking before interested organizations, seeking public feedback.
Coalition members of Save the Trees –Seattle have agreed on some preliminary proposals that they believe should be incorporated in any comprehensive urban forestry and tree ordinance. These include:
1. Maintain and expand protection for exceptional trees and tree groves
2. Expand current permit system for street trees to include all trees over 6 inches in diameter on public and private property; 2 week posting of permits on internet and visible sign on site, appeal process
3. Comprehensive regulations that cover both public and private sectors
4. Consolidate oversight, regulation and enforcement in an independent department other than DPD, that does not have a conflict of interest
5. License and train all arborists and tree cutting operations; with fines and suspension for violations of law
6. Give priority to native trees and vegetation to help preserve native plants and animals
7. Emphasis on habitat and ecological processes and soil as part of urban forestry
8. All real estate sales to require disclosure of exceptional trees on property or all trees requiring a permit to remove
9. Define canopy cover in terms of volume and area
10. Rebate on utility bills based on exceptional trees (or all trees over 6 inches in diameter) on property; property owners file to get rebate like they file for senior’s property tax exemption
11. Meaningful and descriptive site plans that show existing and proposed trees to scale.
The coalition will meet again on August 29, 2010 at the Broadview Public Library from 1:30 to 4:30 PM.
The Seattle Departmant of Planning and Development (DPD) is proposing new tree regulations that would eliminate current protections for exceptional trees, tree groves and most other trees. The proposal was developed in secret without a public process.
The draft proposal was prepared in response to last year’s City Council Resolution 31138 . The DPD proposal is inadequate and does not meet the pressing needs of preserving and enhancing Seattle urban forest and trees. It represents a significant step backwards in protecting this valuable infrastructure of our city.
It is important to note that the very first directive in Resolution 31138 in Section 1 is not met in several ways by DPD’s “City of Seattle Proposed Tree Regulations dated July 14, 2010. The resolution states that “The City Council requests 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.”
The report does the opposite by proposing the repeal of the interim tree ordinance, removal of protections for exceptional trees and relying only on incentives to protect trees.
DPD’s proposal is not legislation but only a report. In the introduction it states that “The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) is proposing to revise Seattle’s regulations governing trees on private property.” The report completely ignores the public component of protecting the urban forest. If urban forest regulations are to be effective, public and private entities must follow the same regulations.
Resolution 31138 directed DPD to look at “establishing additional protections for all City-designated exceptional trees”. This seems pretty clear, yet DPD’s response is to propose eliminating any protections for exceptional trees. This would represent a major reversal and repudiation of the goals of protecting unique species, old trees and others currently classified as exceptional. This is unacceptable.
Another criticism of the report is that it approaches urban forestry protection only from the sense of trees, not urban forestry. It ignores the ecological component of the interrelationship of plants and animals and the need for habitat protection. The impact of individual tree decisions is never in isolation but affects communities of plants and animals and their ability to survive.
The interim tree ordinance gave protection to groves of trees; yet no mention is made of this in this report. Many species of birds, insects and other animal’s survival depends on the retention of native plant species, including but not limited to “trees”. It is well known that the diversity of plants and animals increases as habitat patch size increases. The proposal removes interim protection for tree groves.
Also the whole definition of canopy analysis is dated ecologically. Canopy needs to be defined in terms of canopy volume. In an aerial photo a 100 year old 120 foot tall Douglas fir could appear to cover the same surface area as a group of 5 or 10 street trees yet the canopy volume would be hugely different.
This report needs to take into consideration these concerns of biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability. Many of these concerns are addressed in a 68 page report by the Montgomery Tree Committee entitled “Urban Tree Conservation: A White Paper on Local Ordinances”
An inherent conflict of interest exists in having DPD develop and oversee urban forest and tree regulations. It represents an internal conflict of interests. DPD’s primary mission is to help people develop their property. As noted in a recent public presentation by a DPD employee, the DPD’s interpretation is that trees can be saved unless they prohibit the development potential of a lot. As such DPD’s mission is clear and trees lose.
Seattle’s urban forest needs an independent advocate for its protection. The most likely candidate is to vest tree regulation and oversight in one city agency, not nine as is currently the situation. The Office of Sustainability and Environment is the most logical choice. The recent city Auditor’s Report in 2009 entitled “Management of City Trees Can be Improved”, concurred with this view when it stated that the City “Unify all City Departments behind a single mission through clear and demonstrated leadership by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. The City’s current approach to trees lacks top leadership with the authority and accountability to ensure implementation of the Urban Forestry Management Plan.”
Another directive is to look at “establishing a requirement to obtain a permit before removing any tree in any residential, commercial or industrial zone”. Again pretty clear, yet DPD’s response is to oppose this, despite other cities requiring permits before trees can be cut down. Seattle already has a requirement to get a permit to cut down or prune privately planted and maintained trees in the public right of way, like the parking strip in front of one’s home. The permit is administered by SDOT, the Seattle Department of Transportation. The report makes no mention of this.
What is needed is to expand this current tree cutting permit to include all trees on public and private property that are above some minimum diameter. Many cities use a 6 inch diameter. Of course a special case needs to be dealt with in replacement trees that are planted as the result of, e.g., a land use action. Many of these trees will be less than 6 inches in diameter for a number of years.
Permits could be several tiered, with a list of exceptional trees being much more difficult to remove. There is no enforcement now of cutting of exceptional trees because DPD operates with a complaint based system, rather than a permit system. It is a dismal failure. By the time you hear the chainsaw, it is impossible to save exceptional trees or any other trees.
Permits could be applied for on the internet, and posted for at least a week before final approval and for a week afterwards so that the public and the city have a chance to check them out. Atlanta, GA requires a 2 week posting period. For a large tree like a 70 year old Douglas fir, a week or two is a small time indeed. Signs should also be posted, visible to the public in the vicinity of the tree to be cut. Neighbors on adjoining properties should be notified since frequently tree disputes are about whose tree it really is. A way to question or appeal the tree cutting should be set up, requiring at least a second opinion by the city or another arborist.
To eliminate the requirement that property owners know every nuance of the law, tree arborists doing business in the city should apply for a special tree cutting license, be professionally certified and attend a briefing by city officials on our tree laws and regulations. If trees are removed contrary to the law, the city could then go after the arborists with fines, and for repeat offenders or multiple violations, revocation also of their license. Most homeowners are not going to cut down large trees on their property because of damage and liability issues. They will probably hire someone.
One possible incentive system could be patterned after the senior exemption for property owners. The senior exemption is not automatic but property owners have to fill out an application and not exceed certain income levels. A rebate or reduction in water and sewer bills for maintaining trees and forested area could be made available but people would have to apply for them, listing tree species and sizes. This would help to establish the connection between trees and the benefits they provide property and home owners and the city.
Unfortunately the DPD report was prepared in secret without any major public input. It did not represent an open process or even examine many issues brought up in resolution 31138. And it is by no means comprehensive. Besides some of the major concerns we’ve brought up, any urban forestry or “tree” regulation is subject to the details in how the law would actually be written. The devil is in the details and there are very few details in this report.
As an example the DPD should use as a starting guideline an evaluation of any proposed regulation on the level proposed by The International Society of Arboriculture in its 181 page “Guideline for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances.” A smaller and incomplete checklist was also developed by the Georgia Forestry Commission entitled, “Tree Ordinance Development Guideline”.
Both these reports should act as a starting point to discuss the multitude of issues and specific concerns that need to be addressed in the development of any comprehensive urban forest and tree ordinance that both works and is accepted by the public. The current report is incomplete and unacceptable.
Please contact Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council to voice your opposition to DPD’s proposal to remove protections for exceptional trees, tree groves and our urban forest. Urge that they enact strong legislation to protect our urban forest, increase our canopy cover and protect habitat for native plants and animals.
You can contact them at:
also cc the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission at
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.
Save the Trees-Seattle is commencing another full blown hearing today on trying to save the old conifer and madrone trees in the NW grove at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. Last year we seemingly won our appeal before the Seattle Hearing Examiner- she agreed with us that the NW Grove was an uncommon habitat in Seattle and that city environmental law said it should be protected.
Unfortunately the Hearing Examiner gave the Seattle School District the option of moving the project or reducing the footprint and the Seattle School District choose to just reduce the footprint. Trees be damned. The Seattle school District reduced the footprint of the project from a previous 44% of the grove to 38% and then started playing additional games.
They said the impact was much less because they now claimed the grove didn’t start at the edge of the school but 30 feet out. Problem is 30 feet out is where the tree trunks are and groves start where their roots and canopy drip lines are, not where tree trunks actually are.
And of course the Seattle School District claimed that all the alternative building sites they looked at cost more. Originally they claimed that a 2 story building on the north side would destroy 4 classrooms in the existing building. Then in the second Addendum to their Environmental Checklist they claimed 2 classrooms were lost. They of course had to replace these classrooms so the alternative site would have to have a larger building and cost more.
The only problem is that the Architects finally agreed with Save the Trees-Seattle that no classrooms would be lost with a two story building on the north side. So the Seattle School district now claims that they must build a 2000 square foot entrance way for any North side building. In other words the fix is on. They have added extra study rooms and more utilities, you name it, to each of the other sites besides the west addition in the NW Grove grove to jack up the price.
This is the public’s taxpayer dollars at work, ignoring what is good environmental policy and setting out to destroy more of an uncommon plant habitat in Seattle that also has significant canopy – these are 75 year old, 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific Madrone trees – part of the last 50 acres of this habitat in Seattle according to a report done by Seattle Urban Nature. on the State of Seattle’s Madrone Forests.
The Hearing process starts at 9 AM on the 40th Floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave. The Hearing is today, Wednesday June 23, 2010. The public is welcome to attend. The appellants go first and then the Seattle School District and Seattle Department of Planning and Development.
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