Seattle Needs an Urban Forestry Commission

Right now eight different Seattle departments deal with trees. There is no overall coordination or vision. While an Urban Forestry Management Plan has been drafted, it has never been approved by the Seattle City Council. A just released Report by the Seattle City Auditor entitled Management of City Trees can be Improved noted that it would help if all the city department tree efforts were consolidated in one place for oversight and coordination.

One way to do this is to establish an Urban Forestry Commission which could review existing plans like the Urban Forestry Management Plan and also new legislation to protect existing trees in Seattle and work to increase trees overall.

Council member Nick Licata has proposed creating just such an Urban Forestry Commission. Places like San Francisco and Portand both have Urban Forestry Commissions.

Here are 4 points I think such legislation needs to include in Seattle:

i. The concept of habitat and green infrastructure should be incorporated into the urban forestry language in the ordinance. The issue is not just about trees. This is where the idea of saving exceptional trees falls short because urban forestry is about saving the green infrastructure, not just individual trees. That means saving habitat for plants and animals which include trees but also vegetation, soil, birds and other animals that live in the habitat. It is about preserving ecosystem functioning which deals with larger concepts like community structure and watersheds. Trees are an important component of these but an urban forest is comprised of more than just a bunch of individual trees.

ii. The makeup of the Urban Forestry Commission should be by areas of expertise rather than organizations. It should be comprised of people with the ability to provide expert opinion and evaluation on urban forestry issues, not just political positions. The development community, for example, already has significant input and influence in departments like DPD. Some other departments seem to lack the expertise in house to evaluate urban forestry issues. Areas of expertise on the Urban Forestry Commission should include ecology, urban planning, arboriculture, landscape architecture, horticulture, and urban forestry.

iii. The Urban Forestry Commission should be an advocate for preserving Seattle’s urban forest. It should not be another tool for development interests or other special interests to exert their influence. The Urban Forestry Commission should be a counterbalance to forces pushing for development at any cost, regardless of the impact on the environment. To do that you have to be sure that the Commission is not stacked with members whose main concern is not sound urban forest management.

iv. The Urban Forestry Commission should represent expertise on urban forestry issues and be able to present scientific and factual information to the Mayor and City Council on legislation. The Urban Forestry Commission can be a place where proposals and projects can be reviewed for sound science, ecological considerations, sustainability and consistency with existing environmental laws, not a place to balance competing political views. It does not and should not have to decide between competing political interests. That is the role of the Mayor and City Council.

Comments are closed.