Seattle Urban Forestry Commission Needs to Concentrate on New Tree Ordinance

The following are comments presented to the Seattle City Council’s Committee on Regional Development and Sustainability on June 4, 2010 by Steve Zemke, the Chairperson of Save the Trees – Seattle

“I want to again commend the Council for their action last year in recognizing the importance of Seattle’s urban forest to the infrastructure and well being of our city through their actions to create the Urban Forestry Commission and set a task of revising and strengthening our tree and urban forestry ordinances.

The 9 member Urban Forestry Commission has been meeting since January and has been busy coming to grips with the multitude of issues dealing with trees in the city. I have been impressed with the commitment and level of thought and experience the Commissioners have brought to the table to assist the Mayor and City Council in their efforts to protect trees and reach the goal of significantly increasing Seattle’s urban forest and canopy.

I think if anything the Commission has been faced with too many issues and need now to refocus their efforts by doing a long range work plan. I believe their main priority should be to focus in on helping you draft and evaluate provisions as proposed for a revised tree and urban forestry ordinance in Council Resolution Number 31138 passed last August 3, 2009, the same day you created the urban forestry commission.

Trees continue to be lost every day in the city. Rumor circulating among city departments dealing with trees has it that a figure of 17,000 trees a year are lost in Seattle. We need to deal with this loss by among other things setting up an expanded permit system to remove any tree over 6 inches on both private and public property. Other cities do this and successfully. They are placing a much higher priority on having a green city than Seattle is.

Permits are already required before someone can remove a street tree.

In addition all persons performing tree trimming and removal should be required to get a business license from the city before they can remove trees in the city as a business. Our current system of protecting exceptional trees is complaint based. By the time anyone in the city receives a complaint the trees are gone.

Rather than requiring property owners to understand all the in and outs of complex tree regulations thoroughly, put the burden on those who profit by illegally cutting down trees in our city. Severe penalties and loss or suspension of a business license would go a long way to end illegal tree cutting. Educating several hundred people engaged as arborists or other tree service people in city laws to protect trees is a lot easier than trying to reach some 600,000 or so city residents.

The city needs to move now to tighten our urban forestry protections. Please urge the Urban Forestry Commission to focus their energies on helping you fulfill the directives given in Resolution 31138.”

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