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:
summary of new tree regulations adopted 2011
text of new tree regulations adopted 2011