Tag Archives: interim tree protection ordinance

Ingraham High School Trees to "Scream" on Friday!

NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School  Northwest Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

The Seattle School District is going to cut down 27 trees tomorrow Friday Jan 28, 2011 (about one quarter of the NW Grove) at Ingraham High School. For several days the School District has been assembling equipment and preparing to cut down the trees. Tomorrow students have the day off.

Tonight just before dark I went over to check things out once again and asked a worker in a hardhat when they were going to cut the trees down.  His response was that “tomorrow the trees would be screaming“. It’s strange but I could not think of a more apt response for the trees.

If Seattle Mayor McGinn has his way, no trees in Seattle will be protected from destruction. Ingraham is only a precursor to many more trees being lost because Mayor McGinn is proposing to deregulate all tree protection in the city. Strange that someone who supposedly ran with a label as an environmentalist has no love for protecting Seattle’s green infrastructure. When we tried to talk to McGinn and his staff about saving the Ingraham trees he choose to ignore us and wouldn’t even schedule an opportunity for us to discuss the situation with him.

McGinn instead has signed off on an initial draft proposal by his Department of Planning and Development to literally remove all protections for trees in Seattle, including tree groves and exceptional trees. The proposal claims that it increases tree protection when it would take us back to before we had any laws to protect trees. The proposal says that instead of laws to protect trees we should trust that education and incentives will protect trees. As if that worked to convince the Seattle School District to save the Ingraham trees. Meanwhile other cities like Lake Forest Park and Kirkland and Issaquah have moved to strengthen their tree ordinances in recent years.

Unfortunately, even with current regulations,trees already have no standing in Seattle and no voice because DPD (Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development) gives priority to helping people build whatever they want rather than saving trees and green space. The benefits of trees to clean the air and provide oxygen and reduce storm water runoff and provide habitat to animals and screen noise and pollutants and provide visual delight is given no value when DPD says that trees can be saved except when they limit the development potential of a lot.

DPD has a conflict of interest in both trying to help people develop their lots and save trees. Trees almost always lose because DPD assigns them no economic valve despite the services they provide the city. Trees need a voice of their own and should be protected by assigning tree regulatory authority to another city department like Seattle Public Utilities which sees their value in dealing with storm water runoff. They know that as we lose trees we increase man made infrastructure costs to make up for the lost services of our urban forest trees.

. Neighbors and others who want to keep our city green with trees must become a more vocal advocate for trees. Save the Trees – Seattle is working with a city wide  group of tree advocates called “Save Our Urban Forest Infrastructure” to enact stronger protections for trees and our urban forest so we don’t become the Emerald City in legend only.

Of course the School District has been quiet on specifically when they were going to cut the trees down. At 9:37 PM tonight I got an e-mail from School Board member Sherry Carr in which she said she was just told by facilities that the trees would probably be cut down tomorrow.

One of our members, an arborist, told us that the trees can probably be cut down in 2 hours or so. After 70 years of life and good service to the City of Seattle, it’s weird and sad how quickly it can all so needlessly end.  The Seattle School District had prepared an Ingraham Master Plan showing they could build the addition on the open lawn on the North side without having to remove any of the tree grove.

Yet the School Administration under Superintendent Goodloe Johnson and the Seattle School Board has turned a blind eye to environmental issues, choosing not to help increase Seattle’s tree canopy but instead gouge a chunk out of it by removing some of the city’s oldest trees. What a great lesson for Seattle students about how to live in a world where we are increasing threatened with drastic climate change and environmental degradation as our population and use of the world’s resources increases to have an ever expanding economy based on consumption.

Steve Zemke
Chair, Save the Trees – Seattle

City of Seattle and Seattle School District to End Lives of 29 Trees at Ingraham High School that have Served the City for over 70 Years

NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

It is with sadness that we (Save the Trees – Seattle) announce that we have reached the end of our efforts to save some 29 mature Douglas fir, western red cedar and madrone trees at Ingraham High School. We recently lost our appeal before King County Superior Court Judge Teresa Doyle and are unable to continue with an appeal to the Appellate Court because of the cost and potential liability if we lose on continued appeal.

Save the Trees – Seattle has succeeded in reducing the trees to be cut in the NW Grove from an initial 70 to less than 30. The 29 trees to be cut down represent about one quarter of the trees in the NW Grove. We also succeed in saving a mixed conifer madrone grove of the trees on the east side of the school that had been protected for 50 years in an agreement with the Parks Department but which the Seattle School District had targeted for a parking lot.

Our efforts to save the NW Tree Grove helped to get the City to pass a stronger interim tree protection law which currently protects tree groves from future development. We also originated the idea and worked to pass legislation to create the current Urban Forestry Commission. And we are working now to fight the proposal by the Mayor and his Department of Planning and Development to deregulate tree protection in the city that would send us back to the roar of chainsaws clearcutting what trees remain in Seattle’s reduced tree canopy which has been reduced by half since the 1970’s.

The time to appeal expires as of Dec 9th so we expect the Seattle School District to rev up their chainsaws and cut the trees down as early as this weekend. We urge you to stop by and say good-by to the 29 trees condemned to die because of the City’s and the Seattle School District’s blindness to environmental and ecological values.

If the trees are gone when you come by, we urge you to pay homage to the 70 plus years of service they provided the city by reducing stormwater runoff, cleaning our city’s air, producing oxygen for us to breathe, providing a park area for the school and the neighborhood, providing habitat for birds and squirrels and insects and other animals and plant life, for being part of the last 50 plus acres of an uncommon plant habitat in Seattle (a conifer madrone forest), and for just being there for their beauty and serenity.

This Sunday (Dec 12, 2010) at 10 AM we will hold a Citizen’s Memorial Service on the North side of the tree grove to honor the trees for their 70 years of service to our neighborhood and city and to say good -by.

The street is N 135th between Ashworth Ave N and Meridian Ave N. Please come by and bring something in writing or a sign or flowers or something to post on the wire fence circling the grove. Bring a poem or words or a picture to share with others as we grieve for this unnecessary loss of part of our city and our neighborhood and our green urban forest infrastructure.

And vow to write to the Mayor and the Seattle City Council, urging them to reject efforts to eliminate all protections for existing trees as the Mayor proposes. Urge that they strengthen our tree laws to protect trees like those being cut down at Ingraham High School.

And if you are able to – please donate to Save the Trees to help pay off our legal bills and support our efforts needed over the next year to get a much stronger tree protection law passed. Contributions can be sent to Save the Trees-Seattle, c/o Steve Zemke, 2131 N 132nd St, Seattle, WA 98133. If you have questions or would like to help in our fight, you can contact us at stevezemke@msn.com or call 206-366-0811.

We want to thank everyone who has helped over the last three years. Your support has keep us going. While we have not saved all of the NW Grove, we have reduced the impact and loss overall. We as a group are dedicating ourselves to strengthening our City’s tree laws so that other trees in our city can avoid the fate facing those trees being cut down at Ingraham High School with taxpayer dollars. On Sunday we will pay homage to those trees that are dying an unnatural death despite their long service of 70 years to our city. We hope you will join us in saying thanks on Sunday.

Steve Zemke
Chair – Save the Trees-Seattle

PS – Come by and see the trees and post something on the fence or leave something when you can. As I noted, there is no guarantee that the trees won’t be cut down before Sunday. The 29 trees to be cut down are those closest to the west side of the Ingraham High School Building.

E-mails for the Seattle City Council are:









Also send a letter to: Mayor McGinn, Seattle City Hall 7th floor, 600 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749

PPS: Please forward this to others as time is short. Let neighbors and others know and come on Sunday.

McGinn Administration Proposes Eliminating Protections for Most Trees

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.

Seattle’s DPD Proposes Eliminating Almost all Tree Protections

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:

mike.mcginn@seattle.gov seattle.gov

also cc the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission at

Where’s the Green Going in Seattle??

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School


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.

Seattle City Council Passes Interim Tree Protection Ordinance.

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.