Seattle’s City Auditor today released a report today entitled “Management of City Trees Can be Improved.” A year in the making, one could argue that this report’s title is a classic example of understatement.
Citizens have been complaining for quite a few years that Seattle City Government has been avoiding acting to seriously save Seattle’s urban forest from both neglect and development. The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) for years has been giving developers thumbs up to cut down trees rather than finding ways to incorporate trees into the building process and landscaping.
The DPD Director’s Rule 6-2001 only classified about 1% of Seattle’s trees as significant and worthy of being saved. An updated version of this Director’s Rule 16-2008 revised the threshold to now classify a whopping 5% of Seattle trees as significant.
Unfortunately being classified as significant is not the same as “do not cut”. Instead it only means that more emphasis is put on requiring replacement trees. But cutting a 75 year old Douglas fir and replacing it with 2 saplings is hardly is any kind of equivalence.
So if Seattle’s urban canopy is now 18% and only 5% of those trees have a chance of being classified as significant, please tell me how Mayor Nickels plans to increase our tree canopy 30% in 30 year’s when 3/4’s of Seattle’s trees are on private property subject to development or redevelopment?
While Seattle has an Urban Forestry Management Plan written in 2007 that outlines a plan to increase our tree canopy, the Seattle City Auditor today in a briefing before the Seattle City Council noted that it has never been adopted by the Seattle City Council. And he noted that tree management responsibilities are scattered across 9 Seattle City Departments without any clear authority residing anywhere for overall management responsibility.
The Auditor’s report came up with 6 major findings:
1. Implementing new regulations is an important next step for tree preservation.
2. Funding issues are pivotal for implementing the Urban Forest management Plan.
3. Shared responsibilities place a premium on effective cooperation and coordination
4. The Urban Forest Management Plan’s education and outreach program is still in it’s preliminary stage.
5. A complete tree inventory has not been conducted.
6. The City’s management framework for implementing the Urban Forest Management Plan can be strengthened.
The Auditor’s report notes that “Most of Seattle’s trees are on private property and the greatest potential for planting new trees is also on private property. Hence, public outreach and education to promote proper management of privately owned trees and to encourage new tree planting are paramount in the City’s effort to sustain and expand the tree canopy.
Council President Richard Conlin in a press release on the Auditor’s Report state’s his belief that the city must “do a better job of providing incentives to landowners. Instead of removing tress to make development less expensive, the city should be helping developers actively trying to build in a way that maintains mature trees – which is in the property owners’ best interests. Right now the City does not provide that incentive.”
Maybe the incentive is as simple as reminding builders that mature trees can add as much as 7 to 19% to a property’s value. That seems like a good profit margin right there. Seven per cent on a $400,000 house is $28,000. That’s no small change.