Tag Archives: Urban Forestry

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

Seattle DPD Proposes to End Protections for Old Trees in City

In a bizarre analysis by the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, it is proposed that Seattle no longer protect its large and old trees.  This is no joke.  They propose incentives as a better way to protect trees, but provide no clear examples or surveys showing this approach works.  They argue that because the current system doesn’t seem to work for them, that we should quit trying. This is like BP after a week saying they couldn’t stop the oil flowing into the Gulf so they were giving up.

Seattle’s current system doesn’t work largely because DPD doesn’t enforce it.  No permits are required by DPD to cut down trees of any size. Under the current interim ordinance someone can supposedly cut down up to 3 trees a year on their property.  Although they are not supposed to cut down exceptional trees (which are detailed in Director’s Rule 16-2008), unless diseased or a hazard, the only way DPD follows up is if someone files a complaint.  Of course by the time you hear the chainsaw it is too late to stop the tree or trees from being cut down.

This is why Seattle needs to put in place an expanded system to require that people get a permit to cut down any tree over 6 inches. I say expanded because we already have a permit program  for removing or pruning privately maintained street trees in the right of way. It is administrated by the Seattle Department of Transportation  (SDOT). Other cities also require permits before trees can be cut down.

The whole idea is to be sure that trees are not removed unnecessarily, that the tree is not really on someone else’s property and that it is not an exceptional tree. An expanded permit system could be required for removal of any tree 6 inches in diameter or larger by private property owners and by the city. Citizens need to know that the city has to follow the same rules as they do. The current DPD proposal only refers to private property.

Permits could be several tiered, with exceptional trees being harder to cut down because of increased fees and more requirements to get approval.  Hazardous or diseased trees would be able to be removed with minimal or no restrictions.

Permits could be applied for on the Internet and posted for a minimum of 1 week before being approved. Physical posting on the property and visible to the public would be required for 1 week before and 1 week after cutting.

Arborists working in the city would be required to certified by a professional group and register with the city.  They would be required to attend a briefing on the city’s tree regulations. If exceptional trees are cut down without approval, arborists would be fined and or lose their license to do business in the city.  It is easier to inform several hundred arborists of our tree and urban forestry regulations than it is to try to inform all the citizens.  Most large trees in the city require an arborist to cut in most cases, few homeowners are skilled enough or able to cut large trees in the city without facing potential damage and liability issues.

DPD’s analysis is flawed because it emphasizes trees as a burden rather than as a part of Seattle’s infrastructure. Our urban forest and its trees and vegetation  reduce storm water runoff, clean the air, reduce noise pollution, provide habitat for birds, insects and other animals, provide aesthetics as a green space and contribute to our quality of life in the city.

We can have trees and development; it is not an either/or situation.  We need to protect our green infrastructure.  Most of Seattle’s canopy increase is coming from increased planting of street trees.  We are losing the large old trees with their much larger canopy volume and resultant benefits to city inhabitants.  DPD proposal is a major step backward. Let the Seattle City Council and the Mayor know that you oppose the current proposal and that they need to put emphasis on retaining our trees.  They represent the green legacy that we need to protect and pass on to future generations living in the Emerald City.

Ingraham NW Tree Grove Fight Back Before Seattle Hearing Examiner for Third Time.

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

Save the Trees-Seattle is commencing another full blown hearing today on trying to save the old conifer and madrone trees in the NW grove at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. Last year we seemingly won our appeal before the Seattle Hearing Examiner– she agreed with us that the NW Grove was an uncommon habitat in Seattle and that city environmental law said it should be protected.

Unfortunately the Hearing Examiner gave the Seattle School District the option of moving the project or reducing the footprint and the Seattle School District  choose to just reduce the footprint. Trees be damned. The Seattle school District reduced the footprint of the project from a previous 44% of the grove to 38% and then started playing additional games.

They said the impact was much less because they now claimed the grove didn’t start at the edge of the school but 30 feet out. Problem is 30 feet out is where the tree trunks are and groves start where their roots and canopy drip lines are, not where tree trunks actually are.

And of course the Seattle School District  claimed that all the alternative building sites they looked at cost more. Originally they claimed that a 2 story building on the north side would destroy 4 classrooms in the existing building. Then in the second Addendum to their Environmental Checklist they claimed 2 classrooms were lost. They of course had to replace these classrooms so the alternative site would have to have a larger building and cost more.

The only problem is that the Architects finally agreed with Save the Trees-Seattle that no classrooms would be lost with a two story building on the north side. So the Seattle School district now claims that they must build a 2000 square foot entrance way for any North side building. In other words the fix is on. They have added extra study rooms and more utilities, you name it, to each of the other sites besides the west addition in the NW Grove grove to jack up the price.

This is the public’s taxpayer dollars at work, ignoring what is good environmental policy and setting out to destroy more of an uncommon plant habitat in Seattle that also has significant canopy – these are 75 year old, 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific Madrone trees – part of the last 50 acres of this habitat in Seattle according to a report done by Seattle Urban Nature. on the State of Seattle’s Madrone Forests.

The Hearing process starts at 9 AM on the 40th Floor of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Ave. The Hearing is today, Wednesday June 23, 2010. The public is welcome to attend. The appellants go first and then the Seattle School District and Seattle Department of Planning and Development.

University of Washington Arboretum Clearcuts Trees While Others Celebrate Earth Day

This past week while others were celebrating Earth Day, at the University of Washington Arboretum they were busy clearcutting an area to remove some 34 trees. Many of them were mature trees that had been around for 50 or more years.

A sign posted on the corner of Arboretum Dr and Lake Washington Blvd claimed that the mature trees including big leaf maple and Douglas fir trees did ” not contribute to the horticultural collection” but made no mention that the removal of these trees obviously contributed to the continued loss of Seattle’s urban forest canopy.

Click on  the link here to see the short  video by Michael Oxman.  Most of the trees have already been cut but you can listen to the chainsaw as some of the fallen trees are cut up to remove them.

The city’s concern for loss of our forest canopy has increased in the last several years as the realization has sunk in that the city has lost some 50% of the forest canopy we had in 1973.  Then some 40% of the city was forested, now it is anywhere from 18% to 23% depending on which study you look at.

The sign noted that the Project master plan was adopted by the City Council and Mayor in 2001. Back then few people were concerned about the loss of the City’s forest canopy.

The land the arboretum is on is owned by the Seattle Parks Department but the trees are owned by the University of Washington. But city taxpayers have contributed some $2.5 million to the project as part of the recent Parks and Open Space Levy. The current clearcutting area is only part of the Arboretum long range plans which involve the removal of many more trees.

The arboretum’s removal of the trees is part of creating the Pacific Connections Garden with this particular area to be a Chilean focal forest.  Some 72 Chilean trees will be planted in the area.

A memo from the Parks and Recreation Dept. gives cursory detail of the trees to be removed. No measurement of tree age or height or canopy is given. A list of trees to be planted and an accompanying picture seems to indicate a significant loss of native habitat and canopy when compared with the replacement tree picture. No detail is given as to the ultimate size of the replacement trees but the habitat value to native bird species and other animals displaced by the removal of native trees is likely not minimal.


Count Botanical Name Common Name Size Native?

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 18-24″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 18-24″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 24-30″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 6-12″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 6-12″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 24-30″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 6-12″ Y

1 Arbutus menziesii Madrone 12-18″ Y

1 Juniperus occidentalis Western Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus occidentalis Western Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus scopulorum Telleson’s Blue Weeping Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus scopulorum Telleson’s Blue Weeping Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus Sp. Columnar Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus them Columnar Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Pinus cembra Swiss Stone Pine 12-18″ N

1 Pinus cembra Swiss Stone Pine 6-12″ N

1 Pinus x ‘Mercy’ Pine 18-24″ N

1 Populas trichocarpa Cottonwood >30″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir 6-12″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir >30″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir 24-30″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir >30″ Y

1 Quercus vacciniifolia Huckleberry Oak 6-12″ N

1 Quercus vacciniifolia Huckleberry Oak 6-12″ N

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 18-24″ Y

Total 34

IV. Tree Replacements


Count Botanical Name Common Name Size Native?










Total 73

Review of the decision paper by David Graves in 2007 entitled “Analysis and Decision by the Superintendent of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the project reveals that up to 550 trees in total will be removed from the arboretum. It states that “The trees to be removed include “native Matrix” forest that consists of trees, shrubs and ground cover that are largely self seeded” In the next paragraph it states that “The Arboretum is not a natural forest, it is a plant collection managed to preserve and protect worldwide species …”

Just what is a “natural forest” if not trees, shrubs and ground cover that is largely self seeded.

Maybe this mass scale removal of fully grown trees and urban forest was business as usual in the past but the University of Washington’s Arboretum clearcutting is only the latest example of many jurisdictions having trees but each acting independently without regard to thecurrent  overall health of Seattle’s urban forest.  These include the Army Corps of Engineers along the ship canal and the Seattle School District at Ingraham High School. Their efforts all contribute to increased loss of existing forest canopy.

They all have higher purposes and goals.  Trees and their associated habitat and the current urban forest canopy are frequently expendable in pursuit of those goals. These are issues that the City and the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission need to examine if they hope to come to grips with how the city can preserve and increase Seattle’s urban forest.

for additional information on the plans of the Arboretum see:

Washington Park Arboretum and Green Space Levy Project Information

Washington Park Arboretum Pacific Connections Pro Parks Project Information


> Determination of Non-Significance Analysis

> SEPA Checklist

> SEPA Appendices

> Figure 1: Vicinity Map

> Figure 2: Garden Sketch

Send Mayor McGinn an Earth Day Message to Save the Trees at Ingraham High School

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

Today is Earth Day. For over two years the Seattle School District has been trying to add an addition to Ingraham High School by cutting down over 50 trees in the conifer madrone grove in the above picture. What a great environmental message this sends our children. The City of Seattle has twice approved the permit for the project despite the Seattle Hearing Examiner ruling in favor of the neighbors and Save the Trees-Seattle trying to save the 70 year old 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and Pacific madrone trees in the grove.

The Seattle Hearing Examiner ruled that the grove comprised an uncommon and rare plant association in the City of Seattle that city law says should be protected. The Seattle School District in written documents and e-mails discovered during the Hearing process has selected the open North lawn in the picture above as the building site for a future addition but refuses to move the current project to that site.  The Seattle School District has re-filed a slightly revised plan to build in the grove despite the negative ruling by the Seattle Hearing Examiner.

The latest project proposal to cut down the trees has been before the city’s Department of Planning and Development since last September. It’s time to quit wasting the taxpayers’ dollars, ignoring the city’s mandate to increase the city’s tree canopy, and city law to protect our urban forest.  Cutting down mature trees for no good reason except not wanting to listen to the public is not being a good neighbor or a partner in preserving our city’s environmental health and our quality of life.

Please e-mail Mayor Michael McGinn and tell him to deny the School District’s current proposed building site.  Under current city law requiring the city to protect rare and uncommon plant and animal habitat, he has the authority to tell DPD to require the School District to save and protect the uncommon plant habitat on their grounds and to build elsewhere on the campus, like the open North lawn.

For Pete’s sake, it’s Earth Day and isn’t McGinn an environmentalist?

Click on this link to send your comments to Mayor McGinn. Thanks


Urban Forest and Tree Protection Laws

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission is reviewing our tree protection ordinance and will be recommending chages needed to help increase our urban forest canopy to meet the 30% canopy cover adopted by the city. We are currently at about 23% canopy cover but are losing trees in our park areas due to invasive species like blackberry and ivy.  The biggest potential new tree cover is private property.  The city has actually mapped out potential areas for canopy growth. But a new ordinance and plan is necessary to effectively implement a policy to increase our tree canopy.

Here are links to some articles relevant to developing and strengthening our urban forest and tree protection laws that I found helpful:

Urban Tree Conservation: A White Paper on Local Ordinances
Sept 2007, Montgomery Tree Committee. 68 pages

This paper deals with”conservation of urban forests on private land” and is one of the best overviews I have found. It discusses and compares many different ordinances and approaches it from a holistic viewpoint, looking not just at trees but also biodiversity and ecosystem concerns.

Tree Ordinance Development Guidebook
Sept 2005 by the Georgia Forestry Commission, Urban and Community Forestry Program. 25 pages

This Guidebook is not very long but it has a good overview, including a Tree Board/Tree Ordinance Evaluation, and a Resource List.

Guideline for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances
International Society of Arboriculture, Oct 2001. 181 pages a real compendium of information on tree ordinance issues

October 2010 update:

several other links also provide guidance in developing a tree ordinance.

http://www.scenic.org/tree/model_ordinance –
Scenic America – outlines key elements of a model tree protection ordinance

Tree Ordinance – ConservationTools.org – a good 7 page overview

Seattle Urban Forestry Commission Off to a Fast Start

The newly formed Seattle Urban Foresrty Commission held their first meeting in December. Since then the original 8 members have selected the 9th Commissioner, elected a Chair and Vice Chair, reviewed and approved their operating bylaws, held a half day briefing retreat and agreed to start reviewing Seattle’s  tree regulations in preparation for new legislation. The Commission is taking their charge seriously and are getting down to business.

The Urban Forestry’s next meeting is this Wednesday Feb 3, 2010 from 3 PM to 5 PM in the Seattle Municipal Tower, Room 1940. Regular meetings of The Urban Forestry Commission will be held on the first Wednesday of each month.  Meeting dates and locations are posted on the Urban Forestry Commission website. 

 Responding to public comment in their drafting of byalws, the Commission will allow 15 minutes at the beginning of their monthly meetings for public comment. Individuals will be limited to 3 minutes. Written comments will also be accepted.

The Commission also agreed to the posting of their meeting minutes and agendas on the internet, and most importantly, also posting of meeting handouts and briefing papers on their website. You can view these by going to Meeting Documents page. In particular two documents dealing with previous city review of its tree protection laws are available and will be discussed at their next meeting.  These are:
Emerald City Task Force Recommendations – 2007
Environmental and Tree Advocates Recommendations -2008

Below are the names of the nine Commissioners and the positions they represent on the Board. Elizabeta Stacishin-Moura, a landscape architect,  was elected the Commission Chair and Matt Mega of the Seattle Audubon was elected the Vice-Chair. They will each serve a term of one year in their positions.

1: Wildlife Biologist  – Kirk Prindle

2: Urban Ecologist – John Small

3: Natural Resource Agency or University Representative – Gordon Bradley

4: Hydrologist or Similar Professional  – Peg Staeheli

5: Arborist – John Hushagen

6: Landscape Architect – Elizabeta Stacishin-Moura

7: NGO Representative  – Matt Mega

8: Development Community or Utility Representative – Jeff Reibman

9: Economist, Financial Analyst, Realtor or Similar Professional  – Nancy Bird

Looking for Members to Join the new Seattle Urban Forestry Commission

Yesterday it was announced that the Seattle Mayor and Seattle City Council are seeking members for the newly created Urban Forestry Commission. The press release, a fact sheet, and the ordinance establishing the Commission can be found here:


Anyone interested in serving on the Commission should submit a letter of interest and resume by September 18, 2009. Details about the Commission membership and the selection process can be found in the fact sheet on the link above. The Seattle City Council and Mayor are seeking members with specific areas of expertise so please have a look at the fact sheet to help identify people who you think might be interested. Please help spread the word so we can get qualified people appointed..

The positions on the Urban Forestry Commission are:

The Commission is comprised of nine members:

Position 1: A wildlife biologist, preferably with expertise in ornithology

Position 2: An urban ecologist, preferably with expertise in the field of restoration ecology

Position 3: A representative of a local, state, or federal natural resource agency or an accredited university

Position 4: A hydrologist or similar professional, preferably with expertise in the study of natural drainage, climate or air quality, or a combination thereof

Position 5: An arborist, with one or more of the following qualifications:
• Board Certification as a Master Arborist or Municipal Specialist from the International Society of Arboriculture; or
• Certification by the American Society of Consulting Arborists; or
• Background and experience in Tree Risk Assessment from a credentializing agency or a professional organization.

Position 6: A landscape architect, with certification from the International Society of Arboriculture

Position 7: A representative of a non-profit or non-governmental organization whose mission is to advocate for preservation or enhancement of urban forests, wildlife habitat or similar natural systems

Position 8: A representative of either the development community, including developers, builders, architects, or realtors, with experience in projects developed under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), or a representative from a non-city utility

Position 9: An economist, financial analyst, Washington State licensed real estate broker, or any other similar professional, with expertise preferred in land use planning, environmental planning, or either residential or commercial development.

Creation of the Urban Forestry Commission is an example of how citizen concern and action over the continued loss of Seattle’s trees is effecting change in how our city is functioning. The continued threat of the unnecessary destruction of a conifer/madrone rare plant habitat at Ingraham High School resulted in the formation of a city wide effort called Save the Trees-Seattle to save the 75 year old 100 foot tall trees at Ingraham and help to protect trees across the city..

I am the Chair of the Group and at a meeting of the King County Democrats several months back I suggested to Seattle City Council member Nick Licata that what we needed to help protect Seattle’s Urban Forest was an Urban Forestry Commission like Portland Oregon has.

Nick said he liked the idea and two weeks later he introduced legislation to create an Urban Forestry Commission for Seattle

The bill went through numerous revisions, several public hearings and received comment from many citizens. In the end the Seattle City Council unanimously passed the resolution supporting the creation of the Urban Forestry Commission comprised of technical experts to help advise the Mayor and the Seattle City Council on urban forestry issues.

Council member Licata played a critical role in the process by not just introducing the bill but guiding it through numerous revisions and compromises to finally get the bill enacted.

So now the work begins on getting a functioning commission. Please help spread the word and urge people you know who are qualified to apply to be on the new Urban Forestry Commission.

Seattle City Auditor Critical of Seattle’s Tree Management Policies

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.

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.