Seattle Needs to Require Developers to do Urban Forestry Canopy Impacts Assessments

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission in 2014 recommended that its Department of Planning and Development require project developers to complete urban forestry canopy impact assessments. Seattle’s growth and property development and building is continuing at breakneck speed and impacting Seattle’s existing urban forestry infrastructure. Yet the city has done nothing to implement the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission’s recommendation. It should do so. Below is the text of the recommendation made on June 25, 2014.

June 25, 2014.
Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw
Seattle City Hall
600 4th Avenue
Seattle,WA 98124

Dear Mayor Murray and Councilmember Bagshaw,

As our city increases efforts to improve canopy coverage we have a gap in that even as we plant new trees, the number of trees removed from private land under development in the city is unknown. The Urban Forestry Commission would like to have better information on the number of trees removed from private land to obtain a metric which could be correlated to canopy cover assessments. This correlation would help articulate the need for a future tree code on private property. We would also be able to fulfill the monitoring called for in Seattle’s Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan and provide the City with data to judge how difficult a tree code on private property could be.

There are two specific requests we would like to make to comply with the monitoring efforts of the newly adopted Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan (UFSP).

1. Updated canopy assessment: Regular canopy coverage assessments are integral to the monitoring of the UFSP. The last canopy cover assessment was performed in 2009 with 2007 data. Please allocate funding for an updated canopy coverage assessment to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment per the short term action item (1-5 years) within the UFSP.

2. Quantify Tree Removals: Accurate tree planting and removal quantities are necessary for monitoring of the UFSP within the largest management unit in the city: single family residential areas. The table 8 (attached) is excerpted from page 73 of the UFSP. The last two columns show that we have a goal of raising the canopy cover substantially throughout the city. There currently is no data available to understand the impacts development has on canopy cover. In order to track our progress to reach our 2037 goal, we ask that DPD to:

a. Upgrade building permit applications within the single family zones to quantify tree removals; and
b. Report tree removals within the single family zones annually. Geographically located tally data would also be helpful for correlating development with tree canopy losses and gains.

Enclosed is a more detailed document explaining additional information that would be useful for the City to better manage the urban forest to accomplish the City’s goals.

Sincerely, Peg Staeheli, Chair Tom Early
Urban Forestry Commission Urban forestry Commissioner

cc: Council President Burgess, Councilmember Clark, Councilmember Godden, Councilmember Harrell, Councilmember Licata, Councilmember Rasmussen, Councilmember O’Brien, Councilmember Sawant,Jill Simmons, Diane Sugimura, Brennon Staley, Eric McConaghy

Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission is tasked with advising the Mayor and Seattle City Council on urban forestry issues. This includes implementing the Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan (UFSP) to achieve a 30% canopy goal by 2037. In addition, the current Seattle Comprehensive Plan states that the City needs to maintain no net loss of canopy as a baseline. As noted in our letter, the Commission considers two steps very important:

1. Perform a tree canopy assessment
2. Improve current submittal documentation for projects under development

The Commission has discussed several ideas to improve submittal documentation and final reporting for projects under DPD’s permitting.

• Currently, the City, through OSE and the Urban Forestry Interdepartmental Team, keeps track of the number of trees planted and removed on public property every year. The Commission recommends tracking trees lost on private property undergoing development to assist in determining where we are gaining or losing trees and canopy. This would add information to the overall city canopy coverage assessment data. By knowing more about canopy trends on different types of land, we can better direct policy and programming to ensure we are on track to meet our 30% goal.

• What would help the City better understand what is happening with tree canopy protection and enhancement is to require that all development projects submit an Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment prior to any construction project being approved. The Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment would include a map of the property with the trees numbered, canopy area of trees drawn, and trees to be removed clearly labeled. Under current guidelines it would minimally require that all trees 6 inches DBH (diameter at breast height) or larger be inventoried on the property. The suggested data points required would be :

  •  Species: speaks to size of canopy and amount of storm water benefit.
  •  DBH: speaks to age of tree and canopy coverage.
  •  Tree Height: speaks to canopy volume and amount of environmental benefit.
  •  Canopy Width (area): speaks to canopy volume and amount of environmental benefit.
  •  Tree Condition: speaks to overall forest health and environmental impacts.
  •  Photographs of the trees on the parcel and adjacent properties.
  •  Canopy coverage as a percent of area pre- and post-project development.

• Landscape Plan Requirements could include calculations for percent canopy coverage at 20 years and soils volume provided for each tree.

• The annual UFSP Progress Report to the Mayor and City Council could include canopy coverage for different development zones.

Implementing some or all of these operational steps would greatly help to evaluate whether or not we are doing enough to reach our 30% canopy goal by 2037. It would also allow some progress on clarifying tree requirements until DPD is able to put forward a new tree ordinance.

Comments on Natural Area and Greenbelt Supplemental Use Guidelines

The following comments were delivered by Steve Zemke, Chair of the Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest to the Seattle Parks Board on June 25, 2015.

The Seattle Parks Department is proposing to open up long protected natural areas and greenbelts to more intensive recreational use.  It is a wrongheaded policy change. These areas need to be protected for what they are – an exceedingly scarce and valuable urban forest natural experience that is very rare in an urban setting. These areas under the Seattle Greenspaces policy adopted by the Seattle City Council in 1993 were to be mainly for “low intensity recreation, such as walking trails, nature study, informal play areas or pea patches”,  provide “wildlife corridors”, “significant or unique habitat for terrestrial or aquatic wildlife” and includes “streams, watercourses or wetlands”.

The language of the 1993 Greenspaces Policy adopted by the City Council says

“The purpose of greenspaces designation is to establish priority areas for preservation to

1. Help preserve natural landscape and habitat for wildlife,

2. Provide natural buffers between land uses of different intensity or areas of distinct character or identity

3. Help mitigate the effects of noise and air pollution

4. Help reduce the necessity for constructed storm water systems

5. Help preserve the quality of natural drainage systems and enhance the stability of the land.

Greenspaces, with their natural environmental character, will only be used for low impact activities and will complement the city’s Parks and recreation system where open space may be used in a more active manner”

Now the Seattle Parks Department is proposing to change the use of these natural areas to active recreation.

Rather than looking at where is the most appropriate area and need for bicycling and other new uses not presented during the initial creation of this proposal during the mini-summit and focus groups and public comment, we are now presented with a proposal that says the Parks Superintendent can decide a multitude of uses including mountain bike trails, bicycle skills areas, rope courses, orienteering, challenge areas and quote “future activities that may evolve.” Maybe this is zip lines. Maybe it is tree climbing, – the language leaves it wide open and is contrary to most of the comments that have evolved so far and contrary to the spirit of the 1993 Greenspaces policy.

The Seattle Parks Department has the authority now to restore these areas and build walking trails as it has done in areas like Thornton Creek and the South Cheasty area.  I do not believe it has the authority by internal fiat to change the purpose for which Greenspaces were created and believe such a major policy change should be done only by the city council after a public review process that looks at park use in its totality not just the conversion of natural areas and greenspaces to active use.

I don’t believe the Parks Department has been open with the public about its intentions and cannot be trusted to protect these areas as designated by the Seattle City Council and the understanding the public has had for many years about how these areas were to be protected for future generations.  These proposed supplemental uses guidelines need to be shelved and Parks go back to the adopted city policy to preserve these areas for low intensity recreation uses.

end of public statement

Additional Information:

Additional comments made by other groups and individuals can be found on the Seattle Nature Alliance website post entitled  One Voice.

The Seattle Nature Alliance has also posted a petition that people can sign on line opposing the conversion of existing natural areas and greenspaces uses from preservation and passive recreation to one of more intense recreation like mountain bike trails and rope courses.

Click here to sign the petition- Preserve Seattle Parks Natural Areas and Greenspaces

Public comments on the Proposed Seattle Parks Natural Areas and Greenbelts Supplemental Use Guidelines will be accepted until July 16, 2015. The actual proposed guidelines can be seen here:

Natural Area and Greenbelt Supplemental Use Guidelines

Additional information and references can be found here:

Natural Area/Greenbelt Supplemental Use Guidelines Information

Comments to the Park Board should be sent to by July 16 to;

Board of Park Commissioners
100 Dexter Ave. N.
Seattle, Washington 98109

For Park Board Business, please contact Rachel Acosta:

Phone: 206-684-5066
Email: rachel.acosta@seattle.gov

A copy of any comments should also be sent to:

Susanne Rockwell
Strategic Advisor,
Office of the Superintendent
206-733-9702
susanne.rockwell@seattle.gov

Comments Submitted on draft EIS 2035 Seattle Comprehensive Plan

The Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest wants to express its support for the comments submitted by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission. They can be seen here: Seattle Urban Forestry Commission Comments of Draft EIS 2035 Seattle Comprehensive Plan

We agree that removing the aspirational long term goal from the Comprehensive Plan of 40% canopy cover is wrong. A 30% goal by 2037 is a step toward that 40%. The Seattle City Council voted twice to support a 40% long term goal in the Comprehensive Plan and no reason is given for removing it and no analysis is given as to the impact on Seattle’s urban forestry canopy or the cost to the city in terms of green infrastructure services in the future if it is removed. What is the long term impact and infrastructure cost of reducing the urban forest canopy goal from 40% to 30%.

It is erroneous to state that SMC 25.11 and the Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan are adequate to ensure that a 30% canopy goal can be reached by  2037. No analysis has been done as to the loss of canopy and trees in the urban forest caused by adding 70,000 housing units and 120,000 new residents and 115,000 new jobs. Canopy is lost during development but the Department of Planning and Development unlike other city departments is not doing a tree inventory and canopy loss assessment during development. The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission has asked DPD to perform and tabulate an Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment on all development. Without accurately knowing what is being lost and what is being replaced it is impossible to do an accurate assessment whether we are gaining or losing canopy.  What would be the cost of DPD doing a canopy impact assessment on development projects as recommended by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission?

Seattle’s current tree ordinance SMC 25.11 does not require permits to remove trees, require replacement for most trees removed, require notice to remove trees and allows 3 trees to be removed every year on private property. It says exceptional trees can not be cut down unless a hazard tree but only operates on a complaint basis  which is not working. Other municipalities have much stronger tree protection ordinances. Exceptional trees are removed without any tracking occurring. The system is not working.

There is no analysis of the impact that increased growth will place on Seattle’s urban forest and to say that the current system will handle increased tree loss from growth impacts has no basis to back it up.

Seattle is not now on track to meet it’s 30% canopy goal and increased development makes it even less likely. As noted in an analysis the Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest made last year Can Seattle Reach 30% Tree Canopy Goal by 2037?  based on data for tree replacement done by Portland , Oregon we are not on track to reach 30%.
The analysis states that “12,414 new average medium size trees need to be planted in Seattle each year to reach a 30% canopy goal by 2037. This assumes each year there is also no net loss of canopy as the baseline and that 100% of the planted trees survived which is unrealistic.. These trees are in addition to replacing any lost during development or removed from private property or removed in the public sector like street trees or park trees.” Current tree planting are only about 2000 -3000 at most that are documented.

So the question for this EIS is how many trees and what amount of canopy will be lost during development of 70,000 housing units?

How many trees and what size will be replaced for the trees lost?

How much building will occur for the 115,000 jobs and how many trees and what amount of canopy will be lost?

What amount of canopy and trees will be replaced?

What will be the cost for replacing canopy lost to development?

Who will pay for replacing the lost canopy and trees?

The Plan calls for adding 1400 acres of open space to the city.  Where will this open space come from, what will it cost and who will pay for it?

Overall again and again the plan optimistically states that we can address all the increased growth. Yet just on roads everyone know it takes a lot longer to get around the city than just a few years ago based on the recent growth we’ve had.

As long as current residents have to continue pick up the costs for increased growth through higher taxes on property Seattle becomes a much less livable city and forces out lower income people who can’t afford higher housing costs. There is a need to implement developer impact fees to pay for low income housing, road repair, public transit, schools and other impacts on basic city infrastructure.
What are the projected costs of providing increased city services over the next 20 years and how much more can residents expect to pay in increased costs  if developers are not required to pick up the increased costs due to growth?
How much can we expect property taxes and utility bills to increase to pay for these added infrastructure service needs due to the projected growth if developers to not pick up the costs for growth so that growth pays for growth?
What will be the projected median price for a home in 20 years and what impact will the increased growth have on that cost?
How much can we expect rents to increase over the next 20 years with the projected growth over what they would be without the projected growth?

The draft EIS needs to do a better job of projecting the costs associated with growth.  Right now it just seems to say over and over that there is no problem and that we will do just fine. That is not acceptable and doesn’t provide a realistic assessment to Seattle residents of the potential cost of the projected growth.

Steve Zemke
Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forests

Draft EIS for Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan Gives Urban Forest Short Shift

 

Seattle is currently undergoing an update of its Comprehensive Plan. The update to deal with growth projections over the next 20 years is required under the State’s Growth Management Act. The projections are that Seattle will see a significant increase of 120,000 new residents, 115,000 additional jobs and 70,000 new housing units. A draft EIS has been prepared for public comment with a closing date of June 18th.

It was the determination of Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission that the draft EIS did not adequately address the impacts of the projected growth on Seattle’s urban forest and its goal in the near term to reach 30% canopy cover by 2037.

The draft EIS for the 4 alternative growth scenarios by 2035 can be seen by clicking on the following link:

draft EIS Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan

You can also go to DPD’s 2035 Seattle webpage for more information

Comments on the draft EIS should be sent by email to: 2035@Seattle.gov by June 18, 2015.

You can also go online and submit comments on DPD’s feedback page

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission has reviewed the draft EIS and submitted comments. The full text of their letter can be seen here:

SUFC –Comments on the Draft EIS for the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan

The summary is printed below, followed by the full text of the letter:

In summary, the Commission believes that the draft EIS does not address a number of impacts that could be caused by the different growth scenarios as a result of tree canopy loss from increased development. Much more analysis is given to view impacts and noise impacts while ignoring potential significant impacts caused by increased tree canopy loss.

SMC 25.11 is seriously outdated and needs updating like many other cities including Portland, Oregon; Lake Forest Park, WA; Atlanta, GA; and Vancouver, BC have done to protect and increase their green urban forestry infrastructure. So called protection of exceptional trees under SMC 25.11 is based on a complaint system and is unfortunately not protecting exceptional trees.

The Urban Forest Stewardship Plan cannot address reaching a 30% canopy goal without adequate information as to the amount of canopy that is being lost during development. The Commission recommended DPD to implement an Urban Forestry Canopy Impact Assessment for all their projects and so far has not responded to the Commission’s letter of recommendation or indicated any intention to do so.

And eliminating by oblique reference the long-term, aspirational canopy goal of 40% as adopted by the Seattle City Council in the current Comprehensive Plan without any discussion of its impact on Seattle’s future urban forest is unacceptable. The long term 40% canopy goal should remain in the plan and reference that the 30% goal by 2037 is a stepping stone to the larger goal and not the final goal.

Full text of the letter:

June 10, 2015.

Gordon Clowers

Department of Planning and Development

700 5th Avenue, Suite 2000

Seattle, WA 98124

RE: Comments on the Draft EIS for the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan

Dear Mr. Clowers,

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission wishes to address the following concerns about the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan.

1. Impacts on the Urban Forest due to Increased Density

The draft EIS does not evaluate the impacts on Seattle’s urban forest by adding 120,000 new residents, 115,000 new jobs, and 70,000 housing units to Seattle by 2035. Only one page’s worth of print out of the approximately 400 pages is devoted to potential impacts on the urban forest and it basically says that there is no problem because we have the Urban Forest Stewardship Plan and provisions in SMC 25.11. It is the Commission’s view that this is not accurate. The draft EIS provides no direct or detailed evaluation of the yearly or cumulative loss of urban forest canopy due to development and growth and the associated impacts on air pollution and human health, noise, storm water runoff, wildlife habitat, open space, or heat island effects.

The draft EIS on p 3.5-11 states: The Urban Forest Stewardship Plan’s goal’s and the implementing regulations in SMC 25.11 would apply to development that occurs under all EIS alternatives and would help to mitigate for the potential removal of all trees and reduction of canopy cover with future development. In this respect, the growth patterns examined under all alternatives would be able to be implemented while remaining consistent with the UFSP’s goals.”

Unfortunately, there is no environmental analysis of the specific impacts or costs associated with canopy loss occurring during development. There is no analysis of how much canopy loss would occur and what the cost would be or who would pay for replacing canopy lost during development. The current City Comprehensive Plan calls for no net loss of canopy. If the City does not know how much canopy is being lost through development it cannot accurately assess whether it is meeting the no net loss goal let alone gaining canopy each year.

The Urban Forestry Commission addressed this issue on the need for more detailed data from DPD on tree loss in a letter adopted June 25, 2014. http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/UrbanForestryCommission/FinalIssuedDocuments/Recommendations/ADOPTEDDPDReportingLetter062514.pdf

The letter stated in part:

“The Commission has discussed several ideas to improve submittal documentation and final reporting for projects under DPD’s permitting.

Currently, the City, through OSE and the Urban Forestry Interdepartmental Team, keeps track of the number of trees planted and removed on public property every year. The Commission recommends tracking trees lost on private property undergoing development to assist in determining where we are gaining or losing trees and canopy. This would add information to the overall city canopy coverage assessment data. By knowing more about canopy trends on different types of land, we can better direct policy and programming to ensure we are on track to meet our 30% goal.

What would help the City better understand what is happening with tree canopy protection and enhancement is to require that all development projects submit an Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment prior to any construction project being approved. The Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment would include a map of the property with the trees numbered, canopy area of trees drawn, and trees to be removed clearly labeled. Under current guidelines it would minimally require that all trees 6 inches DBH (diameter at breast height) or larger be inventoried on the property. The suggested data points required would be:

Species: speaks to size of canopy and amount of storm water benefit.
DBH: speaks to age of tree and canopy coverage.
Tree Height: speaks to canopy volume and amount of environmental benefit.
Canopy Width (area): speaks to canopy volume and amount of environmental benefit.
Tree Condition: speaks to overall forest health and environmental impacts.
Photographs of the trees on the parcel and adjacent properties.
Canopy coverage as a percent of area pre- and post-project development.

  •  Landscape Plan Requirements could include calculations for percent canopy coverage at 20 years and soils volume provided for each tree.
  •  The annual UFSP Progress Report to the Mayor and City Council could include canopy coverage for different development zones.

Implementing some or all of these operational steps would greatly help to evaluate whether or not we are doing enough to reach our 30% canopy goal.”

Inadequate Tree Protection in Current Code

A second issue is that the Commission believes that the current tree protection ordinance in SMC 25.11 is inadequate to meet the goals of achieving a 30% canopy by 2037. It has so stated in several letters to the Seattle City Council and Mayor, including the letter dated July 15, 2014. http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/UrbanForestryCommission/FinalIssuedDocuments/Recommendations/ADOPTEDDPDOrdinancetoCMBagshaw071514final.pdf

In that letter the Commission stated:

In 2009, City Council issued Resolution 31138 instructing “…the Department of Planning and Development to 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…” >

We would like to reiterate the statement made in our August 2010 recommendation: Bold action, consistent with Resolution 31138, is needed to achieve Seattle’s tree canopy coverage goal of 30% by 2037. And because the majority of trees in Seattle are in residential property, an updated tree ordinance is key to implement the 2013 Urban Forest Stewardship Plan as adopted by City Council last September.

DPD released a first proposal in 2010 and a second proposal in 2012. It is now almost five years since the Resolution and DPD is still working on a tree ordinance for trees on private property. There was a significant amount of time and energy invested by the community in this process. This length of time tends to frustrate the public as they look for guidance on tree measures.

We urge you use your leadership in Council’s Seattle Public Utilities and Neighborhoods Committee to:

1. Encourage DPD to resume work on this important element of a comprehensive urban forestry strategy for Seattle with a more defined timeline than the one currently shown on their website.

2. To develop an improved public education and outreach approach that engages Seattle’s diverse stakeholder communities.

3. Require a reporting of how the new proposal addresses the DPD specific elements of the Resolution: a. The 15 elements of Section 1;

4. b. The four elements of Section 2; and

5. c. The section for requirements for institutions, City facilities, public facilities, and schools.”

It is now another year later and there has been no further action on passing an updated tree ordinance.

3. Removal of the Current 40% Canopy Cover Long-Term, Aspirational Goal

The third issue the Commission is concerned with is that the Draft EIS said that the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan would eliminate the City’s long-term goal of a 40% tree canopy in the current comprehensive plan and replace it with the Urban Forest Stewardship Plan goal of 30% by 2037.
That seems to be the intent of the language on p 3.5-1 that says “Adjusting the quantitative tree canopy goal in the Environment Element to be consistent with the 2013 Urban Forest Stewardship Plan.” That would reduce the current overall long-term goal of 40% in the Comprehensive Plan by 25%. There is no discussion of the impact of that change both in the short-term or long-term and the ability to pursue a 40% aspirational goal after 2035. A long-term goal of 40% canopy cover and a 2035 goal of 30% canopy by 2037 is a step toward that larger goal.

The Commission addressed the issue of the long-term canopy goal of 40% in its comments on the current Comprehensive Plan in a letter dated May 11, 2011.

http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/UrbanForestryCommission/FinalIssuedDocuments/Recommendations/AdoptedCompPlanUpdateRecommendation051111.pdf

The language proposed by the Commission was adopted by the Seattle City Council and is in the current Comprehensive Plan under ENVIRONMENT ELEMENT H Seattle’s trees E23:

“Achieve no net loss of tree canopy coverage, and strive to increase tree canopy coverage to 40 percent, to reduce storm runoff, absorb air pollutants, reduce noise, stabilize soil, provide habitat, and mitigate the heat island effect of developed areas.”

Additional comments

  • The 2013 Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan is not listed in the references. http://clerk.seattle.gov/public/meetingrecords/2013/plus20130911_18d.pdf
  • The benefits of trees mentioned on p 3.5-11 under the heading Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan fails to mention a number accepted benefits of trees including documented health benefits of a healthy urban forest; reducing storm water runoff; impacts on wildlife habitat; and impacts on birds, insects, other animals and associated plants.

In summary, the Commission believes that the draft EIS does not address a number of impacts that could be caused by the different growth scenarios as a result of tree canopy loss from increased development. Much more analysis is given to view impacts and noise impacts while ignoring potential significant impacts caused by increased tree canopy loss.

SMC 25.11 is seriously outdated and needs updating like many other cities including Portland, Oregon; Lake Forest Park, WA; Atlanta, GA; and Vancouver, BC have done to protect and increase their green urban forestry infrastructure. So called protection of exceptional trees under SMC 25.11 is based on a complaint system and is unfortunately not protecting exceptional trees.

The Urban Forest Stewardship Plan cannot address reaching a 30% canopy goal without adequate information as to the amount of canopy that is being lost during development. The Commission recommended DPD to implement an Urban Forestry Canopy Impact Assessment for all their projects and so far has not responded to the Commission’s letter of recommendation or indicated any intention to do so.

And eliminating by oblique reference the long-term, aspirational canopy goal of 40% as adopted by the Seattle City Council in the current Comprehensive Plan without any discussion of its impact on Seattle’s future urban forest is unacceptable. The long term 40% canopy goal should remain in the plan and reference that the 30% goal by 2037 is a stepping stone to the larger goal and not the final goal.

Thank you, for the opportunity to comment.

Sincerely,
Leif Fixen, Chair
Steve Zemke

Keeping Cheasty, and All Seattle’s Natural Areas, Healthy for Urban Nature

 

The Thornton Creek Alliance has sent the following letter to the Seattle Park Board Commissioners questioning the pilot project proposal to open a large section of the Cheasty Green Belt and Natural Area to active sports use by mountain bikes.
Seattle Park Board of Commissioners
100 Dexter Avenue North
Seattle, Washington 98109
 
Re: Keeping Cheasty, and All Seattle’s Natural Areas, Healthy for Urban Nature
 
Greetings Park Board Commissioners:
We hope that after hearing all the points of view, and after your own experiences in meeting with the public, you will do the right thing for Seattle’s few remnants of urban forest and save this one for the present and future enjoyment of our diverse neighborhoods and swelling population.  Thornton Creek Alliance (TCA) strongly supports foot trails and ADA standard trails in natural areas.  We want everyone have the lovely opportunity to enter our natural areas, walk through them, enjoy watching wildlife, and participate in forest restoration.  These are gifts only a forest can give.  How else will people of all backgrounds and income levels get to experience our forests first-hand if they are sliced up and modified to accommodate the various interests of successions of ‘activity activists’? 
Please note that the April 2, 2015 Parks staff recommendation to you has very little in common with the single perimeter trail and three-year pilot project that the city council unanimously approved last August.  The Parks recommendation makes the mountain biking community and a subset of Chesty neighbors happy, but it is not at all supported by another subset of neighbors, and it is generally condemned by Forest Stewards and everyone else who loves quiet study and restoration of these parcels of land that make up a scant 15% of Parks’ property.  Note also that the ‘activity activists’ have only begun arguing for the changes they want to make to Cheasty, changes that will require yet more clearing in this very narrow natural area.
The December outreach meeting with the under-served communities must be considered invalid for the simple reason that there was no educational component.  How could these communities be expected to know ahead of the meeting why natural areas have been preserved and developed in the first place?  Of course they liked everything they thought was on the table when they had no clear understanding of what was being taken off.
Parks is recommending bike trails for the reasons given below. (By this logic no Seattle natural area is safe from consideration.)  Yet, note that all of these goals can be achieved without bicycles in natural areas, and in fact, a great many more goals could be reached with bicycles omitted.
• The trail will provide recreational opportunities for currently under-served communities, providing families with the opportunity to experience nature and recreation in their own neighborhood.  
• This project will provide a link between the Rainier Vista community and North Beacon Hill. 
• The trail responds to environmental issues within the Cheasty greenspace and has been designed to work with the geology of the property. 
• There is strong community support for the trail. 
• Volunteer restoration work is a high priority for the surrounding community and there is a strong commitment to this project and the maintenance necessary to maintain the trails. 
• Our City is experiencing unprecedented growth. We need to look at creative ways to provide recreational opportunities in our urban environment.
One has to wonder why the goals refer to a ‘trail’ when in fact two concentric trails, plus access trails, are now proposed, and even more are on the horizon.  Additionally, these goals reflect no acknowledgement of the many considerations and reservations put forth by various PAT members or anyone else who contributed to the discussion.  Ditto for the entire recommendation letter.  How is this appropriate?
We certainly agree that Parks has done a lot of outreach around the Cheasty bike plans, and we truly appreciated the opportunity afforded by the Mini Summit discussion of natural area policies three weeks ago.  However, the talk in the hall has been of ‘inclusion illusion’, and this Parks staff recommendation seems to bear that out.
TCA supports a policy of right activity, right place.  Sports equipment, including bicycles, works well in a wide variety of park venues and elsewhere, but it does not belong in our natural areas which can be activated in much more appropriate ways.  For example, we could begin now to build momentum for a 2016 ‘Seattle Summer of Nature’, and invite everyone in to explore and learn about the hidden life of our natural areas.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of this matter.
Sincerely,
 
Ruth Williams, President
Thornton Creek Alliance
Post Office Box 25690
Seattle, Washington 98165-1190
 
 THORNTON CREEK ALLIANCE (TCA), founded in 1993, is an all-volunteer grassroots, nonprofit organization of 100 members dedicated to preserving and restoring an ecological balance throughout the Thornton Creek watershed. Our goal is to benefit the watershed by encouraging individuals, neighborhoods, schools, groups, businesses, agencies, and government to work together in addressing the environmental restoration of the creek system including:  water quality, stabilization of water flow, flood prevention, and habitat improvement through education, collaboration, and community involvement.
 

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Parks Grasslands Mowing Impacting Ground Nesting Birds

 

The following letters were posted on Seattle Parks and Open Space Advocates  listserve and raise an important issues affecting ground nesting birds in Seattle and other parks.

Subject: Stop the mowing of nesting bird habitat in Discovery Park! 

Dear City and Parks Department officials,

For the second consecutive year, we are writing to demand that Seattle Parks Department cease destroying Savannah Sparrows by mowing over their nests on the Parade Ground meadow at Discovery Park. The area is not a golf course, playground, or off-leash dog run. Park facilities managers must be required to consult naturalists on staff to determine appropriate maintenance and problem-solving measures. Otherwise the purpose and goals of the park are undermined – with potentially devastating consequences for years.
The Savannah Sparrow is a small grassland bird that travels from as far as southern Mexico to nest here. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/SavannahSparrow/lifehistory  Of those that survive the trip, large numbers of parent birds and their nestlings will die if the mowing in Discovery Park and other park meadows continues. Indiscriminate mowing will also deprive late breeders of nest sites and habitat for months.
We are longtime volunteers at Discovery Park. In fact, we credit the park’s nature programs and the encouragement of its talented naturalists for having turned us into avid birders. We now give back as best we can by participating in the monthly bird census at Discovery Park and helping to lead some of the migratory bird walks each spring and fall.
Discovery Park is a jewel that needs to be managed with educated and informed care to encourage the wildlife and natural habitat. Please intervene immediately to suspend mowing of Discovery Park meadows and to establish a pro-habitat maintenance policy for all city properties.
Helen Gilbert Henry Noble Seattle, WA 98115

Follow up Letter: Savannah Sparrows under attack again! ‏ 

Hi Tweeters –
Some folks have asked for clarification on the issue of timing of meadow mowing by the Parks Department, the effects of mowing on ground nesters, and how widespread the problem is.
We know for sure it is a problem at Discovery Park and the mowing is happening there right now at the Parade Grounds meadow while Savannah Sparrows are nesting. I am also concerned that since the city doesn’t have a policy, parks that are less closely monitored than Discovery Park, such as Magnusson which has no on-site naturalists, are probably having the same problem with no one noticing. In addition to Savannah Sparrows, ground nesters include juncos, Pacific Wrens, Common Yellowthroats and Song Sparrow. See this article about the topic (ironically reposting from Seattle Parks Dept.) from a few years back. http://www.sustainablewestseattle.org/2011/03/ground-bird-nesting-season-is-here-keep-dogs-leashed/
It’s my understanding that activities such as mowing meadows and large scale disturbances of nesting areas (including brushy areas that may have many invasive plants but are also prime nesting spaces) should be curtailed between mid-March and July.
Below is the letter that Henry Noble and I sent to the city. We also used the Mayor’s message web page to contact him.
Helen

Open Position – Seattle Urban Forestry Commission

Press Release: from Seattle Urban Forestry Commission

SUBJECT – Hydrologist or similar professional sought for Seattle Urban Forestry Commission

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

10/8/2014 4:00:00 PM Sandra Pinto de Bader (206) 684-3194

Hydrologist or similar professional sought for Seattle Urban Forestry Commission

SEATTLE – City Council is looking for a new Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) member to fill Position # 4 (hydrologist or similar professional). A hydrologist or similar professional, preferably with expertise in the study of natural drainage, climate or air quality, or a combination thereof is preferred. The term would start December 1, 2014 and would extend through December 1, 2017. This position is appointed by the Mayor, and confirmed by City Council, for a renewable, three-year term.

The nine-member UFC consists of a wildlife biologist; an urban ecologist; a representative of a local, state, or federal natural resource agency or an accredited university; a hydrologist; a certified arborist; a representative of a non-profit or non-governmental organization; a representative of the development community or a representative from a non-city utility; and an economist, financial analyst, or Washington State license real estate broker.

The City of Seattle set the bold goal of achieving 30 percent tree canopy cover by 2037 to increase the environmental, social, and economic benefits trees bring to Seattle residents. The Seattle Urban Forest Stewardship Plan (UFSP) is a comprehensive strategy for increasing Seattle’s tree canopy cover to meet the 30 percent target. The UFSP lays out goals and a broad range of actions to be implemented over time to preserve, maintain, and plant trees as well as restore the public forested areas remaining in the city. More information about Seattle’s urban forest program can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/trees/management.htm

The Urban Forestry Commission was established in 2009 by Ordinance 123052 to advise the Mayor and City Council concerning the establishment of policy and regulations governing the protection, management, and conservation of trees and vegetation in the City of Seattle. Commission meetings are held twice a month on the first and second Wednesday from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Commission members generally must commit approximately 10 hours per month to Commission business and serve without compensation. Additional information about the Urban Forestry Commission can be found at http://www.seattle.gov/trees/UFcommission.htm

Applications are due November 10, 2014.

To be considered, please send a letter of interest and resume to Sandra Pinto de Bader (Sandra.Pinto_de_Bader@seattle.gov). To send a paper submittal, address it to: Sandra Pinto de Bader, Urban Forestry Commission Liaison, Urban Forestry Commission, Office of Sustainability and Environment, City of Seattle, 700 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1868. PO Box 94729, Seattle, WA 98124-4729.

For more information, please contact Sandra Pinto de Bader, Urban Forestry Commission Liaison, at (206) 684-3194 or via email at Sandra.Pinto_de_Bader@seattle.gov

 

Can Seattle Reach a 30% Tree Canopy Goal by 2037?

Seattle’s Urban Forest Stewardship Plan calls for Seattle reaching a 30% canopy goal by 2037. Seattle’s current tree canopy is about 23%.

The UFSP states that Seattle’s land are is 54,379 acres.

A Seattle canopy cover of 30% canopy = 16,314 acres.

Seattle’s current canopy cover of 23% canopy = 12,507 acres.

16,314 acres – 12,507 acres = 3807 additional acres of canopy cover needed by 2037.

3807 acres / 23 years = 165.52 acres of new canopy needed every year to reach 30% canopy goal by 2037

Portland, Oregon in their city-wide Tree Policy and Regulatory Improvement Project report, June 2011, calculated that planting 900 medium size canopy trees (on average) would generate only 12 acres of future canopy growth annually.

165.52 acres/ 12 acres X 900 trees = 12,414 new average medium size trees need to be planted in Seattle each year to reach a 30% canopy goal by 2037. This assumes each year there is also no net loss of canopy as the baseline and that 100% of the planted trees survived which is unrealistic.. These trees are in addition to replacing any lost during development or removed from private property or removed in the public sector like street trees or park trees.

Detailed analysis of Portland’s calculations is in Volume 1 – Recommended Draft Report to City Council Dec 2010 starting on page 144 – Tree Canopy Benefits, Financial Impacts and Budget Proposal” Portland calculated that their tree ordinance would for the same amount of money spent on just planting trees on 12 acres, they could generate about 140 acres of canopy per year.

Currently Seattle has no requirement to replace most trees cut down as a result of development on private property except as part of green factor which can mostly be met by other means. Seattle public trees that are removed are replaced on a 2 for 1 basis but the process does not specifically address tree size. While the Seattle Comprehensive Plan calls for a no net loss of tree canopy every year there is no overall city department or entity that is tracking the net loss or gain of trees citywide each year.

 

 

revised 8/14/2014

Action Needed – Help Save Seattle’s Trees!

The Seattle metropolitan area urban forestry canopy has decreased from about 40% in 1972 to only about 23% today in the city of Seattle. And every neighborhood has seen the loss of trees both one by one and in larger numbers when development occurs.

What is needed is stronger protections for our urban forest and its trees. Trees help reduce storm water runoff; remove pollutants from the air, including CO2; provide habitat for birds, insects and other wildlife; calm traffic on our streets, increase property values, help in reducing heat in the summer and cold in the winter; and create more livable neighborhoods and business districts among other things.

With increased development and population growth, Seattle is losing its trees. While other cities around the Northwest, like Portland, Oregon and Lake Forest Park, WA have recently strengthened their tree ordinances, Seattle has actually proposed legislation to significantly decrease protections for trees. Rather than an open process involving the public to draft new legislation, the Seattle City Council has asked the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to draft new legislation. Unfortunately they have a conflict of interest in their mission which is to help people build and develop, not protect trees.

Unfortunately the first two drafts proposed by DPD were written to give developers and others a free reign to do whatever they wanted and proposed no longer protecting significant trees and tree groves or even limiting how many trees could be removed in a year. They instead proposed that public education and incentives were all that is needed.

Please contact your Seattle City Councilmembers and the Mayor and let them know you want our trees and urban forest to be protected by passing stronger protections, not reducing them.

Tell the Mayor and the City Council to:

1. Maintain and expand protections for exceptional trees and tree groves.
2. Require permits to remove trees on both public and private property like other cities are doing and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) already does in the planting strips.
3. Require 2 week posting of tree removals which SDOT already does.
4. Require regulations to cover both public and private trees as Portland, Oregon is doing.
5. Consolidate tree oversight in a new Department of Forestry or the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, not the Department of Planning and Development.
6. Require that a Canopy Impact Assessment be done on all development projects, evaluating the impact of tree removal on the city goal of reaching 30 % canopy cover by 2037.
7. Require equivalent tree replacement either on or off site for all trees removed so there is no net loss of canopy as per the City Comprehensive Plan.
8. Give priority to planting native trees and vegetation to help preserve native plants and wildlife.
9. Emphasize habitat protection, retention of soils and ecological processes
10. License and train all arborists and tree cutting operations, impose fines and suspension for violations.

e-mails – sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov;, tim.burgess@seattle.gov; sally.clark@seattle.gov; jean.godden@seattle.gov; bruce.harrell@seattle.gov; nick.licata@seattle.gov; mike.obrien@seattle.gov; tom.rasmussen@seattle.gov; kshama.sawant@seattle.gov; www.seattle.gov/mayor/contact-the-mayor

You can help in our efforts to protect our trees and urban forest by joining with us. Add your name to our e-mail contact list by contacting us at Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest, c/o Steve Zemke – Chair, 2131 N 132nd St, Seattle. WA 98133, stevezemke@msn.com , 206-366-0811. Our facebook page is at Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest and our website is at www.friends.urbanforests.org .

 

Updated Portland Oregon Tree Ordinance to be Effective Jan 1, 2015

Portland Oregon has enacted a far reaching update of their regulations on protecting trees and their urban forest.  Originally slated to be effective in 2013 it will now be law as of January 1, 2015.

Here is the link to the current adopted  Portland, Oregon Title 11 Tree regulations as updated Jan 23, 2013 with an effective date of Jan 1, 2015. The link is to the Citywide Tree Policy Review and Regulatory Improvement Project Report  entitled Title 11 Trees  and includes the code language passed along with additional commentary on facing pages.

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/350786

An earlier report by the Citywide Tree Policy and Regulatory Improvement Project is available also in a document entitled Recommended Draft Report to the Portland City Council  December 2010 details the issues and process that was involved in coming up with their new regulations.

http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/331401

Portland’s adopted regulations will now cover  trees on both public and private property including during development. As Portland explains in their ordinance it was enacted to:

“enhance the quality of the urban forest and optimize the benefits that trees provide. Desired tree benefits include:
1.Providing oxygen and capturing air pollutants and carbon dioxide;
2.Maintaining slope stability and preventing erosion;
3.Filtering stormwater and reducing stormwater runoff;
4.Reducing energy demand and urban heat island through shading of buildings and impervious areas;
5.providing visual screening and buffering from wind, storms and noise;
6.Sustaining habitat for birds and other wildlife;
7.Providing a source of food for wildlife and people;
8.Maintaining property values and the beauty, character and natural heritage of the city; and
9.Meeting the multi-purposed objectives of the Urban Forest Plan, including reaching and sustaining canopy targets for various urban land environments.”

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