City 2022 Council Initial Balancing Package – Seattle City Budget – items relating to trees and urban forest

Budget balancing amendments proposed on Monday Nov. 14, 2022 – add Urban Forester position to OSE, request for OSE report on tree planting funds needed, added $250,000 for SDOT tree planting,  $500 thousand cut in 2024 for Green Seattle Partnership funding
 
Public Hearing today, Tues Nov 15, 5 PM 
 
pages 190 – 199
Budget Action Title: Add $147,000 JumpStart Fund (2023) and $190,000 JumpStart Fund (2024) and 1.0 FTE Strategic Advisor 3 to OSE for a City Urban Forester position
Budget Action Description: This Council Budget Action would add $147,000 JumpStart Fund in 2023 and $190,000 JumpStart Fund in 2024 and 1.0 FTE Strategic Advisor 3 to the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) for a City Urban Forester position. The 2022 Adopted Budget included Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) MO001-A-002-2022 requesting that the Mayor’s Office provide “a report with recommendations for the creation of a ‘chief arborist’ position that would promote the preservation of Seattle’s tree canopy and provide independent oversight of the City’s management of trees, with an initial focus on the preservation of exceptional trees.”
OSE submitted a SLI response (see Attachment A) on September 30, 2022, that provided recommendations for the position’s job responsibilities and qualifications and described opportunities and challenges related to the proposed position. In this response, Executive staff recommended that this position’s title should be City Urban Forester and that it “work with executive leadership and staff across urban forestry departments to establish and/or affirm citywide and department-specific strategy intended to support a healthy and robust tree canopy and urban forest in Seattle; provide an on-going assessment on the efficacy of policies and programs in meeting these goals; and recommend changes as needed to decision-makers.” In addition to the job responsibilities described in the SLI response, OSE is expected to: • Evaluate the City’s rules and regulations and propose changes as necessary to the Mayor and City Council that would provide the City Urban Forester with the necessary authority to accomplish its duties as envisioned; and • Ensure that this position: (1) advances racial equity and environmental justice; (2) oversees and implements the proposed Tree Canopy Equity and Resilience Plan and Seattle’s 2020 Urban Forest Management Plan as one of its core functions; and (3) supports development of policies that will help the City achieve its goals for an enhanced, healthy tree canopy and increased diversity of housing options for Seattle’s residents.
p 206-207
Budget Action Title: Request that OSE provide a report on Citywide funding for tree planting, stewardship, and other urban forestry-related activities
Statement of Legislative Intent: This Statement of Legislative Intent would request that the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) collaborate with the City Budget Office and Urban Forestry Interdepartmental Team (IDT) to develop a report on the City’s funding and expenditures for tree planting, stewardship, and other related activities. Currently, there are nine City departments that have a role in managing Seattle’s urban forest: • OSE coordinates citywide policy development, updates the Urban Forest Management Plan and monitors its implementation, and provides administrative support for the Urban Forestry Commission; • Seattle Department of Transportation manages trees in the public right-of-way; • Department of Finance and Administrative Services (FAS), Seattle Center, Seattle Parks and Recreation, and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) manage trees on their property; • SPU engages community in urban forest stewardship on both private property and in the right-of-way; • Seattle City Light maintains trees near power lines; • Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) and the Office of Planning and Community Development develop policies and plans; and • SDCI enforces regulations for trees on private property. This distributed structure of the City’s urban forest management functions makes it challenging for the public to have a comprehensive understanding of how the City invests in maintaining and enhancing Seattle’s urban forest. FAS has recently agreed to create a Funding Source code to track revenue from illegal tree removal penalties and ensure that this revenue is used to support tree planting, stewardship, and planning activities. This modified accounting system will be implemented beginning on January 1, 2023. The report should include funding and expenditures for tree planting, stewardship, planning, and other related activities by department. Where possible, the report should provide information over multiple years to help reveal trends. Additionally, the report should offer recommendations for how the City can improve its practices on reporting the requested information moving forward and identify areas where additional funding may be needed so that the City can successfully implement the actions described in Seattle’s 2020 Urban Forest Management Plan
p 211-212
Budget Action Title: Add $250,000 JumpStart Fund (2023) to SDOT to plant trees in the public right-of-way
Budget Action Description: This Council Budget Action would add $250,000 JumpStart Fund in 2023 (one-time) to the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to plant and support establishment of trees in the public right-of-way (ROW). Preliminary results from the City’s 2022 Canopy Cover Assessment revealed that canopy cover has declined by 1.7 percent citywide (and by 0.3 percent in the ROW) between 2016 and 2021. This funding should be used to plant new trees in environmental equity priority communities and other areas with low tree canopy cover in Seattle, and tree species should be resilient to climate change and pests.
p 221- 223
Budget Action Title: Reduce proposed funding for the Urban Forestry – Green Seattle Partnership CIP project by $500,000 REET II (2024) in SPR 
Budget Action Description: This Council Budget Action would reduce proposed funding by $500,000 Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) II in 2024 (one-time) in Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) for the Urban Forestry – Green Seattle Partnership Capital Improvement Program (CIP) project. Remaining funding for this CIP project totals $1.2 million in 2024. The revenue forecast adopted by the Forecast Council on November 2, 2022, projects a reduction in anticipated revenues compared to the revenue forecast that was used to develop the Mayor’s 2023-2024 Proposed Budget. This updated forecast reduces the resources available to balance the 2023-2024

Comments on the most recent Talaris Project Proposal

Seattle Talaris Project Needs to Protect More Trees while Increasing Housing Density

This project and the lot size and tree canopy presents a unique opportunity to preserve trees and build more housing. Instead of packing the property with single family housing, it presents an opportunity to call for a rezone to add multifamily housing – and concentrate the units in areas that are either vacant or absent of healthy and exceptional trees.

Building up rather than spreading out could save more trees and natural areas. Extra efforts should be made to maximize the retention of existing healthy and exceptional trees.  Also potential larger trees currently less than 24 inches in diameter  need to be also be saved because there needs to be replacement trees for current exceptional trees that will eventually die. A healthy urban forest needs both a diversity of tree species as well as tree ages.

The project is close to the University of Washington to the southeast and University Village and transit to the northwest. It should be considered for selective rezoning

The eagle habitat area should be enlarged both for the eagles and because cottonwood trees are brittle and houses and yards should not be in a drop or fall zone of branches and trunks.

Where trees are removed that are healthy, they should be replaced with 2 or more trees whose canopy equivalence is reached in 20-25 years. Removing a 50-70 year old tree that is  currently providing significant environmental services to the community is hard to replace. Replacing it with a 6 foot tall Douglas fir will take some 50-70 years to reach any equivalence at the time lost, while if the removed tree had continued to grow, it would be 100-140 years old.

The climate crisis is such that there will be no significant benefits from  replanted trees in the near future when we need them. Replacement is also assuming the replanted tree survives.

Portland Oregon currently says that any tree over 20 inches in diameter removed must be replaced inch for inch. If not replaced on site, a fee of $450/inch must be paid.

Even Seattle public trees removed must be replace two for one. And trees need to be watered during summer for 5 years to help ensure survival. They do not all survive.

Any trees planted should prioritize native trees to provide habitat for birds and other animals. The same goes for shrubs and other plants. Planted trees should grow large enough to help shade hardtop areas like roads and sidewalks to reduce heat island impacts. Also trees and shrubs should be selected that will best tolerate climate change.

Urge Seattle City Councilmembers to Add a Seattle Urban Forester to the Seattle City Budget!

Please send an e-mail now to council@Seattle.gov urging Councilmembers to support the budget  amendment to add a Seattle Urban Forester position to the 2023 Seattle Budget

Councilmember Alex Pedersen has introduced the amendment to the Seattle City Budget to add the Seattle Urban Forester position to the Office of Sustainability and Environment. Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Dan Strauss have joined as co-sponsors of the amendment. 

The budget process eventually needs 5 votes to put this amendment in the budget. Please contact Council members asking them to vote for Councilmember Pedersen’s amendment. You can also thank CM Pedersen for putting this amendment forward and thank CM Herbold and Strauss for joining on as a co-sponsor.

Here is the City’s response in creating the position. Response Chief Arborist SLI MO-001-A-002-2022.pdf This is a very strong document in support of creating this position.

Here is contact information (emails and phone calls) for individual city council members and staff – If you can only send one e-mail, send it to council@seattle.gov 

Sending individual e-mails to your own CM and the 2 city wide Council members is most effective. Calling also is helpful. You can use statements in the above document and the e-mail below to state why you support the amendment. Your own personal e-mail is most effective. It doesn’t need to be long. Ask if they will be vote to add an urban forester position to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, Also making phone calls after sending e-mails really helps.. Leave a message if no one answers.

You can also urge that money be added to the budget for planting trees now. Suggestion – minimum $500,000 to help meet environment equity and race and social justice goals.

Below is a more detailed position paper on what the Urban Forester position could entail. The letter has been sent to the Seattle City Council and Mayor.

Dear Seattle City Council,

Please support amending the budget to add a Seattle Urban Forester position to the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) to coordinate urban forestry issues among the 9 city departments dealing with trees and the urban forest. This would set up the same oversight needed for urban forestry like the proposed addition/shift of the Citywide Coordinator of Climate Initiatives Position to OSE is intended to accomplish.

There is currently no one in charge of overseeing overall urban forest management in the city. There are no annual updates on what is happening to the urban forest citywide. A once every 5 to 6 year LIDAR Canopy Study is only a bird’s eye view, at a particular time, and then only looks at urban canopy area loss or gain which is only one metric of urban forest sustainability and health.

Every 5-6 years there has also been an update to the Urban Forest Management Plan, but responsibilities and priorities are left to individual departments. There is no annual accountability on the progress of meeting goals. The Seattle Urban Forest Interdepartmental Team helped develop the Urban Forest Management Plan but there is no one in charge overall to ensure that goals and responsibilities are being carried out. The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission does have a yearly report – See Seattle Urban Forestry Commission 2021 Annual Report. but it mainly covers the activities of the volunteer Commission, which is limited to making recommendations to the Seattle City Council and Mayor.

We can and must do better to protect and enhance our urban green infrastructure. It is critical for so many reasons, including climate resiliency, environmental, race and social equity, stormwater runoff, carbon sequestration, air pollution, habitat for birds and wildlife, and the mental and physical health for all living and working in One Seattle.

Resources are available but someone needs to help coordinate and plan and be sure the city gets help that is available. This can be one of the responsibilities of the Seattle Urban Forester and associated support. Both THE Washington State Department of Natural Resources Urban Forestry program and the Federal Government have new funds available for trees and urban forestry. Having a Seattle Urban Forester can help the city to not just fund proposals like the canopy equity and resilience plan in the current draft budget but also get additional funds to plant and maintain the trees needed to meet the city’s 2037 30% canopy goal and also help meet environmental equity and race and social justice goals.
.Pew Trusts: “Towns May Grow Millions More Trees with $1.5 B for Urban Forestry. This article covers new state and national funding available to help urban cities like Seattle .increase tree and urban forest canopy cover.

Here is an example of a job description and qualifications for a City Urban Forester on the ISA (International Society of Arborists) website. ISA Municipal Arborist/Forester This position could be to oversee and coordinate all related work covered under the Urban Forest Management Plan which covers both public and private trees. Right now, all the work is decentralized with each Department responsible for certain work and goals, but there is no one overseeing or coordinating the overall plan to ensure that the work and goals are being met.

ISA Description – “THE MUNICIPAL ARBORIST, or forester, is the individual responsible for the long-term care and management of city trees. Duties include the application of a management plan including planting, pruning, protecting, and removal programs for public trees and associated vegetation; budget preparation; and interaction with the community (both public and private), politicians, and other agencies. Municipal arborists’ activities also encompass forestry, ecology, hydrology, atmospheric science, energy, and stormwater control.”” A college degree in forestry, horticulture, or related fields will most likely be required. Individuals will also be required to have 3-5 years of experience in tree and plant care operations and be an ISA Certified Arborist. Proficiency in computer use and operation is highly desired.”

The City of Boston is hiring a Director of Urban Forestry – You can see their job description here. See Director of Urban Forestry

The following report detailing what was happening in Vancouver, Washington as an example where they have a Forestry Division that provides yearly reports. This is an example of both citywide accountability and yearly progress reports, Urban Forestry 2021 Annual Report

Here is the page where you can see the yearly reports done in Portland which requires permits to remove and plant trees among other requirements. You can see a detailed of what is happening on a yearly basis. Urban Forest Action Plans Yearly Updates .

The Seattle Urban Forester (Citywide Coordinator) position should be placed in the Office of Sustainability and Environment like the proposed shift of the Citywide Coordinator for Climate Initiatives. OSE budget transfer from SDOT:  Citywide Coordinator for Climate Initiatives Position Transfer $222,073 1.00 FTE

The city of Tacoma has their Urban Forest Division in their Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability. Tacoma Urban Forestry

Can we count on your support for adding a Seattle Urban Forester to the OSE budget?

Steve Zemke
Chair – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest

Click here to donate to TreePAC

This post was originally posted Oct 15, 2022 and was updated Oct 20, 2022 to note that the amendment has been introduced with 3 sponsors and needs 5 Councilmembers voting to pass it. You can send a quick e-mail to all Councilmembers by going to https://www.dontclearcutseattle.org/seattle-city-urban-forester/ 

Urge SDOT to Protect and Increase Tree Canopy in their Transportation Plan Update – Comments end  Wed. August 31st

Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest

Urge SDOT to Protect and Increase Tree Canopy in their Transportation Plan Update – Comments end  Wed. August 31st

Comments are needed to urge support for protecting and increasing tree canopy in Seattle’s Transportation Plan update. The Transportation Plan update is being done in tandem with Seattle updating it’s One Seattle Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is updated every 10 years to assist Seattle in planning for its growth in people, jobs, and housing over the next 20 years. The Transportation Plan guides the transportation component of the One Seattle Plan update.The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) notes that “Our transportation system is more than just roads. It includes sidewalks, bridges, stairways, transit, paths and trails, bike lanes, crosswalks, public spaces like street cafes and benches, and much more. The transportation system is how everyone moves around the city, connecting us to places and opportunities. But COVID-19, climate change, and rapid population growth make it hard to keep this system running smoothly. That’s why we want to create a sustainable system that works now and in the future.Missing from their discussion is the role of Seattle’s trees and urban forest in our transportation systemLand devoted to transportation in Seattle is some 23% of the city’s area. It contributes about 22% of the city’s tree canopy. SDOT is responsible for maintaining and growing these trees. Hard pavement like concrete and asphalt in roads and sidewalks absorb heat and create heat domes and heat island impacts that. As seen last year, excessive heat can be deadly. Trees are an important climate resiliency and mitigation factor in reducing heat island impacts by shading streets and sidewalks. Trees transpiring water also create cooling effects. Trees were shown to create as much as a 25-degree Fahrenheit temperature difference in a recent county wide study done by Seattle and King County.   Please comment on the Transportation Plan, noting that the trees and urban forest under SDOT’s oversight and responsibility are an important part of Seattle’s transportation system.Go to SDOT’s Seattle Transportation Plan Online Engagement HUB and submit your comments. You can also take their survey.You can also send an e-mail  directly to  STP@Seattle.gov with your comments.  Your response is due by the end of the day this Wednesday August 31st.Some examples of issues regarding trees to comment on:

Comments are needed to urge support for protecting and increasing tree canopy in Seattle’s Transportation Plan update. The Transportation Plan update is being done in tandem with Seattle updating it’s One Seattle Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan is updated every 10 years to assist Seattle in planning for its growth in people, jobs, and housing over the next 20 years. The Transportation Plan guides the transportation component of the One Seattle Plan update.The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) notes that “Our transportation system is more than just roads. It includes sidewalks, bridges, stairways, transit, paths and trails, bike lanes, crosswalks, public spaces like street cafes and benches, and much more. The transportation system is how everyone moves around the city, connecting us to places and opportunities. But COVID-19, climate change, and rapid population growth make it hard to keep this system running smoothly. That’s why we want to create a sustainable system that works now and in the future.Missing from their discussion is the role of Seattle’s trees and urban forest in our transportation systemLand devoted to transportation in Seattle is some 23% of the city’s area. It contributes about 22% of the city’s tree canopy. SDOT is responsible for maintaining and growing these trees. Hard pavement like concrete and asphalt in roads and sidewalks absorb heat and create heat domes and heat island impacts that. As seen last year, excessive heat can be deadly. Trees are an important climate resiliency and mitigation factor in reducing heat island impacts by shading streets and sidewalks. Trees transpiring water also create cooling effects. Trees were shown to create as much as a 25-degree Fahrenheit temperature difference in a recent county wide study done by Seattle and King County.   Please comment on the Transportation Plan, noting that the trees and urban forest under SDOT’s oversight and responsibility are an important part of Seattle’s transportation system.Go to SDOT’s Seattle Transportation Plan Online Engagement HUB and submit your comments. You can also take their survey.You can also send an e-mail  directly to  STP@Seattle.gov with your comments.  Your response is due by the end of the day this Wednesday August 31st. Some examples of issues regarding trees to comment on:

    • More trees planted along streets and sidewalks will reduce urban heat island impacts
    • Environmental equity and justice require SDOT to plant and maintain more trees in low canopy areas.
    • SDOT needs to give priority to protecting existing trees and watering new trees to ensure their survival
    • Trees are needed along streets for shade to encourage people walking and help reduce crime.
    • Trees are important for both physical and mental health
    • Big trees can and need to be planted for more shade on the street side where there are no power lines
    • Trees along busy streets will help slow traffic and increase safety for pedestrians
    • More trees along streets in shopping areas and urban villages will encourage people to shop locally and help local businesses thrive
    • Trees planted along streets in industrial areas are needed to reduce pollution and stormwater runoff
    • Consider using more alternative sidewalk repair techniques s like flexible rubber and raised sidewalks to deal with tree roots would save more existing trees
    • Trees planted around transit stops would provide shade for people waiting for buses.
    • Trees planted along streets where kids walk to school make streets safer
    • Creating a street in both north and south Seattle planted with different recommended street trees for people to see will help people choose trees
    • Planting more trees along greenways and bike lanes to reduce heat impacts would increase people using them
    • Prepare a plan and goal to plant more trees in the right of way for climate resiliency
    • Trees help reduce stormwater and pollution runoff.
    • Trees help clean the air of pollution

Seattle’s big trees and more housing – we can and should have more

Comments by Sandy Shettler to One Seattle Comprehensive Plan EIS Scoping Project

We need every option in the One Seattle survey to include protection and support for urban trees. Countless studies have clearly established that urban trees give us cleaner air, cooler summers, and better outcomes on every measurable public health metric. Neighborhoods that lack trees can feel dystopian regardless of density. Conversely, neighborhoods with big trees create a sense of place, serenity and community even if extremely dense. Cohesive, canopied communities like these encourage people to put down roots in urban neighborhoods. People choosing to stay long-term in livable neighborhoods will help Seattle meet regional goals on growth management and transportation emissions.

We can create these rooted neighborhoods by thoughtfully developing around existing big trees. Big trees are valuable because their sheer size enables them to provide the ecosystem and public health benefits we need right now. Developers know how to preserve large trees through creative design and partnering with arborists to ensure trees remain healthy through the construction process. Local government can help with financial incentives to preserve and care for trees (“treebates”) as well as design flexibility for incorporating trees. Together with a stronger tree protection ordinance, programs like these would help remove incentives for developers to clearcut lots, and make tree retention the norm.

We also need to invest in our future urban forest by planting trees now. Seattle’s historically lax tree protection has stripped trees from all parts of the city, but especially in lower-income communities where people can’t afford AC needed to mitigate heat. Our comprehensive plan should right this historical wrong and plan for a future where everyone can live among big trees and enjoy the health and connection to nature they

TreePAC and Seattle Win Hearing Examiner Appeal by Master Builders

Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest

Seattle Hearing Examiner Tosses Out Master Builders Appeal on draft SDCI Tree Protection Ordinance

Dear Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest,TreePAC has helped the tree advocacy community avert what could have been a 1 – 2 year added delay in updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. TreePAC  intervened in the Hearing Examiner  Appeal by the Master Builders who opposed updating  Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. TreePAC sent out the following news release announcing the decision of the Seattle Hearing Examiner to reject the Master Builder’s Appeal.  Please read the news release, then send TreePAC a donation to help them continue their important work.. They deserve our support.

Contribute to TreePAC

News Release by TreePACFor Immediate releaseFriday August 12, 2022
SEATTLE – TreePAC, a citizen’s group advocating updating Seattle Tree Protection Ordinance, joined as an Intervenor with the city of Seattle in opposing a Hearing Examiner appeal by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County.  The decision allows Seattle to now move forward with updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance, a process that citizen groups and others have been urging the city to do for 13 years.In a strongly worded decision, the Seattle Hearing Examiner dismissed an appeal by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS) from a Determination of Non-Significance (DNS) issued by the Seattle Department of Constructions and Inspections (SDCI). The appeal was regarding the potential environmental impacts of a draft update by SDCI of Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance.The decision by Seattle Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil stated, “The Director’s decision to issue a Determination of Non significance for the proposed ordinance is not clearly erroneous and is AFFIRMED and the Appellants’ appeal is DENIED..”The Hearing Examiner did not equivocate but soundly dismissed the MBAKS arguments and witnesses’ statements as speculation and not backed up by any actual data.You can read the Hearing Examiner’s decision and detailed response here.Quotes:Steve Zemke, Chair of TreePAC  “We appreciate the Hearing Examiner’s reasoned and detailed decision. Trees are critical to maintaining the health and vitality of Seattle’s communities and its citizens.  TreePAC supports the efforts of the city to both increase needed housing and protect our green infrastructure. It is not an either/or situation but a priority of the city to address both as mandated in Seattle’s current Comprehensive Plan.Seattle  Hearing Examiner Ryan Vancil in his decision “The record indicates that in developing the proposal, the Department considered the City’s goals and policies and developed a set of recommendations that struck a balance between the City’s housing goals related to housing and future development patterns and the City’s goals to maintain a healthy urban forest that provides sizable tree canopy coverage.”Steve Zemke, Chair TreePAC  “Trees are critical to dealing with urban heat island impacts and stormwater runoff as the climate crisis continues. That requires protecting as many existing trees as possible and planting more trees in marginalized areas for tree equity and social justice. The proposed draft ordinance update helps the city to do that.
Special Appeal to help TreePAC:
 Fighting the Master Builders appeal was a successful effort but unfortunately lasted longer and cost more than expected. TreePAC needs your help to wrap up its legal expenses and continue their work to update Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. Please send a generous contribution today to support their ongoing work. Thanks.

E-mails Needed to Save Aurora Ave N Sweetgum Trees

Please send an e-mail to Seattle City officials to help save the Aurora Ave N Sweetgum street trees  from being cut down..
Click on the link below to do it quickly through Action Network. Thanks.
Don’t Clearcut Seattle is a project of TreePAC. They maintain the action network website.
Donations to TreePAC are needed to support their work  protecting existing urban trees and efforts to plant more trees to increase our urban canopy. Please donate today. Thanks.

Please Amend draft SDCI Tree Protection Ordinance to Strengthen Protection for Trees

Send Letter to Mayor Bruce Harrell and Seattle City Council:

bruce.harrell@seattle.gov   council@seattle.gov

Dear Mayor Harrell and the Seattle City Council,

Please act to update Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. It’s been 13 years since the Seattle City Council first urged the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to update the ordinance. We appreciate the recent enactment by the Seattle City Council and Mayor to adopt registration of Tree Service Providers in the city as a first step. We also appreciate action finally by SDCI to release a more complete draft of an updated Tree Protection Ordinance.

The draft Tree Protection Ordinance is currently under a Hearing Examiner appeal by the Master Builders of King and Snohomish County and six development companies. Their goal is to delay and potentially weaken the ordinance. We believe that Seattle needs to protect its existing trees while planting more trees in underserved areas with low tree canopy to address adverse climate impacts while also increasing affordable housing. It is not a question of one or the other. We need to do both.

Trees and the urban forest comprise vital green infrastructure needed to keep our city and people livable and healthy. Trees reduce air pollution, storm water runoff and climate impacts like heat island effects, while providing essential habitat for birds and other wildlife. They are important for the physical and mental health of our residents. A robust urban forest is critical for climate resilience and environmental equity.

Seattle’s rapid growth and increased density combined with an outdated tree ordinance are reducing these beneficial effects as trees are removed without serious consideration of ways to incorporate more of them in the development. Unless exceptional there is no real effort to save them. And what replacement requirements were in the ordinance since 2001 appears to have seldom been enforced. It is urgent to act now to reduce this continued loss of existing trees, particularly large mature trees and tree groves. It is important to promote environmental equity by retaining as many trees as possible and replacing those removed for climate resiliency.

We support the following provisions in SDCI’s draft ordinance.

1. Lowering the upper limit for exceptional trees to 24” Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) from 30” DBH.
2. Continuing protection for exceptional trees less than 24” DBH and tree groves and heritage trees
3. Defining any tree 6” DBH and larger that is not exceptional as a significant tree
4. Continuing prohibition on removal of trees 6” DBH and larger on undeveloped lots.
5. Requiring replacement of 12” DBH and larger trees removed by developers
6. Creating an in-lieu fee for developers to replace trees 12” DBH and larger that cannot be replaced on the development site.
7. Requiring in lieu fees be used to replace and maintain newly planted trees
8. Limiting removal of significant trees outside development to those less than 12” DBH
9. Protected trees and replaced trees are covered by a covenant for life of project

Here are key provisions that need to be added to the draft ordinance:

1.Expand the existing Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Tree Removal and Replacement Permit Program using the Accela database system to include SDCI to cover all significant trees 6” DBH and larger, and all exceptional trees, on private property in all land use zones, both during development and outside development.
2. Require SDCI submit quarterly reports to the Office of Sustainability and Environment on tree removal and replacement as required by other City Departments
3. Require 2-week public notice posting, as SDOT does on-site, and add online, of any 6’” DBH and larger tree removal and replacement permit requests and keep posted on a lot for 1 week after removal
4. Require that tree replacement numbers increase with the size of the removed tree such that in 25 years or less they will reach equivalent canopy volume lost – either on site or pay a replacement fee that also increases with the size of the tree removed
5. All replacement in lieu fees and fines should go into a dedicated Tree Replacement and Preservation Fund (not SDCI budget or city general fund), that yearly reports on their budget to the City Council and Mayor.
6. Allow the Tree Replacement and Preservation Fund to also accept fines, donations, grants, purchase land, set up covenants and for educational purposes.
7. Require 5-year maintenance of replanted trees
8. Allow removal of no more than 2 Significant non-exceptional trees in 3 years per lot outside development
9. Require developers throughout the total development process to maximize the retention of existing trees with adequate space for trees to grow and survive.
10. Require a Tree Inventory of all trees 6” DBH and larger and a Tree Landscaping Plan prior to any building permits being approved.
11. Extend ordinance to cover all land use zones, including Industrial, Downtown and Institutions
12. Keep requirement that all 6” DBH and larger trees be on site plans
13. Require tree replacement or in lieu fees by developers for trees removed 1 year prior to property purchase
14. Allow city certified inspectors to enter property if necessary to ascertain any illegal tree activity
15. Provide adequate funding in the budget to implement and enforce the updated ordinance
16. All trees replaced are protected trees and not subject to removal
17. Require removal of invasive plants, like ivy, from development sites

 

 

Letter to SDCI and Seattle Mayor regarding attempted illegal tree removal

The following letter points out the need for tree removal permits in Seattle. Without them trees can be illegally removed and most of the removals happen without the ability for anyone to respond. Many go unnoticed or not reported, this was only caught because of a neighbor being aware in advance of the attempted illegal removal.
Many other cities require permits to remove trees. Seattle in most cases does not on private property. Tree Removal and Replacement Permits have been required for the last 9 years by the Seattle Dept. of Transportation. The Seattle Dept. of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) has no permit system to remove trees. The SDCI Director has long had the authority to require permits to enforce the Tree Protection Ordinance (SMC 25.11.090) but has chosen not to do that.
The Seattle City Council needs to add a requirement for permits to remove trees 6″ DBH and larger. A permit system can significantly reduce illegal tree cutting and can also provide the city with needed tracking on tree loss and replacement bot outside development and during development.
Hello Director Torgelson,
It is critical that SDCI provide enforcement services for illegal tree cutting on weekends and holidays. Illegal tree removals are intentionally scheduled for days when there is no enforcement. Stumps of exceptional trees are ground out immediately to ensure no evidence remains.
The KIRO7 news story linked below highlights a practice tree advocates know is widespread. Developers buy a property, then arrange for it to be illegally stripped of trees prior to the closing. These removals usually occur on holidays and weekends. Below is a KIRO7 story from this holiday weekend.
Here are specifics on the attempted removals at 827 NE 98th. I am also submitting this to the SDCI portal:
The property is currently owned by Sojourner Land Trust and the home was occupied until recently by “Lou” a principal in the trust. Lou informed her neighbors Cheryl and Sam Kordick several months ago that she was selling her property to a developer.
Arborist Andy Crossett, Tree Frog LLC, 206-310-8254 visited the site during the week of 3/28/22. He met Ms. Kordick and told her he worked for a developer. He stated the property had “two exceptional Douglas firs of DBH above 30” in the back, and that he would also examine a large fir in the front.
On 5/27/22, Ms. Kordick received a text from Lou stating that “the trees will be coming down this weekend” and “I wish the buyer could take care of this after the sale but now we’ve run out of time” and “we don’t need permits.” Ms. Kordick reached out to tree protection advocates who checked the permit portal and saw that no permit was evident.
On 5/28/22, tree protection advocates went to Ms. Kordick’s home, where Southfork Tree Service had arrived. “Brian” of Southfork confirmed that he would be removing the two firs in back and that “we are licensed, bonded and insured” and “we have permits” which he could not produce when asked. Sam Kordick requested to speak with the new owner and was given a contact for “Bobby at Legacy” who was not reachable.
A small crowd gathered in the Kordick’s yard to watch the tree removal. One person stood directly underneath the tree canopy which prevented its removal. Workers said “we can’t take it down because you’re in the way” several times. As they were leaving, Brian shouted “all I did was prune it!”
Attached are photos of the Southfork truck and workers. A 28-minute long video of the cutting activity is at this YouTube link; the conversation between workers and bystanders starts around minute 21:  https://youtu.be/WvpLzVwdC34
In this dual climate-change and housing crisis, the way forward is to build more housing while retaining our large trees. We won’t be able to do this if we allow unscrupulous people to decimate our urban forest on weekends and holidays.
Kind regards,
Sandy Shettler
“There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It’s called a tree.” – George Monbiot

Why is Seattle SDCI dragging its heels on setting up a tree removal and replacement permit system?

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (SDCI) has been dragging its heels for years on setting up a permit system for tree removal and replacement. Many other cites require permits to remove trees. Permits help to reduce illegal tree removal and allow cities to track tree loss and replacement.
The Seattle Council urged SDCI in Council Resolution 31902 to consider a permit system to remove trees 6″ DBH and larger (diameter at 4.5 feet above ground). SDCI with OSE held “listening sessions” with 29 people (including 10 members of the development community) and concluded the public didn’t support permits. Twenty nine respondents is not statistically valid,
Meanwhile a poll done by the Northwest Progressive Institute last year found that Seattle voters favored requiring permits to remove trees by a 2 to 1 margin. The results were 57% supporting to 28% opposing, with 15% unsure. (Poll of 617 likely Seattle voters, 4.3% margin of error, 95% confidence level)
Other cities are tracking tree loss and replacement on private property doing it with the same Accela database system that Seattle uses. Even Seattle’s Department of Transportation is using it for their permits for tree removal and replacement of street trees.
A permit system can be set up now without the need to update the current Tree Protection Ordinance. The existing Tree Protection Ordinance states in SMC 25.11.100 Enforcement and Penalties A.  Authority 1. that “The  Director shall have authority to enforce the provisions of this Chapter 25.11, to issue permits, impose conditions and establish penalties for violations of applicable law or rules by registered tree service providers, establish administrative procedures and guidelines, conduct inspections, and prepare the forms and publish Director’s Rules that may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this Chapter 25.11.”  (Note – Highlighting done by author to focus on key phrasing and authority)
Entering permits on a database system allows a city to track tree loss and replacement. With posting requirements and online database systems, people can confirm that trees are being removed under city ordinances and not illegally. Seattle’s tree protection enforcement is currently based on trusting people are cutting down trees legally. That is often not the case. Citizens only option is a complaint-based system which doesn’t work. Once you hear a chainsaw it is almost always impossible to stop trees coming down. Often work is done on weekends and holidays when city offices are closed.
Here are some other cities (and associated information) that are using an online Accela database system to set up permits for removing trees. Also included is SDOT’s  link to their system in Seattle.
Tacoma: Accela
 
Lake Forest Park: Accela
 
Atlanta, GA: Accela
Arborists Division Contacts
Seattle, WA: Accela
SDOT also requires 2 weeks posting of a permit application on the site, reason tree is being removed and  city contact information for questions.
Portland , Oregon: Excell 
Portland does their permits using Excell online.  They require developers to use the system to produce and file a Tree Inventory along with a Tree Plan before a building permit is issued.  Seattle should do the same.  Seattle currently does not require developers to do a tree inventory or tree plan before a building permit is issued.