WNPS Comments on Seattle City Tree Ordinance
Dear Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Councilmembers,
The Washington Native Plant Society commends you for your interest in Seattle’s trees and urges you to work with the Urban Forestry Commission to update Seattle’s tree protection ordinance this year. Our members and leaders have tracked Seattle’s progress toward effective tree protection as the urban tree canopy has continued to disappear.
Further delays of an effective tree protection ordinance increase the detrimental impacts of tree loss on our state’s largest city, a city many of us call home and that Washingtonians treasure. Losing our urban forest means losing the native plants that define the city.
Native trees and shrubs within Seattle’s urban forest create a strong, positive sense of place reflective of the Puget Sound region’s natural richness. These green oases also contribute to a healthy environment for people; they provide restorative, educational, and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
Our hemlocks, firs, and cedars provide habitat for birds and other wildlife that are disappearing in alarming numbers. Exceptional and heritage trees, grouped and individual, are the irreplaceable foundation of the urban forest. These established trees add economic value to urban neighborhoods. These trees ensure that neighborhoods are livable.
Trees are a front line defense against and mitigation for climate change. Over the next 50 years, even with aggressive emissions reductions, temperatures will more than double Seattle’s days of extreme heat (pers. comm., June 24, 2019, Marcia Brown, Anthropogenic Warming and Public Health Consequences in Seattle and Spokane, University of Washington).
The presence of trees reduces local temperatures. Trees are a cost-effective way of cleaning smoke from the air. With increased smoke from wildfires, it is imperative to preserve and protect mature trees within our state’s cities. Trees also help control the stormwater resulting from heavier rainfalls. We need to increase the urban canopy, not stand by while it dwindles to nothing.
Protecting trees within urban areas contributes to environmental justice within the city as well as to regional ecologic health. Mature trees benefit the most vulnerable—residents without access to shelter and air conditioning, children walking to school, and elders out exercising. Protecting trees does not preclude dense development. Vancouver, to the north, has both significantly more trees and higher population density.
It would be a shame for Seattle, the Emerald City, to lose its trees. We must protect the trees we have now, as well as planting saplings that will shade future generations.
Among Seattle residents there is strong support for a robust urban forest, and for government that protects the city’s exceptional and heritage trees. Washington Native Plant Society members, many of whom volunteer in city parks and green spaces, understand that the tree canopy contributes to the public good and can’t be quickly replaced.
As our member Michael Marsh so aptly put it, “An exact parallel to removing a 70-year-old tree and replacing it with two saplings would be replacing an experienced City Council Member with two 3-year-olds.” We trust that you understand. The current rate of loss is unacceptable and fails to take into account the many benefits of trees.
The Washington Native Plant Society and our Central Puget Sound Chapter urge you to slow and reverse Seattle’s tree loss by updating the tree protection ordinance this year.
WNPS Editor’s Note 2: If you are interested in learning more about the Seattle Tree Ordinance, these three groups will help you follow it: Friends of Urban Forests, Don’t Clearcut Seattle, and TreePAC. You may also want to learn about the Last 6,000 Campaign, which aims to locate Seattle’s remaining majestic trees.
Not in Seattle? The benefits of urban and community forests stretch beyond the city limits. The website of the Washington State Urban And Community Forestry Program is a good starting place to learn more about how trees provide economic, environmental, psychological, and aesthetic benefits. The program can provide assistance for planting and sustaining healthy trees and vegetation. Similarly, the U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program provides a national lens on the subject.
Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest Note – You can support the efforts of the Washington Native Plant Society by donating or becoming a member. Go to https://wnps.org/membership