Washington Native Plant Society editorial on updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance

WNPS Comments on Seattle City Tree Ordinance

Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla). Photo: Ben Legler

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.

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). Photo: Ben Legler

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.

Western red cedar (Thuja plicata). Photo: Ben Legler

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 ForestsDon’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


Washington Native Plant Society editorial on updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance — 2 Comments

  1. Currently, the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department is working on a project at the Greenwood Park on Fremont Ave North. They are revamping an area into an activity area. However, according to the plan, the existing trees would remain. At least two trees were cut down today. The stumps remain. Numerous squirrels and birds, including Steller’s Jays, live in those trees. I watched a squirrel this evening hiding a nut in a pile of dirt the construction workers made that will eventually be removed. My heart broke. It is insane with the climate catastrophe we are in to be cutting down trees and laying concrete that emits carbon to be produced. Some of the trees now have green ribbons on them while others don’t. I’m assuming more trees are going to be removed. I left messages at the parks department, Mayor Jenny Durkin’s office, plus emailed Q13 News and Kiro 7 news. I plan to check on the park Saturday and leave a note. I don’t expect them to be working again until Monday. But I plan to be down there to see exactly what’s happening. I am a former journalist, and I am persistent. I walk my dog several times a day at that park. I am disgusted with Seattle right now. They lied about their plans, and innocent animals and trees are going to suffer. I will be protesting at the park, if necessary. The project is just starting, so I’m going to look into getting an injunction to stop the trees from being cut down. I worked for a legal newspaper so I know a bit about laws. I don’t believe anyone agreed to trees being removed. Any advice or help would be appreciated.

  2. 20 ft from my property (we’ve been here for 30 years) Cascadia Community College/UW Bothell cut down over 75, 125ft, 100 year old trees… for a 4 story parking garage. The day after July 4th (no body was around to complain to)huge machines took out these trees, each one falling, screaming down, landing with earthquake concussions… over 68 times. Again – just for a stopgap parking garage. These institutions (both colleges on same property in Bothell) have ACRES of already paved ground on which they will, later, build a many multi-tower parking garage. We neighbors fought this project with vehemence, and won when they first wanted a 6 story dorm just 20 feet away. But when our neighborhood resistance crumbled after years, the colleges somehow convinced Bothell City council that a polluting, loud, light filled parking garage was OK. Now – more than 75 trees have been felled. Now, the garage is under construction and I, an artist living and working from home all day, cannot live with any sense of peace. Not only are my beloved 125ft life forms and beautiful view destroyed (not a sign of regret, memorialization of these trees/this lovely healthy forest,) the garage building process severely vibrates my house all day, the dreadful sounds of huge machines working ruin any serenity I have and a gigantic crane looms overhead. I’ve had to drive off to somewhere for my days, work is lost, and anxiety and fear now keeps me up all night. I have become ill. I’m posting this at 3am. The architects, engineers and city members promised our neighborhood in the early days(at least 35 times in EIS) that this upper west side of the college property would never be built on and we established neighbors would have an even more lush green buffer between us and proposed college buildings. That has been torn away by willynilly changing codes and rules. A promised buffer of real substance was poorly installed and what was put in is not effective (at my house) at all or has died. At one time there was a huge eagle’s nest but that was buzzed by an airplane and then that tree was cut down. Meanwhile, the UWBothell has a fine Dept. of Environmental Science – but obviously, what they teach (which will save the world) is NOT being followed by any of the administration. When institutions and corporations and city gov.’s think they are exempt from the dire environmental consequences predicted and which are being experienced by humans and animals and which are being proclaimed by UW’s own scientists what hope do we have from our own extinction? I for one, feel my own life and home and neighborhood has been grossly overlooked, severely injured and will very prematurely meet it’s demise- right now, I too feel severely injured by this ungodly attack. I do feel attacked. My life is no longer viable. I am like the eagles and the big tree home of the Great Horned Owls, and the many song birds; all under severe duress or now gone. In fact, ALL the big trees on the CCC/UWB property are dying. Bad planning, bad building, water table disruption, root disruption, instead what we have is extreme noise and vibration, pollution and heat rising. What kind of learning are the students truly learning there? What kind of example is this to the world? When will humans look at all life as sacred; the mental, emotional and spiritual part of life that makes it worth living and not just the financial bottom line of ‘growth?’ There is great suffering in Bothell.