Explaining why key provisions are in the 2019 Seattle Urban Forestry Commission draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance

Clearcut North Seattle – Victory Hts

Clearcut North Seattle – Victory Hts

In June 2019, The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission submitted  a draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance to the Seattle City Council and Mayor.

The Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance is urging the public and  organizations to submit letters of support on the draft ordinance through the website www.DontClearcutSeattle.org.  A pre-written draft letter for individuals is available on the site to which additional comments can be added. A draft resolution is available for organizations to use to express their support.

Here is some further explanation on each item mentioned in the support letter for the Urban Forestry Commission’s draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance. This draft was submitted June 2019 to the Seattle City Council and the Mayor at the request of Councilmembers Bagshaw and Herbold.

1. Expand the existing tree removal and replacement permit program, including 2-week public notice and posting, as used by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) – to cover all trees 6” DBH and larger on private property in all land use zones, both during development and outside development.

 Explanation – Seattle currently has a complaint based system to monitor tree removal. It doesn’t work because people only know a tree is being cut down when they hear the chain saw. Many trees are removed illegally. Exceptional trees on private property as defined by Director’s Rule 16-2008 are not to be removed unless hazardous. The first sign a tree is being removed is usually hearing a chain saw  or seeing the tree gone when they pass by. Many other cities like Portland,OR; Atlanta, GA: Vancouver,BC and locally Sammamish, Shoreline, Mercer Island, Redmond, Lake Forest Park and and Bellevue all require permits before trees can be removed, 
According to the  Seattle Forest Ecosystem Values Report , 6″ DBH (diameter at 54″ high) and larger trees represent about 45% of the trees in the single family zone. That means 55% are smaller than 6″ DBH. A Douglas fir at 6″ DBH is about 30 years old.
During development and outside development – also mean property on which construction is occurring and property on which construction is not occurring.
Notice – posting is to let neighbors know if a tree is legally being removed.
 2. Require the replacement of all trees removed that are 6” DBH and larger with trees that in 25 years will reach equivalent canopy volume – either on site or pay an in-lieu fee into a City Tree Replacement and Preservation Fund. Allow the Fund to also accept fines, donations, grants and set up easements.
Explanation – Many cities require tree replacement when trees are removed. If trees are not replaced you are losing canopy. 
Seattle’s Tree Protection ordinance passed in 2001 actually says in SMC 25.11.090:
“Tree replacement and site restoration. A. Each exceptional tree and tree over two (2) feet in diameter that is removed in association with development in all zones shall be replaced by one or more new trees, the size and species of which shall be determined by the Director; the tree replacement required shall be designed to result, upon maturity, in a canopy cover that is at least equal to the canopy cover prior to tree removal. Preference shall be given to on-site replacement. When on-site replacement cannot be achieved, or is not appropriate as determined by the Director, preference for off-site replacement shall be on public property.” 

The city has not kept a  record of  trees removed or replaced pursuant to this ordinance nor is there any record of developers paying the city to plant trees elsewhere. The city does has not been enforcing this part of the ordinance. 

Note: The current draft lowers this provision to replace trees to 6″DBH and allows trees to be planted on private property in the city that needs more trees as part of the race and social justice initiative. The requirement to replant trees is extended to private property owners as many other cities do including Portland,OR. 
The fee in lieu would be set by DCI and not in the ordinance,  so it can be set and raised or lowered to ensure compliance and deal with changing costs over time. There is no replacement fee if replacement trees are re-planted on the property they are removed from. DCI would also have the authority  to reduce, delay or cancel in-lieu-fees, dependent on a property owner’s  financial circumstances.
3. Retain current protections for Exceptional Trees and reduce the upper threshold for exceptional trees to 24” DBH, protect tree groves and prohibit trees over 6”DBH being removed on undeveloped lots (vacant lots).
Explanation – There are about 6100 large exceptional trees left in Seattle according to the 2016 Seattle Tree Canopy Assessment. These are trees over 30″ DBH and up to 140 feet tall and probably 100 years old or more.  They are the survivors and provide the most ecological services to the city. They include Douglas fir and western red cedar and Big leaf maples. Reducing the diameter to 24″ DBH will protect more of these large trees that have lived longer than most people in the city, and will be impossible to replace in our, or our children’s, lifetime.
See Reasons to Save Big Trees in Urban Areas Friends of Urban Forests
4. Allow removal of no more than 2 significant non-exceptional trees in 3 years per lot outside development (i.e. no construction occurring)
Explanation – Seattle currently allows the removal outside development of 3 significant (> 6″DBH) trees that are not exceptional per year.
This can quickly remove all trees on a lot. A number of other cites have lower numbers and limit it even more over a longer time period. Renton limits it to 2 in 1 year and 4 in 5 years as an example. 
5. Establish one citywide database for tracking tree removal and replacement permits, and to track changes in the tree canopy. Post online, all permit requests and permit approvals for public viewing.
 Explanation -The database system was recommended in the 2017 Tree Regulations Research Project report.  Mayor Burgess, in his 2017 Tree Protection Executive order, directed it to be set up to track tree loss and replacement
6. Expand SDOT’s existing tree service provider’s registration and certification to register all tree service providers (e.g. arborists) working on trees in Seattle.
Explanation – SDOT has already set up a a system to register and certify tree service providers and this would extend it to all that work on trees on private property. Providers would have to sign a statement that they have read the tree regulations and understand what is required. 
7. Provide adequate funding in the budget to implement and enforce the updated ordinance.
Explanation – DCI currently is understaffed regarding tree protection functions that include monitoring tree related issues and checking compliance with existing regulations, site inspections etc. This funding will be required to implement and better enforce the existing and updated ordinance.
cross posted on www.TreePAC.org

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