Current Regulations Regarding Removing Trees on Private Property in Seattle

Here is what is currently in place as to removing trees in Seattle as of November 2013.  .

The “interim” tree ordinance passed in 2009 by the Seattle City Council is the governing ordinance. It came about because of the loopholes in removing trees in Seattle exposed by two citizen battles.  Protecting trees in the Northwest Grove at Ingraham High School in North Seattle and saving Waldo Woods in the Maple Leaf area.

Here is the Seattle City Council’s press release when they passed the interim ordinance:
http://www.seattle.gov/council/newingsdetail.asp?ID=9395&Dept=28
This lists a fine of up to $5000 for violating the ordinance.

Actual ordinance: Council Bill 116404
http://clerk.ci.seattle.wa.us/~scripts/nph-brs.exe?s1=&s2=&s3=116404&s4=&s5=&Sect4=and&l=20&Sect2=THESON&Sect3=PLURON&Sect5=CBOR1&Sect6=HITOFF&d=CBOR&p=1&u=%2F~public%2Fcbor1.htm&r=1&f=G

Three  DPD  memos further explain the requirements:

Tree Protection Regulations in Seattle:
http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/publications/cam/cam242.pdf
This states that no exceptional trees may be removed on developed property over 5000 square feet.

Designation of Exceptional Trees:
http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/codes/dr/dr2008-16x.pdf
This one clarifies what an exceptional tree is and has a list of tree sizes for trees.  For example it states that for Douglas firs,  trees larger than 30 ” in diameter are exceptional and may not be removed unless they pose a hazard.

Seattle Permits -Removal of Hazard Trees – includes Hazard Tree Removal Application
http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/publications/cam/cam331b.pdf

The interim ordinance  is clearly lacking as large trees continue to be  cut down without regard for their size.  There is also no requirement for replacement trees.

Seattle has been working on updating the tree ordinance for four years now.  The Seattle Department of Planning and Development has come up with several drafts which have not been acceptable to members of the public and others.  DPD’s approach has been contrary to the direction of the Seattle City Council which wanted stronger regulations to protect trees.DPD currently does not require or enforce getting permits to remove most trees in the city.  They have operated what they call a complaint system which doesn’t work because there is no way to stop someone cutting down a tree and a complaint after the fact doesn’t save any trees.

DPD’s draft proposals for this reason were also not viewed  favorably by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission.  The next draft of  a proposed tree ordinance was to be released in Jan or Feb 2014.  This is now most likely up in the air as the current Mayor, Mike McGinn, was defeated in the Nov election and  the new Mayor, Ed Murray,  is likely to view this issue with fresh eyes..

Any new ordinance to be successful needs to require permits to remove any tree over 8 – 10  inches in diameter and require a  two week posting of all proposed tree removals so any conflicts can  be addressed. Also unless replacement of trees cut down is required, either on site or off site, Seattle will continue to lose canopy.  This is despite the Seattle Comprehensive Plan stating a yearly goal of no net loss of canopy..

Cities like Portland, OR; Vancouver, WA, Lake Forest Park,WA and Kirkland, WA currently require permits to remove large trees. Permits are currently required by SDOT to prune or remove trees in the right of way and by DPD to remove hazard trees (although  there is little or no evidence this is working).

Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forests

Save the Trees- Seattle is a citizen’s coalition in Seattle, Washington working to update it’s current ordinance dealing with trees and Seattle’s urban forest. We have  opposed  the Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s (DPD) past efforts to weaken and repeal existing protections for Seattle’s urban forest and trees.

As the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission noted, DPD’s 2011 draft would have removed existing protections for trees and tree groves on 99.5% of Seattle property. DPD proposed that education and incentives would increase our urban forest canopy more than strengthening existing protections. We disagree.

A second draft of DPD’s proposal was released in 2012 and was withdrawn for further revision after the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission, Save the Trees-Seattle and other groups criticized its weakening of tree protections on private property. DPD’s intent was still to not regulate tree protection but to remove all protections.

 DPD is currently working on a third draft of a new tree ordinance that they plan to release in Jan 2014. There work is being done behind closed doors and is not involving the public. The schedule is to try to pass a new ordinance the beginning of 2014.

Save the Trees-Seattle supports a comprehensive update of our existing regulations as requested by the Seattle City Council in Resolution 31138 but mostly ignored by DPD in the past. Save the Trees-Seattle is a coalition of community and environmental activists working to draft an alternative citizen’s proposal that includes the following elements: 

Important  urban forestry and tree regulation provisions  needed in a new tree ordinance to strengthen tree protection

  1. Maintain and expand protection for exceptional trees and tree groves
  2. Expand the current permit system for street trees to include all trees over 6 inches in diameter on public and private property;  require 2 week posting of permits on internet and visible sign on site,  have an appeal process
  3. Enact comprehensive regulations that cover both public and private sector trees
  4. Consolidate oversight, regulation and enforcement in an independent department other than DPD, that does not have a conflict of interest such as the Office of Sustainability and Environment or the Parks Department.
  5. License and train all arborists and tree cutting operations; with fines and suspension for violations of law
  6. Give priority to native trees and vegetation to help preserve native plants and animals
  7. Emphasize habitat and ecological processes and soil as part of urban forestry
  8. Require all real estate sales to disclose trees on property that would require a permit to be removed.
  9. Define canopy cover in terms of volume and area; enforce existing city policy of no net loss of canopy by requiring replacement of trees removed either on site or off site
  10. Incorporate incentives like a rebate on utility bills based on exceptional trees, total canopy cover, or on trees  over a certain size like 8 inches in diameter on property; property owners could file to get a rebate the same as property owners now file for a senior citizen property tax exemption
  11. Prepare meaningful and descriptive site plans that show all existing and proposed trees to scale

If you are interested or know of other people who want to assist in our effort to enact strong urban forestry and tree protection regulations send an e-mail to stevezemke@msn.com and request to be added to our e-mail list.  Save the Trees – Seattle, 2131 N 132nd St, Seattle, WA 98133, 206-366-0811 Check out our facebook page at Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest and visit our website here at www.friends.urbanforests.org

This website is being added to as time permits so please have patience as we work on it.  We try to keep more current tree and urban forestry news items posted more timely on our facebook page. – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest.