Press Release on Updating Seattle’s Tree Ordinance

Press Release – May 16, 2018

For more information  – Steve@friends.urbanforests.org

Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance

Welcome.  My name is Steve Zemke. I am the Chair of Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest and TreePAC.  I am speaking today for a diverse group of 17 organizations across the city that have been working together for stronger tree protection in Seattle.

The current Tree Protection Ordinance was last updated in 2009. Last year the city in their Tree Regulations Research Project reached the conclusion that “The current code is not supporting and growing tree protection. They noted that “We are losing exceptional trees and groves…” and that “development and hardscape increase tree loss. Conifers and large trees are coming out with deciduous and dwarf species coming in.”

They recommended that the city require a permit system to remove trees and that replacement of trees be required when trees are removed. This is what cities like Portland, Oregon; Atlanta, Georgia; and here locally Shoreline, Lake Forest Park, Redmond and Sammamish already are doing. Seattle needs to join them.

We commend Councilmember Rob Johnson for his proposed framework to require us to take action now in  Seattle. We urge him specifically to require that the threshold for tree permits be 6 inches in diameter which would cover about 45% of the trees growing in our residential single-family property zone which comprises about 55% of the city’s area.

We support Johnson’s proposal for tree replacement on site or payment into a Tree Replacement Fund to pay the city for the cost of replacing equivalent trees. We also support the use of a single tree portal on the City’s website.

These issues are also supported by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission.  In addition, the Commission recommends, and we support requiring tree care professionals to be registered with the city, for developers to do a tree assessment before starting development and include a tree replacement plan. We support the removal of the current exemption for lots less than 5000 square feet.

We believe the city can do much better. We commend Rob Johnson taking the lead in starting the dialogue on this issue and urging us to better protect existing trees while also  growing our urban forest across the whole city to benefit all people living here.

Tree Size Triggering Requirement for Permits to Remove Trees

Below are some examples of the minimum tree size that triggers the requirement to get a permit to remove 1 or more trees in various cities.

City threshold for permits for tree removal:

Annapolis, MD – 5 inches DBH (Diameter Breast Height – 4.5 feet)

Atlanta, GA – hardwood trees – 6 inches DBH; pine trees – 12 Inches DBH

Kirkland, WA – 6 inches DBH

Lake Forest Park – WA 6 inches DBH

Lake Oswego, OR – 6 inches DBH

Mercer Island, WA  – 10 inches DBH

Medina, WA  – 6 inches DBH

Portland, Oregon – 12 inches DBH

Redmond, WA – 6 inches DBH

Sammamish, WA conifer tree – 8 inches DBH; deciduous tree – 12 inches DBH

Shoreline, WA – 8 inches DBH – conifers, 12 inches DBH – deciduous

Vancouver, BC – 20 cm (7.8 inches DBH)

May 2018 Action Plan for Updating Seattle’s Tree Ordinance

May Action Plan – Keep Seattle Green – Protect our Trees

Reach out to supporting groups – emails to their members, newsletter articles, posting on organization websites, FB. Ask to be copied with the article, posting, etc. Enlarge contact list of supporting organizations – environmental groups, community councils, Democratic organizations,sustainability groups, equity groups. Meet with key leaders – ask about how we can get their support/endorsement (give talk, pp, leaflet, newsletters, website and social media)

Arrange Seattle Councilmember meetings – starting with Johnson, O’Brien, Herbold and Gonzalez (alternate) on Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee. Include other CouncilmeMmbers, ayor and Staff. Send e-mails to the Council and Mayor on a regular basis. Individual emails to each Councilmember personalize your contact.

Show up for coalition meetings – Get names and contact of newcomers
Sat. May 12, 2018 12 PM – 2PM Broadview Public Library, 12755 Greenwood Ave N.
Sat May 26, 2018, 3-5 PM Northgate Public Library, 10548 5th Ave NE.

Organize press conference Wednesday 5/168:45 AM for 9 AM press Conference
prior to 9:30 AM Planning, Land Use and Zoning meeting. Broaden Press contacts. Create list. Make contact with individual press people to brief them on issue. Organize letters to the editor. Be sure message and outreach is coordinated with campaign

PUSH for BIG turnout Wednesday May 16, 2018 – 9:30 am
to influence the PLUZ Committee, and the Seattle City Council to pass a strong tree ordinance. Rob Johnson will be doing the initial briefing at this meeting. PLUZ meets 1st and 3rd Wednesdays

Send e-mails, speak and attend Urban Forestry Commission meeting 5/9.
Send emails and speak about a strong tree ordinance. Also, thank the UFC for providing leadership in pushing to update the Tree Protection Ordinance over the last 9 years. Following meetings – 1st and 2nd Wed of month,3 PM – 5 PM Rm 2750, Seattle Municipal Tower

Yard sign campaign – concentrate on well-traveled streets and neighborhoods

Concentrate on main points when speaking – strong support to Councilmember Johnson and Seattle City Council for updating our Tree Protection ordinance. Emphasize that we are losing trees during development; that we need to require equivalent replacement for lost tree canopy to increase our tree canopy to 30%. Our proposal follows his main points but provides more details for a more effective
ordinance. Remember anything you say in public can wind up in the media so stay on point. If you have personal experience of problems with the current ordinance mention them and how what we are proposing will make things better.

Sources of information:

www.friends.urbanforests.org
also FB page – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest
www.TreePAC.org 
also FB page – Tree PAC

Seattle Urban Forestry Commission Makes Preliminary Recommendations on Updating Tree Protection Ordinance

On April 11, 2018 the Seattle Urban Forestry adopted the following letter:

Seattle Urban Forestry Commission
Weston Brinkley, Chair • Joanna Nelson de Flores, Vice-Chair
Tom Early • Megan Herzog • Craig Johnson • Sarah Rehder
Sandra Whiting • Andrew Zellers • Steve Zemke
April 11, 2018.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Rob Johnson
Seattle City Hall
600 4th Ave.
Seattle, WA 98124

RE: Tree regulations update recommendation

Dear Mayor and Councilmember Johnson,
The Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) commends the Mayor and Councilmember Johnson for providing the impetus to move forward the Tree Protection ordinance update. The UFC is excited to support the City in this important effort.
Seattle recognizes the important role trees play in our densifying city. The UFC is interested in finding ways to allow for flexible management of trees by property owners, while protecting trees and accomplishing the City’s urban forestry goals.
The UFC has provided input in support of an update of the tree protection ordinance over the years (copies of such letters of recommendation can be made available if so desired).

The UFC recommends addressing the areas listed below in an updated tree protection
ordinance. More detailed input will be forthcoming:

1. Keep protection of groves and exceptional trees.
2. Reinstate a policy of no-net-loss of tree canopy with a goal of increasing canopy.
– Explore incentives for tree retention and deterrents for tree removal.
3. Establish a fee-in-lieu program (separate from the City’s General Fund) for tree
replacement, maintenance, and tree protection enforcement.
4. Establish a tree removal permit system to track and monitor tree loss and             replacement.
– This could be accomplished by expanding SDOT’s current tree permit system.
– The code update is an opportunity to require invasive plant removal from sites
undergoing development.
5. Require an urban forest canopy impact assessment for development sites.
6. Establish a tree service provider registration/certification to cover all tree
work one in Seattle.
7. Include environmental equity considerations.
8. Remove the exception from the tree protection code for single-family lots smaller
than 5,000 sf.
9. Establish financial guarantees to ensure tree survival.
10. Include requirements to follow current industry standards and best management
practices for tree selection and care.
– Including how a hazard tree determination is done.
11. Terms to be clearly defined: Canopy area, Canopy volume, DBH, Excessive pruning,
Fee-in-lieu, Hedge, Invasive, Major pruning, Off-site replacement, Pruning,
Seattle Comprehensive Plan, Seattle Urban Forest Stewardship Plan, Significant
tree, Tree, Tree permit, Tree protection area, Tree Replacement and Maintenance
Fund, Tree service providers, Urban forest canopy impact assessment, and Volume.

We appreciate your commitment to Seattle’s urban forest and look forward to working with you on this matter.

Sincerely,
Weston Brinkley, Chair                                                                                                      Steve Zemke

Action Needed Now to Protect Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest

Action Needed Now to Protect Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest

Dear Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council Members, 

We urge you to provide strong leadership now to significantly strengthen Seattle’s tree ordinance to protect our trees and urban forest. 

Seattle’s urban forest is an integral and vital part of our city.  It provides many benefits and amenities to those living in our city.  Trees help clean our air and enhance public health, reduce stormwater runoff, mitigate climate change, decrease the impacts of heat and wind, provide habitat for birds and wildlife and give us a connection with nature in our neighborhoods.

Seattle’s rapid growth is reducing these beneficial impacts as trees are removed, particularly during development across our city. It is urgent that you act now to stop the loss of trees, particularly exceptional trees and tree groves, and to promote environmental equity as we increase our tree canopy.

We urge you to act now by updating our current tree ordinances and regulations as follows:

  1. Adopt a policy of a net increase of Seattle’s tree canopy each year to reach the city’s current goal of 30% tree canopy.  This requires maintaining and strengthening current protections for both significant and exceptional trees, tree groves, Heritage trees, environmentally critical areas and natural areas.
  2. Require the replacement of all trees removed that are 6” DBH and larger with equivalent sized trees (e.g. small, medium or large) – either on site:  or pay the replacement and maintenance mitigation costs into a City Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund. Allow the Fund to accept fines, donations, grants and for acquiring land and setting easements and Tree Protection Trusts.
  3. Expand the existing tree removal and replacement permit, 2-week notice and posting system used by SDOT – to cover all public and private trees 6” DBH and larger on both public and private property in all land use zones. Allow removal of no more than 1  significant non-exceptional tree per lot per year.
  4.  Establish one citywide database when applying for tree removal and replacement permits and to track changes in the tree canopy.  Post online all permit requests and permit approvals for public viewing.  Expand SDOT’s existing tree map to include all the trees in the city that are removed and replaced.
  5. Require a detailed Urban Forest Canopy Assessment for all development projects prior to any development beginning. This detailed tree inventory should be entered into a public database.  Replacement trees should be based on equivalent tree size at maturity.
  6. Expand SDOT’s existing tree service provider’s registration and certification to include all tree service providers working on trees in Seattle. 
  7. Consolidate tree oversight into one city entity: The Office of Sustainability and Environment, as was recommended by the Seattle City Auditor in 2009.  Give OSE the additional authority needed to ensure that trees have an independent advocate for their protection to avoid conflicting goals in other city departments.
  8. Emphasize native trees and vegetation, particularly conifers, to maximize sustainability and environmental services.  Require the removal of invasive plants during development. Increase incentives for protecting trees and provide public assistance for property owners who need help complying with the city ordinance. To increase compliance increase penalties, fines and enforcement. Ensure environmental equity in maintaining and increasing our tree canopy across the city.

———————————————————————————————————————
Note: Above is the final version of the Letter to the Mayor and City Council that organizations are being asked to sign onto as part of a citywide coordinated effort to show strong support for updating Seattle’s existing Tree Protection legislation.

In the current proposal as outlined by Council staff on May 16, 2018, Councilmember Johnson, is not proposing to require developers to replace most trees lost during development while requiring homeowners to replace all trees larger than 12 inches DBH. Yet development is where most trees are being lost. Everyone needs to be treated the same, not letting developers evade most mitigation for trees lost.  Also the threshold needs to be 6″ DBH not 12″ DBH which would only cover 18% of the trees on single family lots.

When your organization signs on to the letter above please send notification to Steve@friends.urbanforests.org along with the person signing for the organization and their position.

Also for both organizations and individuals please copy and paste the letter text above the note and include it in an email you send to the Mayor and Seattle City Council in support of updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. They need to hear from you. Be sure to add your own concern about developers being exempt in the current proposed ordinance update that homeowner would have to comply with. Urge that permits need to start at 6 inches DBH which would cover 45% of the trees in single family zones.

Send to jenny.durkan@seattle.gov and council@Seattle.gov

Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance

friends.urbanforests.org, TreePAC.org

corrections made to notes after May 16, 2018 when more details became public with release of the Seattle Central Council staff memo – “Draft Updates to Seattle’s Tree Regulations”

 

Use the Tree Regulations Research Project Recommendations to Guide Updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance

Letter sent to Seattle Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council

Seattle last year completed a study on whether our current tree ordinance and regulations were working.

Among other findings the Tree Regulations Research Project concluded in their final report last year that:

Current code is not supporting tree protection.”

“We are losing exceptional trees (and groves) in general. Most in Environmental Critical Areas with most tree loss in landslide-prone areas.”

Development and hardscape increase result in tree loss. – Conifers and large tree species are coming out with deciduous and dwarf species are coming in.”

The report with the findings recommended a 3 tiered process of potential action:

“Final Recommendations: 

Project final recommendations included three levels:

I. Existing regulations with improvements 

• Code improvements

• Process improvements 

• Other opportunities

II. Permit system and protect additional trees

• All of 1, and 2

III. Permit system “Plus” and protect more trees 

• All of 1, 2, and 3 Incentives proposed are intended to be considered in all three options

Mayor Burgess’s Executive Order 2017-11 Tree Protection  – “An Executive Order directing City Departments to improve departmental coordination, strengthen enforcement and adopt new rules and regulations to improve and expand protections for Seattle’s urban trees and canopy coverage” only covered part of the many recommendations in Option I.

It also did not cover stronger protections that should be in an updated Tree Protection Ordinance that would shift oversight from what is now a complaint based system to one requiring permits up front before trees can be removed.

From the report:

Recommendation on Option II and III

Option II – Permit system and protect additional trees.

This option would include the improvements and incentives included in Option I.

1. Private property tree removal permit 

a. Track allowance for annual removal of three trees >6” 

b. Remove allowance for unlimited tree removal in SF<5,000 

c. Require mitigation 

2. Create tree injury/removal violation penalties 

a. Hold tree service company accountable 

b. Administrative appeal of penalties

 

Option III – Permit system “Plus” and protect more trees This option would include the improvements and incentives from Option I, and the proposed permit, mitigation and penalties in Option II. 

1. Protect tree groves through covenants. Provide support to home owners (from fee-in-lieu).

2. Explore transfer of development rights (within Seattle)

We urge you to follow the lead of the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission which in a Nov 1, 2017 letter to the Council and Mayor supported Mayor Burgess’s Executive order and also  stated that “The Commission recommends that the City continue the deliberative process to consider implementation of Options 2 and 3 to further support Seattle’s canopy cover, tree protection, and tree preservation.”

In 2009, the Seattle City Council issued Resolution 31138 instructing “…the Department of Planning and Development to submit legislation by May 2010 to establish a comprehensive set of regulations and incentives to limit the removal of trees and promote the retention and addition of trees within the City of Seattle on both private and public property…”

It’s long past time to comprehensively update Seattle’s Tree Protection legislation – tweaking regulations is not enough.  Act now to Keep Seattle Green.  Protect Our Trees!

Sincerely,

Steve Zemke

Chair TreePAC

Chair – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest

steve@friends.urbanforests.org

Action Needed Now to Protect and Enhance Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest

Action Needed Now to Protect and Enhance Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest

We urge Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle City Council to take action now to significantly strengthen Seattle’s ordinances to protect our trees and urban forest. Seattle’s urban forest is an integral and vital part of our city. The urban forest provides many benefits and amenities to those living in our city, including helping to clean our air, reduce stormwater runoff, increase property values, counter climate change, lessen heat and wind impacts, provide habitat for birds and wildlife and provide nature in our neighborhoods. Seattle rapid growth is reducing these beneficial impacts as trees are removed, particularly during development across our city.

We urge you to take action now by updating our current tree ordinance and regulations as follows:

  1. Adopt a policy of no net loss of tree canopy with a goal of increasing tree canopy. This includes maintaining and strengthening current protections for exceptional trees, tree groves, Heritage trees, critical areas and natural areas
  2. Expand the existing tree removal and replacement permit, notice and posting system used by SDOT – to cover all public and private trees 6” DBH and larger on both public and private property in all land use zones. Allow removal of no more than 3 significant non-exceptional trees every 4 years.
  3. Require replacement of all trees removed that are 6” DBH and larger with equivalent sized trees (e.g. small, medium or large) – either on site or pay replacement and maintenance mitigation costs into a City Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund. Allow the Fund to accept fines, donations and grants and allow funds to also be used for acquiring land, easements or set up Trusts to protect trees.
  4. Establish one city wide database system to apply for tree removal and replacement permits. Post permit requests and permits approved on line for the public to see. City should expand SDOT’s existing tree map to include all of the trees in the city that are removed and replaced.
  5. Require a detailed Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment for all development projects – basically a detailed tree inventory report on property before development proceeds. Information would be entered into a public database, including data on replacement using  equivalent tree sizes at maturity.
  6. Expand SDOT’s existing tree service provider’s registration and certification to include all tree service providers working on trees in Seattle
  7. Consolidate tree oversight into one city entity as recommended in 2009 by the Seattle City Auditor who recommended the Office of Sustainability and Environment. Give OSE the additional authority needed to ensure that trees have an advocate for their protection and independence from conflicting goals inherent in other city departments,
  8. Give emphasis to native trees and vegetation, particularly conifers to maximize sustainability and environmental services like reducing stormwater runoff, protecting wildlife habitat and minimizing climate change impacts. Require removal of invasives during development. Increase incentives for protecting trees and provide public assistance for citizens if needed to help comply with the city ordinance. Increase penalties, fines and enforcement for increased compliance.

Recommendations for Updating Seattle’s Tree Ordinance

Recommendations for Updating Seattle’s Tree Ordinance 

The current Seattle Tree Ordinance SMC 25.11 was written in 2001 with a major update in 2009 and some additional amendments since then. It has some good provisions like protecting tree groves and exceptional trees but needs serious updating.  Its main problem is that it does not require significant protection of trees during development and does not require replacement for trees removed during development and by private property owners. While green factor helps some, it does not significantly replace many of the services trees provide in our city – like helping to remove air pollution from our growing city, reducing storm water runoff without creating new infrastructure or providing habitat for birds and other animals.

Other cities both in Washington State and nationally have come up with urban forest ordinances that address many of the problems with Seattle’s current ordinance. Changes needed include:

 Re-instate a policy of no net loss of tree canopy.  Seattle’s previous Comprehensive Plan had a policy of no net loss of tree canopy. This was removed in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. This needs to be re-stated in an updated tree ordinance.  We cannot reach our goal of increasing tree canopy if we do not replace what is being lost each year through development, by trees dying, by both legal and illegal removals on private property. A complaint-based tree code enforcement process after trees have been cut down is not working to save and replace trees Some cities that have a no net loss policy includes Atlanta, GA and Annapolis, MD; Issaquah, Lake Forest Park; Redmond and Shoreline.

To achieve no net loss of tree canopy requires that tree canopy removed must be replaced on site, off site or a fee in lieu for the city to replace the trees be paid into a Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund. This should apply to significant trees (over 6 inches DBH) and any exceptional trees removed during development or as hazard trees. For a healthy urban forest Seattle needs both a diversity of tree species and sizes. Replacement trees should be based on the size of a tree removed  (eg, small, medium and large)  to ensure that over time an equivalent canopy volume is replaced.

The fee in lieu value shall be determined based on current arboriculture practices and shall be periodically updated to keep pace with costs of replacement and maintenance. Adjustments reducing fees for property owners may be determined for those that the cost is a hardship.

The Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund shall also collect funds based on fines for violation of this ordinance.  Fines need to be appropriately large to effectively deter illegal removal of trees. The Fund may also be used to assist individuals that need help to comply with the tree ordinance. Donations by non-profits, corporations and members of the public can be made to the fund to further city goals to maintain and increase the city’s tree canopy.

To track and monitor tree loss and replacement Seattle needs to expand the current tree removal and replacement permit system run by the Seattle Department of Transportation.   Such an expanded system should be comprehensive and require a tree permit to remove any significant or exceptional trees on both public and private property. Tree permit applications and approvals shall be posted on line and data kept and posted on all trees removed and replaced to track compliance. One city website  portal should be used for all tree permits applications to make it easier for people to comply.

As SDOT does, trees to be removed shall be marked with a yellow ribbon and a notice posted that is visible and can be read from the property line for 2 weeks prior to a non-hazard tree being removed.

To help monitor and replace trees lost during development require that an Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment be done by a certified arborist – basically a tree survey detailing the impact of the development on the urban forest canopy and trees on site prior to issuing a construction permit. It would be used to determine canopy loss and to quantify replacement trees needed to be replaced on site, off site or a fee-in-lieu value.  The Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment Report shall include a map of the property with all trees six inches DBH and larger noted and numbered, canopy area, and trees to be removed clearly labeled.

  • Species: speaks to size of canopy and amount of storm water benefit.
  • DBH: speaks to age of tree and canopy coverage.
  • Tree Height: speaks to canopy volume and amount of environmental benefit.
  • Canopy Width (area): speaks to canopy volume and amount of environmental benefit.
  • Tree Condition: speaks to overall forest health and environmental impacts.
  • Photographs of the trees on the parcel and adjacent properties.
  • Canopy coverage as a percent of area pre- and post-project development.
  • Canopy impact assessment must include a revegetation plan for the site where trees are removed and details on where off site trees will be planted and maintained or whether in lieu fees are proposed to pay the city to replant and maintain trees.

Expand SDOT’s current tree service provider’s registration to cover all tree work done in the city. All tree service providers must register with the city of Seattle to ensure that they comply with city ordinances and regulations to protect and grow the urban canopy. Tree service providers shall include all those who cut down. prune or plant trees in the city. SDCI and other city departments will work with SDOT to establish and maintain one list of approved Tree Service Providers for the City.

Other updates needed:

Expand purpose and intent of ordinance to include “The Tree Protection code is one of the implementation measures of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan and the Seattle Urban Forest Stewardship Plan. Together with education and other initiatives, these regulations protect the health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens of Seattle and are consistent with other plans and policies of the City. In so doing, the appearance of the City is enhanced, and important ecological, cultural, and economic resources are protected for the benefit of the City’s residents and visitors.”

A 5-year Tree Maintenance Bond shall be posted to ensure trees planted or retained on a development project survive as well as for trees planted off site. Any fee in lieu system for trees removed shall be according to standard arboriculture guidelines and shall include costs for planting and survival for 5 years. Any trees dying during the 5-year period must be replaced. Any replacement trees will be considered significant trees by the city to ensure they are not removed without replacement.

The tree ordinance should consider ways to consolidate tree oversight and maintenance into one city department that does not have a conflict of interests in terms of their mission statement.  The Seattle City Auditor in 2009 recommended that the 8 city departments currently overseeing trees should be consolidated and recommended that the Office of Sustainability and Environment was a logical choice.

Remove exemption for lots under 5000 square feet complying with tree ordinance.

Limit the removal of significant non-exceptional trees to no more than 2 in any 3 year period.

Add more definitions including:

          “DBH” means diameter of a tree at breast height – 54 inches above ground

Canopy area” means the area below the tree dripline as viewed from above

Canopy volume” means the 3 dimensional volume of tree foliage branches

Fee-in-lieu” – a fee paid into the Tree Replacement and Canopy Maintenance Fund to replace tree canopy lost on site and not replaced on site or off site either during development or on private property

Hazard tree” a tree that has a structural defect that makes it likely to fail in whole or in part and has the potential to harm people or buildings.

Seattle Comprehensive Plan” – 20 year plan adopted by the Seattle City Council and Mayor to guide future growth in Seattle

Seattle Urban Forestry Stewardship Plan” – Plan adopted every 5 years to guide protection and  enhancement of Seattle’s urban forest

Significant tree” – any tree on a property that is over six inches or more in diameter at DBH.

Tree” – woody vegetation which is 6 inches or greater diameter at breast height (DBH), measured 54” above the ground mid-slope. Multi-stem trees like vine maple use the following formula to determine their DBH = square root of the sum of each stem DBH squared. A Tree does not include any species which appears on the King County Noxious Weeds or Weeds of Concern list. A Tree may be alive or dead.

Tree permit” – permit required for all significant and exceptional trees removed on private property, including during development, and trees removed on public property

Tree protection area” – area denoted on site plan for protection of significant and exceptional trees during development

Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund” means a fund established to facilitate mitigation and tree replacement when trees cannot be replaced on the site from which they were removed.

Tree Service Providers” – Tree Service contractors who meet the requirements of the city to register to do tree care work

Urban Forest Canopy Impact Assessment” – detailed report on impact of development on urban forest canopy and trees used to determine canopy loss or gain during development and to quantify replacement values.

No Net Loss of Trees Key Component of Tree Ordinances

One of the key components in any tree ordinance has to be the concept that one of the goals of the ordinance is to ensure that there is a no net loss of trees and tree canopy. It seems many cities unfortunately have not adopted this policy goal. More cities over time, however,  are seeing the need for “no net loss” policies to maintain their tree canopy.

Cities that advocate a no net loss of tree canopy:

Annapolis, MarylandCity Council  passes stricter tree reforestation law, Capital Gazette, March 27, 2017 – “When developers are required to replant cut down trees in Annapolis they must replace those trees acre for acre. That’s the new law after the Annapolis City Council voted to pass legislation dubbed the “No Net Loss” provision”

Atlanta, GATree Ordinance -“It is the policy of the city that there shall be no net loss of trees within the boundaries of the city.”

Issaquah, WATree Canopy – “In 2008, Issaquah adopted targets for tree canopy
coverage of 51% of total land within Issaquah and no net loss of overall coverage.”

Lake Forest Park, WATree Ordinance – “Implement canopy-based regulatory and permitting strategies that result in at least no net loss in tree canopy coverage and is grounded in a 30-year maturity cycle for trees.”

Norcross, GAChapter 113 – Tree Preservation – “It is the policy of the city that there shall be no net loss of canopy coverage as defined in this chapter within the boundaries of the city, including property owned by the city.”

Palo Alto, CAUrban Canopy – “The Urban Forest Master Plan’s forest preservation goals will incorporate new landscape design requirements to address multiple goals including: Water Efficiency, Protection of regulated trees, Shading of hardscape features, Compatibility with existing landscapes, Native habitat, No net loss of tree canopy”

Redmond, WashingtonTree Protection – Purpose – “Mitigate the environmental and aesthetic consequences of tree removal in land development through on and off-site tree replacement to achieve a goal of no net loss of trees through-out the City of Redmond”

Sammamish, WA – Development Standards – Trees  – “Mitigate the environmental and aesthetic consequences of tree removal through on-site and off-site tree replacement to achieve a goal of no net loss of canopy throughout Sammamish”

Shoreline, WA Trees –  “Among the goals of our tree regulations is to ensure there is no net loss of Shoreline’s tree canopy coverage. One way of doing this is by regulating the rate of cutting and requiring replacement trees to be planted.”

Comments Regarding Draft Director’s Rule 21-2017 –  Calculating Tree Valuations and Civil Penalties for Tree Protection Code Violations 

Comments Regarding Seattle DCI Draft Director’s Rule 21-2017 – 

Calculating Tree Valuations and Civil Penalties for Tree Protection Code Violations

For this Director’s Rule to be successful we believe that SDCI needs to implement a permit based system for tree removal.

The current prohibition in SMC 25.11 from cutting down exceptional trees and removing more than 3 six inch or more DBA non-exceptional trees per year and other limits to tree removal are mainly based on a complaint system that is not working. While having the ability to impose fines for violations that are reported, most violations have and will go unreported, which does not help to deter trees being removed illegally.

 The recent Tree Regulations Report by OSE and SDCI confirms that serious problems with compliance are a result of the current complaint based system. One ominous trend is reports we are hearing of realtors/developers requiring property owners to remove trees prior to a sale being completed on properties that are going to be developed. The proposed six-month prohibition on tree removal prior to development, while a significant improvement, is still a complaint based system that will be difficult to monitor without a permit system.  With a permit based system, tree removal prior to development can be monitored which will reduce the number of violations.

A better system to protect trees under the existing ordinance is to require the use of a permit system for all trees over 6 inches in diameter. This provides a check on the possible removal of more than 3 significant trees a year that are not exceptional, will reduce the number of exceptional trees being cut by providing confirmation as to whether a tree is exceptional or not before they are cut down, reducing the loss of exceptional trees which are protected under SMC 25.11.

The language in SMC 25.11.100 already gives SDCI the authority it needs to issue permits and other conditions to replace the current mainly complaint based system with a permit system.  In fact DCI already issues permits for Hazard Tree Removal and under the ECA Restoration Plan Application

“SMC 25.11.100 Enforcement and penalties

A. Authority   The Director shall have the authority to enforce the provisions of this chapter, to issue permits, impose conditions, and establish administrative procedures and guidelines, conduct inspections, and prepare the forms necessary to carry out the purposes of this chapter.”

 A comprehensive permit system would allow more careful and timely consideration of exceptional trees removed as hazard trees before they are cut rather than trying to determine this after they are cut. While a permit for a hazard tree exists, many people are not aware of it.  Over 70 different tree species with different diameters DHA are listed in Director’s Rule  16-2008 Designation of Exceptional Trees.. A permit requirement for all trees will significantly reduce exceptional trees being removed without verification.

 SDOT currently has in place a permit system and posting requirement that is working to stop illegal tree cutting in the right of way. Other cities have also implemented successful permit systems, including Lake Forest Park, WA; Portland, Oregon; Sammamish, WA; Atlanta, Georgia; and Vancouver, WA.   

Also, we recommend requiring arborists and other tree care people to register with the city as SDOT currently does for tree care providers..  This allows them to be informed of current tree laws and ordinances and sign that they agree with city tree policies and regulations, have a Washington State Contractor’s license and Seattle Business License, and have a certificate of insurance license with Seattle listed as an additional insured.  This puts the main responsibility on compliance with Seattle’s tree ordinance on tree service providers rather than expecting individual property owners to understand all the laws and regulations.

As to the actual calculation of tree appraisal values, we are not certain why these values do not start at 100% and be adjusted downward based on actual evaluations in the field. Minimally we think a 100% valuation should be placed on a tree being an exceptional tree either individually or in a tree grove.  Also we think that conifers should get a higher valuation based on their year round ability to reduce stormwater runoff and mitigate air pollution and carbon dioxide utilization and reduction. In addition, consideration of location besides reducing heat effects on buildings and air pollution from high traffic areas should consider air pollution reduction from a health impact like higher asthma occurrence in areas with fewer trees like South Park and Georgetown.

Also as to penalties, consideration should be given to owner’s ability to pay and reduction in penalty based on what is replanted either on or off site that is comparable to the loss of the tree or trees. And the responsibility of tree care providers understanding Seattle City laws and their responsibility in complying with the laws before commencing work needs to be taken into consideration.  A second or multiple violations should result In higher penalties and suspension of their registration with the city and ability to do work in the city.

Steve Zemke     Chair – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest