The Evergreen Communities Act (ECA) is landmark legislation for urban forestry in Washington that was passed in 2008, thanks to support from the Washington Community Forestry Council and coalition of stakeholders from across the state.
The intent is to provide funding for communities to perform tree inventories, canopy analyses and develop urban forest management plans based on those types of resource assessments. The ECA also helped provide guidance for development of urban forestry ordinances and policies and established new criteria for an “Evergreen Community” recognition program that goes above and beyond requirements for the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program.
Unfortunately, the economic fallout from the housing crisis and great recession swept all of the funding from the ECA in 2009. The ECA remains on the books but has not received funding since that time.
DNR revised and resubmitted the ECA in last year’s 2020 legislative session. The new ECA included new language that supports salmon recovery, human health and environmental justice in communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The bill was well-received and garnered a lot of bi-partisan support. It probably would have passed, but as COVID-19 reared its ugly head towards the end of the session, our legislature re-prioritized the queue of bills to be voted on. The ECA was bumped down the list and never received a vote before the legislative session expired.
The good news is that DNR is putting forward ECA again during the 2021 Legislative Session (beginning Monday, January 11), and Governor Jay Inslee’s budget includes the ECA for touching on key priorities such as climate resilience, public health and racial equity. Being included in the Governor’s budget is no promise the bill will be successful, but it is an important endorsement as the ECA makes its way to the State Legislature.
Rep. Bill Ramos (D) from Washington’s 5th District is the prime sponsor of the ECA and will be working with other supporters to draft a bill for review by his colleagues and relevant committees. A sponsor for an ECA bill in the state Senate has yet to be identified.
If the ECA passes as presented, it will dedicate 2.1 million dollars per biennium of state funding for urban forestry in Washington state. Those dollars would go toward pass-through grants for tree ordinances, tree inventories, canopy analyses and urban forest management plans for Washington cities and towns, create the Evergreen Community recognition program and support additional staffing within DNR’s urban forestry program to carry out this work. Such an investment will greatly enhance the capacity of DNRs Urban & Community Forestry Program to provide urban forestry assistance to communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Keep an eye on future editions of Tree Link for more updates on the ECA.