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!


Steve Zemke

Chair TreePAC

Chair – Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest

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