In June 2019, at the request of several Council members, 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.
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.
“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 has not been enforcing this part of the ordinance.
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.
City trees can also raise property values, reduce crime and muffle urban noise. They help the environment, absorbing water, decreasing flooding and the need for water treatment, and absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, directly fighting climate change. “Up until recently, trees really didn’t have a place at the table with city decision making, but now, because we know about their environmental services and the health benefits, trees are an important component of city decision making,” says Wolf. ” ….
“Wolf says large trees provide “a much greater proportion of benefit” to cities compared to small trees, in terms of ecosystem services, such as water quality, air quality and carbon sequestration. “Are we going to relegate large trees only to parks and green spaces, or can we incorporate them into development?” she asks. “I’m not sure.”
3. When it comes to the Climate, Older trees do it Better, Bryan Walsh, Time.com, Jan.15, 2014
“…according to a new study published in Nature, it turns out that the oldest trees are actually still growing rapidly, and storing increasing amounts of carbon as they age. An international research group led by Nate Stephenson of the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center reviewed records from forest studies on six continents, involving 673,046 individual trees and more than 400 species, going back as far as 80 years ago. For 97% of the species surveyed, the mass growth rate—literally, the amount of tree in the tree—kept increasing even as the individual tree got older and taller. Even though trees tended to lose leaf density as they aged…the total amount of leaf cover kept increasing as the tree itself got bigger and older. In other words, the number of leaves per cubic foot fell off but the leafy surface area grew and grew. That enabled the tree to keep absorbing an increasing amount of carbon as it aged.For some species of trees, that increase could be enormous. A single big tree could sequester the same amount of new carbon in a year as might be contained in an entire mid-sized tree.”
WNPS Comments on Seattle City Tree Ordinance
Dear Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Councilmembers,
The Washington Native Plant Society commends you for your interest in Seattle’s trees and urges you to work with the Urban Forestry Commission to update Seattle’s tree protection ordinance this year. Our members and leaders have tracked Seattle’s progress toward effective tree protection as the urban tree canopy has continued to disappear.
Further delays of an effective tree protection ordinance increase the detrimental impacts of tree loss on our state’s largest city, a city many of us call home and that Washingtonians treasure. Losing our urban forest means losing the native plants that define the city.
Native trees and shrubs within Seattle’s urban forest create a strong, positive sense of place reflective of the Puget Sound region’s natural richness. These green oases also contribute to a healthy environment for people; they provide restorative, educational, and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
Our hemlocks, firs, and cedars provide habitat for birds and other wildlife that are disappearing in alarming numbers. Exceptional and heritage trees, grouped and individual, are the irreplaceable foundation of the urban forest. These established trees add economic value to urban neighborhoods. These trees ensure that neighborhoods are livable.
Trees are a front line defense against and mitigation for climate change. Over the next 50 years, even with aggressive emissions reductions, temperatures will more than double Seattle’s days of extreme heat (pers. comm., June 24, 2019, Marcia Brown, Anthropogenic Warming and Public Health Consequences in Seattle and Spokane, University of Washington).
The presence of trees reduces local temperatures. Trees are a cost-effective way of cleaning smoke from the air. With increased smoke from wildfires, it is imperative to preserve and protect mature trees within our state’s cities. Trees also help control the stormwater resulting from heavier rainfalls. We need to increase the urban canopy, not stand by while it dwindles to nothing.
Protecting trees within urban areas contributes to environmental justice within the city as well as to regional ecologic health. Mature trees benefit the most vulnerable—residents without access to shelter and air conditioning, children walking to school, and elders out exercising. Protecting trees does not preclude dense development. Vancouver, to the north, has both significantly more trees and higher population density.
It would be a shame for Seattle, the Emerald City, to lose its trees. We must protect the trees we have now, as well as planting saplings that will shade future generations.
Among Seattle residents there is strong support for a robust urban forest, and for government that protects the city’s exceptional and heritage trees. Washington Native Plant Society members, many of whom volunteer in city parks and green spaces, understand that the tree canopy contributes to the public good and can’t be quickly replaced.
As our member Michael Marsh so aptly put it, “An exact parallel to removing a 70-year-old tree and replacing it with two saplings would be replacing an experienced City Council Member with two 3-year-olds.” We trust that you understand. The current rate of loss is unacceptable and fails to take into account the many benefits of trees.
The Washington Native Plant Society and our Central Puget Sound Chapter urge you to slow and reverse Seattle’s tree loss by updating the tree protection ordinance this year.
WNPS Editor’s Note 2: If you are interested in learning more about the Seattle Tree Ordinance, these three groups will help you follow it: Friends of Urban Forests, Don’t Clearcut Seattle, and TreePAC. You may also want to learn about the Last 6,000 Campaign, which aims to locate Seattle’s remaining majestic trees.
Not in Seattle? The benefits of urban and community forests stretch beyond the city limits. The website of the Washington State Urban And Community Forestry Program is a good starting place to learn more about how trees provide economic, environmental, psychological, and aesthetic benefits. The program can provide assistance for planting and sustaining healthy trees and vegetation. Similarly, the U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program provides a national lens on the subject.
Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest Note – You can support the efforts of the Washington Native Plant Society by donating or becoming a member. Go to https://wnps.org/membership
Submit your Group’s Resolution of Support
Seattle’s current tree ordinance is outdated and failing to protect our urban forest. The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) has submitted their recommended updates to the Mayor and City Council.
Let the Mayor, City Council and council candidates know that your group supports the UFC’s draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection ordinance.
- View and/or print the endorsement resolution that organizations are adopting in support of the UFC’s draft ordinance.
- Go to www.DontClearcutSeattle.org to submit your group’s resolution of support.
List of organizations that have endorsed the Resolution:
32nd District Democrats
34th District Democrats
36th District Democrats
43rd District Democrats
46th District Democrats
Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest
Interurban Trail Tree Preservation Society
King County Democrats
Mt Baker Meaningful Movies
National Organization of Women Seattle Chapter
Phinney Ridge Community Council
Seattle Green Spaces Coalition
South Seattle Climate Action Network
Thornton Creek Alliance
Resolution in Support of Seattle Urban Forestry Commission’s
Draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance
Whereas Seattle is not only losing its big trees but many others as developers frequently are scraping lots clean of trees to maximize their building sites, and
Whereas Seattle is not requiring developers to replace all exceptional trees and trees over 24” DBH (diameter at 54” high) removed, as prescribed by SMC 25.11.090, and
Whereas, unlike Portland and other major cities, Seattle has not instituted a Tree Removal and Replacement permit system on either developed property or property being developed but only relies on a complaint-based system on developed property that is not protecting trees, and
Whereas the Seattle City Council (“the Council”) voted in 2009 and again in Resolution 31870 in April 2019 to support updating its Tree Protection Ordinance,and
Whereas in 2017 in its Tree Regulations Research Report, the city found that “Current code is not supporting tree protection” and “we are losing exceptional trees (and groves) in general.”, and
Whereas Seattle’s trees and urban forest are vital green infrastructure in Seattle that reduces air pollution and stormwater runoff, reduces climate change impacts like heat island effects, provides essential habitat for birds and other wildlife, and is important for both physical and mental health for people living in Seattle, and
Whereas the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission has drafted, at the suggestion of several Council members, an updated Tree Protection Ordinance that is consistent with the eight recommendations the Council adopted in Section 6 of Resolution 31870 in April 2019, and
Whereas the draft ordinance would:
- Increase protections for Seattle trees and tree canopy volume by requiring tree removal and replacement permits for all significant trees (over 6” DBH) removed on both developed property and property being developed on all land use zones in the city;
- Require 2 week posting of tree removal and replacement applications on site as SDOT does;
- Require tree replacement on site, which in 25 years, is equivalent to the tree canopy volume removed or require a fee paid into a Tree Replacement and Preservation Fund to plant and maintain for 5 years the trees elsewhere in the city;
- Retain current protections for exceptional trees and reduce upper threshold for exceptional trees to 24” DBH;
- Allow no more than 2 significant non-exceptional trees to be removed over 3 years on developed property;
- Require registration of all tree services providers with the city;
- Track all significant tree loss and replacement; and
- Provide adequate funds to administer and enforce the ordinance.
Therefore, be it resolved that we support the efforts of the Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance to update and strengthen Seattle’s current ordinance. We urge the Mayor and Seattle City Council to pass the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission’s June 15, 2019 draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance and to enforce it.
Please let the Mayor and City Council know that your organization has adopted this resolution. Send your message easily and quickly by going to www.DontClearcutSeattle.org and click on the link “Organizational Support”
We will also add your organization’s name to our list of organizations supporting adopting the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission’s draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance.
Action Needed Now to Protect Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest
Urge Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council members to provide strong leadership now to pass legislation this year to significantly strengthen Seattle’s current Tree Protection Ordinance.
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. Research has shown that retaining existing trees and planting new trees is one of the best ways to mitigate our climate crisis. Trees help clean our air and enhance public health, reduce stormwater runoff, 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. It is urgent that Seattle act now to stop the continued loss of trees, particularly large trees and exceptional trees and tree groves, and to promote environmental equity as we replace and plant more trees to increase our tree canopy.
Urge the Mayor and City Council to adopt the draft revisions for the Tree and Urban Forest Protection Ordinance that the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission submitted in June 2019 to Councilmember Sally Bagshaw and the Seattle City Council. The updated draft would:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Allow removal of no more than 2 significant non-exceptional trees in 3 years per lot outside development
- Establish one citywide database for 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 service provider’s registration and certification to include all tree service providers working on trees in Seattle.
- Provide adequate funding in the budget to implement and enforce the updated ordinance.
Please let the Mayor and City Council know you support the 7 items above as recommended by the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission by copying and pasting them in an email to send to the Mayor and Seattle City Council in support of updating Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. They need to hear from you. Add your own personal comments and reasons for support.
and to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission for posting as public comment on the UFC draft ordinance – Sandra.Pinto_de_Bader@Seattle.gov
Thank you for your help.
Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw to Champion Tree Protection Ordinance Update
Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who Chairs the Finance and Neighborhoods Committee, has agreed to pick up the effort to update Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance. The legislation was being pushed by Councilmember Rob Johnson for the last year and a half. Johnson resigned earlier this year after the Seattle City Council passed the Mandatory Housing Affordability Ordinance he was pushing.
Councilmember Bagshaw met with the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission last month and urged them to send her a draft for her to consider. On June 14, 2019 four members of the Urban Forestry Commission met with her – Weston Brinkley the UFC Chair, Stuart Niven – Arborist, Josh Morris – NGO position (Seattle Audubon) and Steve Zemke -Wildlife Biologist. (Sandra Whiting -Urban Ecologist had also participated in the drafting but was not present). They presented Councilmember Bagshaw with the draft they had prepared.
Draft – Tree and Urban Forest and Land Use Regulations.
Outline of UFC Draft Tree and Urban Forestry and Land Use Regulations June 14, 2019 draft