Action Needed Now on Draft Tree Protection Ordinance

Seattle’s current tree ordinance Chapter 25.11 – TREE PROTECTION. 
Seattle Urban Forestry Commission draft Tree and Urban Forest Protection Update

With increasing development Seattle is losing its trees and tree canopy volume. While many other cities have updated their Tree Protection Ordinances to protect their trees and urban forest, Seattle has not. Seattle is not even enforcing it existing Tree Protection Ordinance, letting developers off the hook in most cases for replacing exceptional trees. Because Seattle does not have a permit system to track tree removal property owners are also removing exceptional trees illegally.

This needs to end. Ten years ago the Seattle City Council recommended its Tree Protection Ordinance be updated. A recent internal city report noted that the existing ordinance is not working. Big trees are being removed and replaced with small trees. Conifers are being removed and replaced with deciduous trees.

Trees and the urban forest are vital green infrastructure. They help to reduce air pollution and storm water runoff, reduce climate change impacts like heat island effect and provide habitat for urban wildlife. Nature in the city are important for human mental and physical health. While the city grows to provide housing and jobs it also needs to stay livable. We can do both.

The Seattle Urban Forestry Commission has been making recommendations to the Mayor and Seattle City Council for the last 10 years. In April when the Seattle City Council passed the Mandatory Housing Affordability Ordinance, they passed an accompanying resolution detailing 8 areas that should be considered in an updated tree ordinance. In June the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission provided the Seattle City Council with a revised draft of the Council’s most recent proposal from last year.

We urge the Seattle City Council to introduce this draft and vote on it this year. We urge the Mayor to work with the Council to do this and to sign into law this much delayed update.

Here are the major provisions in the proposed update that we urge the Council to enact.

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. Allow removal of no more than 2  significant non-exceptional trees in 3 years per lot outside development
  5. 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.
  6. Expand SDOT’s existing tree service provider’s registration and certification to include all tree service providers working on trees in Seattle.
  7. Provide adequate funding in the budget to implement and enforce the updated ordinance.