Council approves new tree protection guidelines

The Seattle City Council Aug. 3 unanimously passed two measures aimed at improving the management of the city’s trees and strengthening protections to ensure the health, quality, and overall coverage of Seattle’s tree canopy.

Resolution 31138 asks the Department of Planning and Development to write a new tree protection ordinance. It outlines specific policy initiatives that the council believes critical to successful urban forest management.

Council Bill 116557 establishes a nine-member Urban Forestry Commission to advise the mayor and council and help educate the public on urban forestry issues.

"Our urban trees are an incredibly valuable resource -- and we must act if we want to keep them,” said Council President Richard Conlin. “The review by the City Auditor told us that the city must improve our system for protecting and managing trees.  We need updated code that recognizes the economic, environmental, and social values that trees offer."

Both measures are in response to a dramatic 50 percent loss of tree cover over the last 40 years. The city continues to lose mature trees that provide cooling shade, improve air quality, provide wildlife habitat, sequester climate changing carbon, help with drainage issues by retaining water and improve property value.

"The Urban Forestry Commission will provide well-rounded expertise to assist the city in protecting and expanding our tree canopy while
accommodating growth,” added Council member Nick Licata.

A report by the City Auditor in 2009 highlighted that most of the implementation work outlined in the Urban Forest Management Plan has not been completed.

Resolution 31138 requests that planning department write new regulations that consider preventing tree removal in required yards and setbacks, create a permitting system and fines for non-permitted tree removal, provide clearer direction for tree relocation and develop incentives for retention.

It also asks the department to consider Transfer Development Rights to developers, giving them more flexibility for creative solutions to Seattle’s urban canopy crisis.

The Urban Forestry Commission will include a community group representative, experts with technical backgrounds in wildlife biology, arboriculture, landscape architecture, and a representative of the development community.

It will be staffed by the Office of Sustainability and Environment.

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