Seattle City Tree Ordinance

Tree Preservation Ordinance makes the headlines! 

Seattle’s Long Neglected Tree Canopy is on a Collision Course with Development, by Adiel Kaplan, Investigate West,July 27, 2016

As green as Seattle likes to portray itself to be, the city hasn’t put much emphasis on protecting its tree canopy. From a long time after non-native settlers arrived, the idea was to cut down the trees. As the city re-greened itself through the 20th century, some of the canopy came back, but the city government didn’t start paying much attention to tree policy until early this century.

Today, other cities are doing better by their trees. Atlanta, Austin, Portland, Vancouver, B.C. —why, even development-crazy Vancouver, Washington — have much stronger protections than Seattle. In all of those cities, a homeowner must obtain a permit to remove a tree above a certain size, and must replace the tree. Portland even has an “inch per inch” rule, requiring that the size of the tree replacement correspond with the size of the one lost, further protecting large trees. Not so in Seattle.

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2017 – TreePAC has been participating in a study group led by Steve Zemke of Friends of Seattle’s Urban Forest created to get a good Urban Forest Protection Ordinance passed in Seattle. See below.

The group has been having a series of discussions about what should be in an ordinance as well as looking at what other cities are doing.  A good source of information on other tree ordinances and guidelines for drafting a tree ordinance can be found at the website   Here are some of the issues we felt needed to be in a new ordinance.

1.  Require permits to remove trees on both public and private property so we can keep better track of tree loss and gain. Require 2 week posting of tree removals as SDOT currently does.

2. An absolute minimal condition is no net loss of trees in any year as stated in Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan.

3. To maintain no net loss of trees require equivalent tree and canopy replacement be required for all trees and tree canopy removed including during property development. This would  be a canopy impact fee to compensate for the removal of existing canopy and the cost to replace it .

4. Fees collected for tree replacement that can not be done on site and fines for violating city tree ordinances would go into a city dedicated tree replacement fund that would pay for planting and maintaining trees elsewhere in the city. Donations and grants would be accepted to also plant more trees, acquire land, easements or set up land trusts to protect trees.

5.  Prior to development, a canopy assessment would be done on any proposed development to detail existing trees, their species and size so that equivalent replacement can occur. This would be on all trees over 6 inches dbh.

6. To facilitate city wide coordination, oversight responsibility for our urban forest and trees should be consolidated in one city department that has a priority of protecting trees and not a conflict of interest.

7. Arborists and other cutting trees down would register with the city for more accountability and compliance with a tree ordinance

8. Incentives and public education would be part of the city effort to increase tree canopy coverage.

9.  Planting of more native tree species and less exotics would help preserve native  wildlife.

10. Extra protection should be given to tree groves and exceptional trees.