by Richard Ellison, Tree PAC Vice-Chair
comments to the WA State House Appropriations Committee on Feb 16, 2021
I am a botanist with a MS degree from Washington State University, and a retired community college adjunct professor, having taught over 20 years in the Puget Sound area. I am also a board member of TreePAC.org, a non-profit group advocating for the protection of the urban forest and its place as critical infrastructure in a climate changing world.
Urban trees and the few remaining forest fragments are critical in public health and for the ecosystem services they provide. The remaining big trees intercept the record rainfalls and slow down the movement of water into our overloaded combined sewer systems.
Trees provide essential habitats for our native wildlife who otherwise would be gone from urban areas. They provide a critical function of filtering our air of particulates and chemical pollutants, especially notable during hot summers, peak fire seasons, and temperature inversions. Trees provide critical shade in summers during record heat waves, greatly reducing the urban island heat effects. They provide emotional comfort to
citizens stressed from a dense urban community and bring great pleasures to the elderly, families, and children.
Climate change is here, it’s no longer a myth. The summers are setting new record high temperatures. Is this year going to be the hottest, or do we get a lucky break like last summer? You know the trend is getting hotter and hotter. That’s what this is all about. Trees help keep us cooler, physically and emotionally. The urban island heat effect is real, and increased air conditioning won’t help us survive, and a long drought may just dry up a lot of hydropower availability as well.
Winter peak storm events? Record rains? Well the PNW has a long term answer to that – forests and wetlands. But now the wetlands are getting pinched and the forests are the remnant trees that developers and urbanists sometimes consider expendable, when we are most desperately in need of more tree canopy, not less.
Salmon and orca and even the ignored native octopus require clean runoff waters from our cities, and tree roots and healthy soils can help provide this. Ever see woodpeckers, owls, eagles, and osprey in our cities? I have, and they need big trees for habitat, that’s where they live, roost, reproduce and hunt, and their other wildlife kin need habitat, and urban trees provide those remnant habitats so necessary to keep the matrix of our states wildlife healthy.
And the poorest of our urban communities are being heavily impacted by rapid urban development, and we must help reduce environmental inequities of poor air quality, urban blight, and bad development practices by increasing our support to maintain and increase our support of tree planting and tree maintenance in these communities.
Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources currently partners with the US Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program. SHB 1216 would expand this partnership and so enable the Department of Natural Resources to assist communities with tree inventories and canopy analysis, the development of Urban Forestry Management Plans, and the drafting of local Tree Ordinances.
Additionally, these bills help set up the Evergreen Community Recognition Program to acknowledge those communities that are making strides in the management and protection of their urban and community forests.
Thank you for your consideration. Please support legislation to study, protect and improve our precious urban forest resources.