Tree Preservation in Seattle

Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan, Toward a Sustainable Seattle, in the Environment Element section, states the City’s policies regarding Seattle’s Trees should strive to

E23. Achieve no net loss of tree canopy coverage, and strive to increase tree canopy coverage to 40 percent, to reduce storm runoff, absorb air pollutants, reduce noise, stabilize soil, provide habitat, and mitigate the heat island effect of developed areas.

Richard Conlin, as Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee, writing in an April 13, 2012, letter to the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission, calls for voluntary tree preservation on private property. No permits. No regulations.

“On private property, I believe that an incentive based approach to encourage private property owners to plant and retain more trees is the best strategy…”

At the Urban Forest Symposium in 2010, Brennon Staley, Department of Planning and Development Planner, attempted to explain the exceptions to the Tree Protection section of the Seattle Municipal Code, by stating, “Exceptional trees must be retained, unless doing so would prohibit meeting the development potential of the site.”

See the audience reaction in a YouTube video snippet of Brennon Staley at UFS 2010.

Brennon Staley, DPD Planner, contact at (206) 684-4625 Email:

In an October 20, 2010, letter from the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission to Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin, the Commission listed the following “Goals of an effective tree protection ordinance

  • Promote a healthy urban forest across the city.
  • Elevate and recognize the urban forest as critical infrastructure.
  • Provide stronger protections for larger trees.
  • Ensure public education and outreach is integrated into the release and implementation of the tree protection ordinance.
  • Ensure a comprehensive urban forest management approach.
  • Recognize ecosystem value and wildlife habitat.
  • Formally adopt and implement the Urban Forest Management Plan.”

The 2007 Seattle Urban Forest Management Plan states “Today, about 18% of the city is covered by tree canopy as compared with 40% just 35 years ago.”

The 2012 Draft Urban Forest Management Plan, with the use of more accurate and updated measurements, states “According to results from the 2009 satellite assessment of 2007 data, Seattle has about 23% canopy cover” with the caveat that “It’s important to note that canopy cover assessments have standard error ranges up to +/- five percentile points.”

Other cities with tree permit systems in place are Portland,OR; Lake Forest Park,WA; Kirkland,WA; and Redmond,WA.