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If Madronas could talk, would they beg for more tree friends?

Green Acre Radio: The City of Seattle is working on an ordinance to protect Seattle's trees and encourage more tree planting. But some tree advocates say it doesn't go far enough.
Trees on a Seattle street.

Trees on a Seattle street. Andrew Taylor

“Tree ambassadors” guide a crowd through a corridor of streets with sixty varieties of trees: Gingko, Western White Pine, Pacific Madrone and six kinds of cedar. “The third tree is the Arborvitae in front of the Monkey Tree," says Philip Stielstra, one of the ambassadors leading the group. 

"Where?"

"Right here. These tall, thin trees are called Arborvitae. Latin for tree of life.” 

Stielstra is a “tree ambassador,” a project of the Green Seattle Partnership that hopes to empower residents to become stewards of the urban forest.

Click on the player above or here to listen to the audio version of this story.

This northeast neighborhood is unique. Trees are everywhere here compared to the average city canopy of 23 percent. For Stielstra and other “tree ambassadors” like Penelope Kriese, protecting and growing Seattle’s tree canopy is a tree hugging hobby with a mission.

“The real goal is to make people appreciate and plant trees, because the City of Seattle is trying to reach a 30 percent tree canopy. That means that over the next ten, fifteen years we need to plant 200,000 trees,” Kriese says. If you have an older tree, she suggests, plant a smaller one next to it. “By the time the big one dies, the smaller one is there. Think ahead. Don’t think right now. Be careful with how you take care of your trees. Plant them in the right places. Those are the things we want to educate people about.”

The timing of the tree walk coincides with the city’s plan to present a draft tree ordinance to the city council and the mayor. The intent, says Brennon Staley, Sustainable Communities Planner with the Department of Planning and Development, is to maintain and enhance a diverse and healthy urban forest. “We consider them an important green infrastructure element and we’ve done a lot of work to try and understand their specific contribution," he explains.

"Storm water is clearly one of the ones we understand the best," Staley says. "It’s also the benefit that has the largest financial contribution.” Roots of large trees in particular, absorb runoff from city streets and keep it underground instead of washing into urban waterways. “We’re also looking to be able to quantify their benefit for climate change, air pollution and health.”

But at a meeting with a group called Save the Trees-Seattle, Staley is under fire. The draft tree ordinance weakens tree protections, they say, and will result in further loss of urban tree canopy. If we don’t build in protections for these trees now, what sort of message are we sending to our citizenry?" asks Save the Trees member Mark Solito. Solito says forty years ago the city’s tree canopy was 40 percent, compared to the current 23 percent. “I don’t see us getting back to even 30 percent unless the city makes a strong demand for a strong tree ordinance.” 

The main points of contention between the tree ordinance drafted by the city’s Department of Planning and Development and a plan favored by Save the Trees- Seattle and tree ambassadors are these: The draft doesn’t protect trees smaller than 24 inches in diameter, including small natives like the Cascara and Pacific Dogwood. It doesn’t protect groves of trees, defined by some as four or more trees on a single property. Nor does it require mitigation when a tree larger than 20 inches in diameter is cut down and the responsible party isn’t required to plant replacements.

“Without having a permit system to tell people it's important to save trees, you’re telling them, by removing any limit on trees you can cut down under 24 inches, that trees aren’t really that important," says Steve Zemke with Save the Trees-Seattle, "People making their individual decisions are more important than protecting the urban forestry infrastructure.”


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 5, 2:33 p.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle can push people into suburbia, says Staley, resulting in increased greenhouse gases, or build more multi-family housing in the urban core."

Here again is this oft-repeated false choice presented as if truth.

Land use patterns in the outlying areas have nothing to do w Seattle's tree policy, and everything to do with growth boundaries and better development strategies in those areas.

Brennen can enable the cutting down of every tree in Seattle and it won't stop sprawl.

Wise up, DPD!

Posted Fri, Oct 5, 2:35 p.m. Inappropriate

I like trees a whole lot. Anyone who might look at where I live would surely agree. However, the city should not put itself in the business of making people get permission to remove trees on their property.

There are plenty of good reasons to cut down particular trees, and property owners should be allowed to make those decisions on their own.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Oct 5, 3:42 p.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle can push people into suburbia, says Staley, resulting in increased greenhouse gases, or build more multi-family housing in the urban core. “That is a really critical aspect of this. We can either choose to accommodate the people that are moving to the city or they’re going to go to the suburbs and urban fringe.” Both Staley and tree advocates agree on the ecosystem services trees provide – sequestering carbon, cleaning air and reducing storm water runoff."

Not a matter of "CAN," Seattle IS pushing people into suburbia. Furthermore, the only cities that are not are those with overly affordable housing, for all too apparent reasons. Few, if any cities other than those with the overly affordable housing act at all aware of, let alone acknowledge the challenges that author Alan Ehrenhalt calls the Great Inversion— "a radial rearrangement in which people who possessed money and choice were increasingly living in the center, while newcomers [including immigrants] and the poor were settling in the suburbs, often in the outer reaches of suburban territory."

Staley's explanation is decades stale, which is bad enough, it also reveals the choice he and his superiors, elected and otherwise, make between caring for our place on earth (unenforced "hollow" laws, e.g., proposal in question) and selling the place off piece by piece at the highest price that can be had (neo-liberalism).

Citizens again face heavy lifting because as Ehrenhalt says: this radical rearrangement has "attracted little attention from the media or even from scholars whose business it was to write about the challenges of urban life."

afreeman

Posted Mon, Oct 8, 12:33 p.m. Inappropriate

"Solito says forty years ago the city’s tree canopy was 40 percent, compared to the current 23 percent."

Solito may so but Solito (and many others) have been mis-informed.
In fact, Seattle has MORE tree canopy now than it had 40 years ago.

Posted Tue, Oct 9, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Can you share your source David?
This is from the City of Seattle 'Urban Forest Management Plan'
http://www.seattle.gov/environment/documents/Final_UFMP.pdf

"Unfortunately, Seattle’s urban forest has significantly declined
over the last few decades as the City has grown.
Today, about 18% of the city is covered by tree canopy as
compared with 40% just 35 years ago"
We know it's gone up to about 22%, but still way down, no?

jeffro

Posted Wed, Oct 10, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Go back and examine the source for THAT document i.e.
http://www.seattle.gov/environment/documents/Final_UFMP.pdf
The City of Seattle 'Urban Forest Management Plan' is NOT based on original research but simoply quotes someone else's study.

That source (I believe it was the American Forestry Association) is not about Seattle per se but about the region from Tacoma to Everett to the foothills of the Cascades, which is vastly larger.

YES, of course there has been substantial suburban development and the figures -- "40% to 18%" -- so widely quoted make some intuitive sense for the wider region..

But those figures do NOT make sense for anyone who has lived in Seattle and observed the physical environment, as I have, since the 1960s.

I hope that David Brewster will get someone on the case and so these errors of fact can be cut down.

Posted Thu, Oct 11, 6:33 a.m. Inappropriate

I read the document you posted and it still seems Seattle-specific:

"In 1999, the City of Seattle asked American
Forests, a leader in the science and practice of urban forestry, to conduct an
‘Urban Ecosystem Analysis’ using their CITY Green software combined with
Global Information System (GIS) technology. Based on satellite imagery from
1972 to 1996, the study found the following (Figure 1):
• The average tree canopy coverage for Seattle is 18%, too low by
national standards.
• Canopy Loss is Expensive
The American Forest group’s 1999 analysis concluded that between 1972 and
1996, Seattle lost 46% of its heavy tree cover and 67% of its medium tree cover.
That loss costs Seattle an estimated $1.3 million per year in rainwater storage
and management capacity and $226,000 per year in air pollution-related
health care costs.
• In 1972, areas with heavy tree canopy coverage (50% or greater) comprised
10% of Seattle’s 54,000 square acres, or 5,400 acres.
• By 1996, areas with heavy tree canopy coverage (50% or greater) had
decreased by half, to 5% of Seattle’s 54,000 acres, or about 2,800 acres.
Value of Seattle’s Urban Forest
The city’s trees provide an economic
benefit of $20,643,000 in stormwater
retention and $4,894,000 in air cleaning
each year.

With all due respect David, your anecdotal evidence of recalling there were more trees back in the day doesn't mesh w/ the objective statistics.

jeffro

Posted Thu, Oct 11, 1:27 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm skeptical of the numbers, but if they're accurate the reason would be big developments rather than homeowners cutting down trees on their property. There's no justification for a new city hall nanny program that would force individual homeowners to secure permits before removing a tree in the yard, or to force them to replant one they had removed.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 4:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Just to make sure we are talking about the exact same text, please give me the link? The full report of the original 1999 analysis?

If we are talking about the same report, then you are just so dead wrong about "objective facts." Tragically so.

Posted Fri, Oct 12, 8:23 p.m. Inappropriate

On this day in 1962 (10.11.62) nearly all the trees blew down.

Luckily they grow well on the west coast.

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