Johnson Releases Draft Framework to Update the City’s Tree Ordinance

Home » Johnson Releases Draft Framework to Update the City’s Tree Ordinance

Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4, Northeast Seattle) released a draft framework for updates to the City’s Tree Ordinance today, the first update in a decade, to proactively manage and steward Seattle’s urban forest.

The framework will encourage more tree preservation and planting through incentives and fees. The framework would also gather better data by requiring permits to remove trees and increase the resources to plant new trees.

“It’s vital to recognize the value of Seattle’s urban forest on Arbor Day and every day.  Our city’s trees are essential infrastructure that provide habitat, prepare for more extreme weather events due to climate change, and improve public health through cleaner air, water, and privacy,” said Councilmember Johnson.  “Our trees are governed by nine different city departments. As a city, we need to update how we manage our urban forest by streamlining the process and adding transparency.”

In 2007, Seattle established a 30 percent canopy cover goal by 2037. Seattle is currently at 28 percent canopy cover by latest estimates and analysis conducted in 2016.

“The Emerald City shouldn’t lose sight of the 30 percent canopy cover goal, and should even exceed it, because we are a city rooted in environmental leadership,” continued Johnson. “It is paramount that this goal be advanced under the lens of environmental equity. If the City reaches this goal but wealthier and whiter neighborhoods continue to disproportionately experience the benefits of trees when compared to communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, then we have not done our job. We need to ensure all communities are clean, healthy and resilient.”

Johnson’s framework proposes to alter the City’s Tree Protection Ordinance and includes these key components:

  • Increase the number of trees that require a permit for removal. The framework recognizes the value mature trees and certain species bring to our urban forests.
  • Require trees to be replaced when cut down, or pay a fee in lieu of planting. Fees collected will be used toward tree planting programs.
  • Create more incentives to encourage preservation of existing trees.
  • Establish a one-stop portal for residents to get permits, report on, and receive updates about all tree-related issues, including removing hazardous trees, rules about trees on private property, and contact information for stewardship activities and answers to frequently asked questions.

Councilmember Johnson encourages the community to comment on the draft framework over the coming months. The first discussion on the draft framework will take place May 16 during a Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting.

On Arbor Day, Saturday (April 28), the city encourages all residents to nurture existing trees and ensure younger trees reach maturity. We rely on the actions of private residents to care for trees on their property and within their community.

If you want to help Seattle reach and exceed its tree canopy goal, learn more about Trees for Neighborhoods, which provides free trees for Seattle residents to plant in their yards, and learn more about becoming a Tree Ambassador, a program that empowers Seattle residents to be local leaders in urban forest stewardship.

For more ways to get involved, visit

View an infographic of the proposed tree canopy framework



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