Legislation increases transparency and accountability with goal of maximizing environmental and health benefits of Seattle’s tree canopy
Seattle – Today City Council unanimously adopted Council Bill 120207 to increase the accountability and transparency needed to protect Seattle’s trees by requiring anyone seeking to cut down or heavily prune mature trees to register beforehand with the city government.
Council Bill 120207 requires “tree service providers” (such as arborists and tree removal companies) to be on Seattle’s new public registry by no later than November 10, 2022. To get on the new public registry, tree service providers must be not only licensed and insured contractors but also have credentials and expertise grounded in the International Society of Arboriculture. Until they are approved for the public registry by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), contractors will be prohibited from removing or heavily pruning trees. This increased transparency will enable government officials and the general public to hold companies and individuals accountable who violate the City’s current and future tree protection ordinances.
“This legislation finally ends the ‘wild west’ of tree cutting in Seattle and is a small but mighty step toward protecting the health and environmental benefits of mature trees in our Emerald City,” said Councilmember Alex Pedersen (District 4 Northeast Seattle, Wallingford, Eastlake). “As heat waves and flooding increase with the climate crisis, we need to get serious about protecting our priceless tree infrastructure, and Council Bill 120207 delivers the foundational accountability and transparency needed as we work to deliver a more comprehensive tree protection ordinance later this year.”
The legislation was originally crafted by Pedersen and co-sponsored at introduction by Land Use Chair Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6 – Northwest Seattle), whose support was vital for passage through the Council’s committee system. “I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation with Councilmember Pedersen because I believe it is an overdue step to protect trees in Seattle. By requiring tree service providers to register, we can hold bad-actors accountable for illegal tree cutting and ensure tree service providers understand and follow tree protection laws in our city. Strengthening protections for trees has been one of my top priorities since before I took office. I look forward to continuing to work with Councilmember Pedersen and my other colleagues on additional tree protections when they come before the City Council.”
“Seattle should have equitable, if not bigger, tree canopies in all neighborhoods.” said Maria Batayola, Beacon Hill Council chair who shared the sentiments of the Board. “We need more trees in Beacon hill, not less. The record-breaking heat wave was very hard on our neighbors. The rains left standing water at our south end homes. We’re grateful to Councilmen Pedersen and Strauss for pushing this Bill 120207. This is a solid first step. Now, let’s pass a stronger tree protection ordinance this year.”
“Seattle’s trees provide community benefits that extend far beyond the property in which they were planted years before,” said Weston Brinkley, former Chair of Seattle’s Urban Forestry Commission. “This legislation will finally create common sense rules for safely managing trees in our communities, and ensure we are only removing trees that need to be. Minimizing the removal of trees will minimize lost benefits to the surrounding community and give us a better chance at growing a healthy urban forest for all.”
“Without registering tree service providers and sufficient public notice requirements, legal tree removal can be difficult to distinguish from illegal removal,” said Joshua Morris, Urban Conservation Manager at Seattle Audubon. “Council Bill 120207 will help improve tree service providers’ awareness of and compliance with current and future tree regulations and will alert communities when major tree work will occur. We are pleased Seattle has adopted this improvement and we look forward to more tree protections in the near future.”
In addition to widespread support from dedicated urban forest conservationists, a statistically significant survey conducted by the Northwest Progressive Institute in 2021 showed that 75% of Seattle voters support “requiring tree care providers (arborists) to meet minimum certification and training and register with the city.”
Council Bill 120207 was originally introduced October 18, 2021, heard in the Land Use Committee February 9, 2022, amended at Land Use Committee March 23, 2022, and adopted 7-0 by the full City Council, March 29. At the March 23 Committee, Councilmembers adopted Substitute Bill 1 from Strauss and Pedersen, adopted Amendment 4 by Strauss, rejected Amendment 3 by Pedersen, and unanimously adopted the bill as amended. (There was no Amendment 2.)
Existing mature trees provide multiple benefits. Trees provide cooling shade as temperatures rise with climate change, capture carbon emissions, and clean the air of harmful pollutants. During the rainy season, Seattle’s trees absorb polluted runoff to protect Puget Sound and Lake Washington. Trees also deliver public health benefits, including improved mental health. The bigger the tree, the better. The environmental and equity benefits of large trees and the harms of overheated neighborhoods are confirmed by recent articles in the Seattle Times, the New York Times, National Geographic, the Nature Conservancy, and scholarly journals. These and many other studies underscore the importance of protecting the large trees we still have. Once they are gone, we cannot regain that loss for decades.
- Link to the Council Bill 120207: http://seattle.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5186907&GUID=0ADFBA84-6472-4CFE-9E9C-6E2619C11B38
- Link to Councilmember Pedersen’s ongoing blog post regarding tree protections: https://pedersen.seattle.gov/strengthening-seattles-tree-ordinance/
- Note: Council Bill 120207 is separate from the more comprehensive bill crafted by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI). SDCI’s proposed materials, including their proposed ordinance (which is not yet formally introduced) can be found here: https://cosaccela.seattle.gov/Portal/cap/CapDetail.aspx?type=1000&fromACA=Y&agencyCode=SEATTLE&Module=DPDPublicNotice&capID1=22SCI&capID2=00000&capID3=17090
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