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Seattle’s Draft Tree Protection Ordinance Maintains Protections For Smaller Significant Trees

Bellamy Pailthorp
Intact greenbelts such as this one in the Magnolia neighborhood are becoming increasingly rare as Seattle faces development pressure. A draft law would step up protection for smaller trees.

It’s early days yet, but the first draft of a new law to protect and increase Seattle’s tree canopy is out. The proposed ordinanceextends safeguards to all trees that have a diameter at breast height of six inches or more.  

That threshold is far more protective than another proposal that was under consideration, of extending the law only to trees measuring 12 inches in diameter. But many tree advocates warned it would exclude entire species from permitting requirements, because some mature trees never get that large.

New Permitting Fees

Under the draft ordinance, any tree with a trunk six inches or wider at chest level is defined as “significant” and its removal would require a permit. Fees paid to the city start at $1,200 and go up from there by hundreds of dollars per inch of girth.

This would apply to all properties, including single family homes, where maintaining at least 33 percent canopy coverage would be required under the new law. The money collected from removal permits would go to a fund the city would use to plant trees in areas that lack canopy.

Registry For All Tree Cutters

The draft ordinance also has a new requirement that all tree cutters, arborists and land-clearing companies working in Seattle register with the city and acknowledge Seattle’s tree regulations and permitting requirements.

Critics at the committee meeting where the draft was introduced questioned whether that would weed out bad actors. Others were concerned with how canopy coverage would be measured.

No More ‘Exceptional’ Trees

Another change some did not like was the proposed elimination of the city’s definition and protection of certain mature trees deemed “exceptional.” Staff say that provision in current code is administratively complex and burdensome for property owners and that the new six-inch diameter threshold should cover them.

Not A Done Deal Yet

The city says this is a working draft and that much discussion and revision will continue. Councilmember Rob Johnson, who chairs the city’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee, told the public he hopes to introduce the legislation to the full council this fall, with a first public hearing likely on September 5th.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to