FILE – Washington trees

A man practices casting off a dock at Seattle's Green Lake park and in view of trees turning brilliant autumnal shades behind, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. Partly cloudy and sunny days are expected through the weekend in the region, with high temperatures in Seattle around 60. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

(The Center Square) – The Seattle City Council has passed a tree protection bill that seeks to expand protections to a total of 175,000 trees across the city.

The previous tree code protected approximately 17,700 trees, according to the council bill. The new tree code plans to achieve the increase in tree protection through a new four-tier system that designates different protections for each tier. 

Tier one includes heritage trees, which the city defines as large trees that are historically important to the city. The removal of these trees can only occur if deemed hazardous. If property owners prefer to pay the city to plant a new tree rather than replant on their own, it would cost $17.87 per square inch of trunk for each tree removed, according to the city council bill.

Tier two is for trees that are 24 inches in diameter or greater. Removal of a tier two tree for any reason other than construction or safety is now prohibited. The cost would be $17.87 per square inch as well. 

Tier three includes trees between 12 inches in diameter and 24 inches, with a cost of $2,833 per tree removed.

The bill also establishes a new mandate requiring new developments to include street trees in their plans as a way to increase the overall tree canopy in the city.

Seattle officials began to work on the new tree protection as a result of a finding revealing that the region had a relative decline in canopy cover of 1.7%, or 255 acres to what is now 28% total canopy coverage of the city from 2016-2021. In March, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a goal to achieve 30% canopy coverage across the city by 2037.

 “Under this strengthened tree ordinance, Seattle will increase protections for over 100,000 trees – and plant the seeds to grow thousands more in neighborhoods in need,” Harrell said in a statement following the bill’s passage. “This legislation takes a One Seattle approach to balance prioritizing tree canopy while also allowing for development of needed housing – crucial for progress on climate goals, homelessness efforts and housing affordability.”

The Center Square previously reported on the Seattle Arborist Association speaking out against the city’s tree protection ordinance. Seattle Tree Care Co-Owner Kelsey Gruenwoldt said it discourages tree planting by property owners

 “My concern is that this bill that we are reviewing disincentivizes tree planting because it is so restrictive and it really reduces what people can do to manage their own little section of the urban forest,” Gruenwoldt told The Center Square.

Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen was the lone no vote on the new tree code, saying that while it regulates and designates more trees, it still allows many trees to be ripped out and destroyed.

The bill now goes to Harrell for his signature and will take effect 60 days after it’s approved.

Staff Reporter

Spencer Pauley reports on Seattle and the King County area of Washington. He was previously an independent filmmaker and worked on "The Clinton Affair," a documentary series investigating the impeachment proceedings of former President Bill Clinton.