Find Posts By Topic

Mayor Harrell and Councilmember Strauss Advance New Efforts to Increase Seattle’s Tree Canopy; Plant and Preserve Thousands of Trees 

New legislation and Executive Order aim to reverse recent declines in canopy coverage, improve equity in tree planting, and address climate and affordability issues in tandem 

Office of Sustainability & Environment Director Jessyn Farrell: “This is the strongest mayoral legislation the city has seen to promote tree protections and canopy growth…” 

Seattle – Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell issued an Executive Order and proposed new legislation with Councilmember Dan Strauss to support and grow Seattle’s tree canopy. The legislation, which would strengthen the City’s Tree Ordinance, and the Executive Order will protect and grow a healthy tree canopy citywide while also addressing inequities in canopy distribution disproportionately impacting historically underserved communities across Seattle. 

“Trees are essential to our efforts to combat the impacts of climate change and to build healthy communities. We must act now to get back on track toward meeting our tree canopy goals and build the climate-forward future we want to see,” said Mayor Harrell. “Following the data and leading with equity, this legislation and Executive Order takes a One Seattle approach to planting trees where they are most needed, addressing canopy and affordability issues in tandem, and mitigating the impacts of climate change for frontline communities and residents in neighborhoods across the city.” 

These efforts are informed by the recently released results of the LiDAR Tree Canopy Assessment which found that Seattle lost 255 acres of tree canopy from 2016 to 2021 during the time of the study, an area roughly equal to the size of Green Lake. The assessment also found that the city was not on track to meet its goal of 30 percent citywide canopy cover by 2037, a goal set in 2007 to support community health and resilience to climate change. 

The legislation transmitted to the City Council’s Land Use Committee would update the tree code and address the urban forest found on private property, increasing tree protections to address the impacts of climate change and provide for more equitable distribution of tree canopy, while also thoughtfully balancing development issues to increase needed housing.  

This ordinance enhances proposed draft legislation released in early 2022 that expanded the types and sizes of trees that are regulated including a new definition of significant trees. The legislation will take the following actions: 

  • Safeguard 157,000 more trees by lowering size thresholds for regulation and offering stronger protections while increasing planting requirements.  
  • Fund tree planting programs and address the lack of trees in historically underserved communities through establishment of a payment in-lieu program to provide flexibility for homebuilders.  
  • Provide for development standard modifications through incentives to help avoid impacts to trees when possible.  
  • Create clear standards for tree protection during the review process.  
  • Expedite permitting process and help address Seattle’s housing crisis. 
  • Establish a more simple and clear naming convention for tree categories, to remove confusion and bias.  
  • Restrict removal of Heritage trees, which are trees given special designation by the Heritage Tree Program, unless they are deemed hazardous. 

“I am incredibly excited to finally have the tree protection ordinance because this bill has been worked on for 20 years for some, 13 years for others, and 5 years for me. This bill protects trees and creates the mechanism to plant, plan, and steward the climate resilient canopy Seattle’s future needs,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss. “When I look at pictures of 1950s’ Seattle, I see a tree-less city. We have come a long way since then with programs like ‘re-tree Ballard’ in the 1990s, the Seattle Public Utilities Trees for Neighborhoods program in 2009, and now, this bill will strengthen tree protections even further. I’m proud to partner with Mayor Harrell to protect and grow trees in Seattle and he has worked with the urgency we have all been waiting for to get this legislation across the finish line.” 

The Executive Order addresses trees on public property, directing City departments to protect and grow trees found within City of Seattle property by preparing for and mitigating the impacts of climate change and invasive pests. The order will increase the City’s urban tree canopy and address inequities through the following six steps:  

  • Create a One Seattle Tree Fund, collected from fee-in-lieu payments from developers and private property owners. The fund will target new tree plantings in areas with low canopy cover, specifically historically underserved communities, along with publicly owned rights-of-way and parks.   
  • Expand public-private partnerships to support new, innovative funding mechanisms to maintain and grow Seattle’s urban forest on public lands and in Seattle’s rights of way.   
  • Replace every healthy, site-appropriate tree removed from City property within city limits with a minimum of three trees; replace every tree on City property within city limits that has died or is otherwise hazardous or invasive with a minimum of two trees.   
  • Remediate unhealthy trees and trees creating conflicts through the department’s staff assessment.   
  • Steward City-managed forested watersheds outside of urban areas for the long-term provision of ecosystem services to the communities we serve, based on principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion and best available scientific knowledge.   
  • Report on urban area tree canopy expansion and protection progress through the annual Urban Forestry Progress Report, to include additional data reported by the seven City departments responsible for properties with trees.   

 “To reach our goal of 30% of equitably distributed tree canopy cover, we need all to commit government, residents, businesses, everyone – to planting and caring for trees on the land we own and manage and in the broader community,” said Jessyn Farrell, Director of the Office of Sustainability & Environment. “This is the strongest mayoral legislation the city has seen to promote tree protections and canopy growth, and I look forward to working collaboratively to achieve our vision of a healthy, thriving, and green Seattle.” 

These efforts build on Mayor Harrell’s One Seattle Tree Strategy which will provide a framework for action the City needs to take to maintain its commitment to a 30% tree canopy cover goal. The initiative will inventory, protect, and maintain existing trees to promote canopy growth; plant new trees in communities with low canopy; pilot innovative approaches to managing multiple needs in limited spaces like rights-of-way and private property; engage residents and business owners on tree planting and care to foster and sustain trees on private land; and coordinate opportunities for planting and maintenance across departments and with community, school district and other partners.  

What People Are Saying 

Robert Cruickshank, Chair, Sierra Club Seattle 

“One of the most important things we can do as a city to tackle the climate crisis is to have a healthy urban forest and provide urban housing at the same time, since both reduce carbon emissions. We’re excited to see Mayor Harrell leading the way in proposing these reforms to help provide that policy harmony, and look forward to working with him and the City Council to complete this work for our environment and our future.”  

Brett D’Antonio, CEO, Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County 

“We applaud the Mayor for working to strike the right balance between the need for more housing and the need to protect our urban tree canopy. As an affordable homeownership developer, we know that trees and housing can co-exist and we look forward to being able to continue to maintain that balance in our projects under this proposal.” 

Rebecca Bear, President and CEO, Seattle Parks Foundation 

“Trees are critical to our health, climate and quality of life in Seattle. The most recent tree assessment makes it clear that we need to be doing more to protect and grow our canopy. We are pleased that this Executive Order will strengthen protections for trees on public land, expand partnerships to grow our urban forest, and ensure canopy coverage is equitably distributed to the areas of the city that need it the most.” 

Ken Lederman, Environmental Leader 

“From storing carbon and filtering air to lowering surface temperatures, trees and a healthy urban canopy are important tools to combat the impacts of climate change on our communities. The legislation proposed by Mayor Harrell takes urgent and necessary action to safeguard existing trees and equitably boost canopy coverage in neighborhoods that need more support, building Seattle’s resilience to the climate crisis and fostering healthy communities.”