Letter to the editor: City must act to protect Edmonds’ tree canopy


The Edmonds Urban Forest Management Plan (UFMP) will address all of the forest in Edmonds. The city controls 13 percent of the tree canopy in its parks and street trees.  The other 87 percent is on private properties. Currently there are no restrictions on tree removal on private land except for property classified as “critical areas,” such as stream drainages.

Recently an attempt to enact a “tree ordinance” in Edmonds, which would have given the City some control over tree removal on private property, failed to pass. The City Council felt they needed more information before considering a tree ordinance. Thus the City outsourced the writing of a UFMP. The current UFMP draft can be found at Edmondswa.gov.

The Edmonds City Tree Board is a volunteer citizens’ commission whose goal is to educate the public about the environmental benefits of urban trees. The tree board does not have any control over the UFMP or any proposed tree ordinance.

Edmonds is growing which means the loss of tree canopy. Many large conifers are coming down. These fallen trees release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere when they die.

The proposed UFMP goal of “maintaining citywide tree canopy,” which is currently at 30 percent of land area, is good but needs specific recommendations:

– The City, through the Parks Department, should purchase the property just east of Seaview Park which extends to Perrinville. This forested hill is not conducive to development and the City already has infrastructure on that property. This property would bridge the forest of SW County Park and Lynndale Park.

– The City should enact a tree ordinance addressing the 87 percent of forest canopy the City does not control. This ordinance would require “low impact development” where a portion of the trees on proposed developments would be preserved. It would require “replacement” trees or “fees in lieu of” to compensate for those lost.

– Collected fees would contribute to an existing “tree bank /land trust “in the region. We realize that we cannot plant large numbers of replacement conifers in Edmonds because there is not enough land. We should plant new conifer saplings in a forest nearby, which will gain the same environmental benefits in the future. The tree bank will begin to offset our current carbon pollution.

Edmonds has a unique responsibility in controlling carbon pollution. Sea level rise will directly impact our waterfront. We urge the City Council to enact a forward-thinking UFMP and Tree Ordinance. What we do today will affect future generations. We should strive to be great ancestors.

Bill Phipps and Karen Helland

8 Replies to “Letter to the editor: City must act to protect Edmonds’ tree canopy”

  1. The loss of the tree canopy in Edmonds concerns me, as well. Less trees equals less oxygen, less health benefits, lower home values, and even less graffiti! (See link.) If the City of Edmonds doesn’t get involved now, private property owners will continue to clear cut and this area will look like so many suburbs devoid of nature. No trees, no birds. At the very least, let’s have someone responsible in City Hall to give approvals before anyone can chop down another tree.


  2. Like others in recent history, this letter stems from a false premise: that there are no restrictions on tree removal from private property outside of a critical area. In fact, there are restrictions; wether the city actually or consistently enforces the laws it has on the books is another matter, but to say the laws don’t exist is incorrect.

    There’s an entire section in ECDC 18.45, titled “Land Clearing and Tree Cutting,” which should be applied/enforced outside of critical areas. There are some specific exceptions to the provisions of 18.45 applicable to this story: (A) A single-family lot with some improvements (e.g. an existing home) which may be subdivided (e.g. to create another home site), or (B) a vacant parcel for a single family home.

    If you want trees for birds, you can have them. If my home is on a single-family lot and I want more sun, more birds for you!

    What is missing is an exemption in 18.45 and Title 23 to provide for remedy of Wrong Tree, Wrong Place without having to wait for it to meet an arborist’s definition of a “hazard.” And also that the definition of “Alteration” in 23.40 specifically include planting of non-native species.


  3. Plants other than trees can help with the carbon and oxygen issues. Public safety should carry a greater weight in our decision making.


  4. ECDC 18.45 addresses land clearing and tree cutting near “critical areas”; that is land near streams, wetlands and steep slopes. This code does NOT address land parcels that are NOT near critical ares. In fact, it specifically exempts “improved single-family lots”, “partially improved single-family lots” and “unimproved lots” that are not near critical areas. Pleas see: { section 18.45.030 Exemptions }. This city code can be found at edmondwa.gov under Codes and Regulations. Title 23 also deals with critical areas. There are no tree clearing and/or tree cutting regulations for development purposes on private land parcels in Edmonds, that are not near critical areas.


  5. Thank goodness ECDC 18.45 recognizes an individual property owner’s right to cut trees on their own property.

    However, ECDC 18.45 is written so that it DOES apply, REGARDLESS of whether there’s a critical area or not, to tree cutting associated with land development and projects subject to review by the architectural design board. If the City is erring in this regard, hold the Panning Division manager accountable per ECDC 18.45.010, but don’t go penalizing homeowners in response.

    And keep in mind potential unintended consequences. Give property owners a date after which they will no longer be allowed to cut their own trees, and you may just trigger clear-cutting of Edmonds!


  6. A tree ordinance as envisioned by our true believer tree huggers would definitely infringe upon property rights. No thank you please.


  7. “The City should enact a tree ordinance addressing the 87 percent of forest canopy the City does not control.”

    The trees on my property to not belong to the City, they do not belong to my neighbor, they do not belong to those who drive by my street and like to look at trees, they belong to me. And I if want to cut down a tree that blocks my sunlight, or has roots attacking my utilities, or that might fall over in a storm and damage my house, or damage me or my family, then that is my right, just as I have a right to decide who gets to enter my house.
    Anyone who disagrees is free to plant as many trees on their property as they would like.


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