Letter to the editor: Time is now to enhance city’s tree canopy

Editor’s note: The author sent the following letter to the Edmonds City Council and asked that it be republished here.

Greetings Edmonds City Council:  

We must face the reality of our diminishing urban forest canopy.  We know we are losing hundreds of large conifers due to development. This is not a unique problem. The speed of worldwide forest loss is staggering. We know we must find a way to compensate for our loss of canopy by planting more large conifer trees.

Goal number one in the proposed UFMP states: “Maintain or enhance citywide canopy coverage”. Well, which is it? Are we going to maintain it or are we going to increase our forest canopy? And from what point in time? The 30% canopy that was measured three years ago or the canopy of today? How many hundreds of large conifers have we lost in the past few years? You, the city council, have to answer these key questions. I encourage you to get the canopy back to 30% .

Be realistic. Don’t make grand proclamations and then do nothing to back it up. Enough with “aspirational politics!” It’s going to take money, staffing and time to bring our canopy back to 30% and keep it there. Realizing that the city controls only 17% of our total forest canopy, there are only a couple things the city can do on its own land. Plant more street trees and increase the number of forested parks.

Create and institute an aggressive and far reaching street tree planting program. Think 30 years and 50 years and 100 years down the road; think big…be visionaries…for the future generations. Those little 6-foot trees will turn into magnificent tree lined thoroughfares and walking avenues. Plant them now.

Acquire more wooded land for parks; whatever forested land you can save you should do so. I propose buying the Perrinville Woods just east of Seaview Park all the way down to Perrinville. Please save that beautiful forested land. That hill is a perfect example of the “fragmentation” issue mentioned in the UFMP. That hill ties together SW County Park, The Gold Woods and Lynndale Park. You will be remembered forever if you save that hillside; and by acquiring other wooded properties. You won’t be remembered at all if you just keep signing off on more subdivisions.

As to the 83%  of the forest canopy that is on private land; we must enact a Tree Code, This is what most of our neighboring cities have done. It is necessary in order to slow down tree canopy loss. You won’t stop tree canopy loss with a tree code; you will only slow it down. To see for myself I recently went  to Meadowdale Road and 66th Avenue West, which is just inside the City of Lynnwood. Lynnwood has a tree code requiring a percentage of saved conifers wherever there is a large new residential development. And I saw how their tree code impacts new development. Eight new houses are going up with one large, and three small, conifers saved. While in the same location at least 25 large conifers were lost. This type of tree code helps but there is still a huge net loss.

What is the answer? One answer is to require two or three conifers to be planted for every conifer that is lost to development. But where do we plant them? Not on the land where the big house is going in. Not in our parks because they are already full of trees. Not along our streets. In the UFMP there is the idea of a “tree bank” but where is that tree bank going to be? We are talking about thousands of seedlings. There is also talk in the UFMP about cooperating with regional forest support groups (Forterra and the “Mountain to Sound Greenway”  etc.) who could help us set up those tree banks.

Please realize that we all breathe the same air, those of us in the lower Salish Sea basin.  All four million of us. We’re in this together. We are still growing rapidly and face huge challenges. Please reach out beyond yourselves and cooperate with existing tree preservation and conservation groups. We are currently missing out on opportunities. Be a part of the solution. Enter into a partnership with “Mountain to Sound” and commit to planting three conifers for every one that is lost in Edmonds. As a growing coastal town we have a unique responsibility to mitigate our greenhouse gas emissions. The easiest way to combat climate change is by planting trees.

Lastly, don’t be deterred by the “view” concerns. We can easily work around the 10 percent of houses that have a view of the Salish Sea in Edmonds. Look at Kirkland (Lake Washington views) and Shoreline (you don’t see many tall conifers in Richmond Beach or Innis Arden!) and yet both of those cities have a strong and visionary commitment to their forest canopies.

Personally I have a story of three big healthy conifers that our neighbors chopped down for no good reason…lowering my property value. We came here for the trees and privacy and now it is gone.

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” (Chinese proverb)

Bill Phipps

4 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Time is now to enhance city’s tree canopy”

  1. Thank you, Bill Phipps, for your thoughtful and well-founded concerns. On our street in the Maplewood area, two lots were clear cut with a dense tree canopy lost only to replaced by two mega-homes. For weeks after the clear cut, eagles and other large birds circled overhead where the huge trees used to be, but no longer. It all seems so tragically short-sighted.


  2. I totally agree with Bill Phillips. I am so sad that gorgeous trees,
    home for so many lovely creatures, are being cut down for the
    selfishness of human beings. Besides, Spring is the worst time
    for cutting, mother birds have their nests with babies!


  3. Some countries have laws that require the value of the tree at full maturity to be paid in order receive permission to cut it down. Yes, they are your trees on your land, but it is OUR environment – and we are loosing it fast.

    It will take political courage to take steps to save our tree canopy, but I suspect there would also be much support for anyone strongly promoting a policy of saving our trees – and our environment.


  4. I agree with most but not all of Bill’s comments. While we all love and treasure our remaining large conifer trees, it is not realistic or wise to try to replace them in kind in many of the places where they fall or are removed. Whether we like it or not Edmonds will continue to urbanize and densify. 200+ foot tall shallow rooted conifers can often pose a serious danger to nearby homes as we add more of them. Even the loss of large branches from these types of trees during major storms can cause tremendous property damage or personal injury. We definitely need to plant many more trees to enhance our citywide tree canopy but we also must always use the “right tree in the right place” approach when we do. A beautiful variety of smaller urban scale trees will provide tremendous aesthetic and ecological benefits. Using this approach will also do a better job of protecting the scenic views from many homes in our community and the large investments many homeowners are now also making in rooftop solar panels.


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