Sunday, October 18, 2020

City Council, October 19th - City-Owned Trees

On Monday Council convenes for a formal Work Session on City-owned trees and the associated tree ordinances.

Two cent Arbor Day

There is a lot of justified anger towards the City for their cavalier attitude towards trees and half-hearted stewardship. If we are a "Tree City," something we have bragged about for 43 years, why do we keep bending over backwards to accommodate those who want to cut them down simply because they are inconvenient? We have sacrificed a lot of trees for parking lot expansion, especially.

At the same time, in order to have things we truly want more of, things like housing generally, social housing more specifically, better sidewalks and bike lanes, and other things too, it is sometimes necessary to cut down and remove trees. Even though we rightly venerate very old trees, and value young and old trees alike in the urban context more generally for aesthetics, carbon sinks, and heat calming, as a class of things trees are renewable, sustainable, and fungible. It is not wrong to see trees as a very long-lived agricultural crop, albeit one with great utility to us and great utility in wider ecosystems.

With a lifetime often exceeding a whole human life, they straddle a line between ephemeral and permanent. Each of us can see a beloved tree as permanent in our lives, but a future generation will necessarily see it age, wither, and perish.

On the whole, if we might see some especially grand or rare trees as an end in and of themselves, most of the time we should not be afraid of subordinating trees to other ends.

So it has seemed proper to treat trees with great care, but not to attach ourselves to them in any kind of absolutism or arborial fundamentalism.

Cutting down an old, sick tree (Jan 2019)

The Work Session appears to be heading to a centrist position. From the Staff Report:

Based on lessons learned after five years of implementing SRC Chapter 86 and its associated Administrative Rule, further amendments are required. One of the issues requiring attention is enforcement and the amount a violator should pay. The current code specifies that any person failing to comply with the requirements of the code will be subject to a civil penalty of up to $2,000 per tree. Additionally, the violator must also pay restitution based on the appraised value of the tree(s) removed. Further, the violator is also responsible for restoring damages, the cost of which is in addition to the civil penalty and restitution charge and it cannot be less than the appraised value of the removed tree(s), regardless of the actual restoration costs.

Subject to Council direction received at this work session, the enforcement provisions of SRC Chapter 86 may require amending in order to better reflect Council’s intended policy on the amount a violator should pay.

Our most celebrated street tree?
The Waldo Park Tree at mid-century
via State Archives

Probably there will be more strenuous argument elsewhere, so here are some previous notes on trees, often with a history angle:

Sept. 6th, 1922

Shortly after that August 1922 piece, the War Mothers sponsored the tree as a war memorial. The plaque is still there, but the tree has effectively lost its memorial function. A decade later the Grand Army of the Republic sponsored a Spruce at the Capitol, and its plaque I believe has been moved to City View Cemetery at the Civil War memorial. There is a history of war memory and tree planting.

And more:

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over on the Tree Advocates FB group, and informed by his experience as Planning Commissioner and as former director of the Mission Street Parks Conservancy, Michael Slater published his letter to Council. It is worth reading in full. (The City hasn't yet published it to the Council agenda page.)

Specifically, he contests the City's take on fungibility and highlights problems with enforcement:

"The biggest problem, I believe, is the City’s failure to appreciate the value of mature trees. The City seems to take the approach that a young tree has the same value as a mature tree. Therefore, the harm caused by removing a mature tree can be easily be remedied by replacing the mature tree with one or two young trees. This is not at all the case....

A related problem, or a resulting problem, is the City’s failure to consistently and rigorously enforce its ordinance (Chapter 86) against unauthorized City tree removals.