Tree Protection Code

See also: Tree & Vegetation RemovalGreen Factor

What Is It?

Our Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) limits the number and the size of trees that may be removed from your property. We also have restrictions on when you can remove shrubs and other vegetation.

Our tree codes have a wide range of limits, based on the specific conditions on your property. We highly recommend hiring a consulting or certified arborist with knowledge of the City's tree protection requirements or attending a coaching session to learn the specific rules for your property.

In general, the following rules apply when removing trees or otherwise modifying vegetation.

Environmentally critical areas. You cannot remove any trees or otherwise modify vegetation from the following environmentally critical areas (ECA) without an ECA Restoration Plan approval or issued building permit:

  • Landslide-prone critical areas
  • Steep slope erosion hazard areas and their buffers
  • Fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas
  • Riparian corridors
  • Wetlands and their buffers

You can find information about applying for an ECA Restoration Plan on our Tree & Vegetation Removal webpage.

Shoreline District. In general, you cannot remove any trees or vegetation from the Shoreline District without an issued Shoreline Exemption or issued building permit. The Shoreline District is generally the land within 200 feet of a shoreline. The restriction on tree and vegetation removal in the Shoreline District is the same, regardless of whether the area is an environmentally critical area. Tree removal in the Shoreline District must also comply with the Tree Protection Code.

Undeveloped land. You cannot remove any tree 6 inches or greater in diameter, unless the tree is designated as hazardous. You must get a hazard tree assessment from either a certified arborist or a registered consulting arborist with the ISA tree risk assessment qualification. You must apply and get SDCI approval before you remove the tree. See Tip 242, Tree Protection Regulations in Seattle, for more information.

Developed property.

  • You cannot remove any exceptional trees unless they are hazardous. Exceptional trees are trees that are of significant size or have historical, ecological or aesthetic value.
  • You cannot cut down more than 3 non-exceptional trees 6 inches or greater in diameter each year.
  • You can remove trees after SDCI has approved a certified tree risk professional's determination that the trees are hazardous.

Developing property. If you are developing your property, you have more flexibility to remove trees if they prevent you from using your property. We will review your tree and vegetation plans as part of your permit application. Depending on your project and it's zoning, you may be required to provide trees. Retaining existing trees may help you meet those requirements. You will receive more credit toward tree retention requirements if you retain mature, healthy trees. 

Protecting trees during development. Read the Department of Natural Resources' Tree Protection on Construction and Development Sites for a good overview of tree care and protection measures. Some details and requirements are different from ours. In those few situations, you need to follow SDCI's tree protection rules.

Read the Code

For more information on existing regulations, read:

Recent Changes

On April 19, 2019, we amended a subsection of 25.11.040.A.3 of the Municipal Code to eliminate the exemption from tree protection for lots under 5,000 square feet. Now all exceptional trees are protected, no matter the lot size.

Additionally, Director's Rule 17-2018, Calculating Tree Valuations and Civil Penalties for Tree Protection Code Violations became effective May 14, 2018.