Trees for All


Johnson, Herbold & O’Brien Lay Out Path Forward on Tree Protection Legislation

Commit to protecting exceptional trees, maintaining Seattle’s reputation as a ‘truly Emerald City’

September 12, 2018

Members of the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning (PLUZ) Committee issued the following statement specific to the City’s forthcoming tree ordinance earlier today:

“The benefits of tree canopies are numerous: a cleaner, more resilient environment, and a more beautiful and equitable city are among them. Management of trees is part of the complex challenge necessary to preserve these important benefits. In response, the Council’s PLUZ committee has discussed a framework which aims to create stronger stewardship of the trees we have, allow our canopy to keep pace with growth and greater density, and plant more trees in neighborhoods that lack them.

“We share a common goal with many of our constituents to protect our environment and grow our tree canopy. Together with the community we have been seeking stronger protections for our city’s trees in order to meet our goal of at least 30% tree canopy coverage in Seattle. This approach inspired us to propose a new requirement for permits to remove significant trees, while also requiring those who remove trees to replace them.

“From the start we’ve been committed to crafting this proposal in an open manner. We’ve hosted three public meetings on the proposal and went to great lengths to include the public at the ‘table’ by releasing working drafts for community input. In our collective experience with Council policy-making, it is unusual for draft legislation to be released to the public and discussed in committee before a bill is officially introduced. We’ve taken this approach because of our shared desire to incorporate input we receive before introducing legislation. We have already included much of what we’ve heard, including lowering the threshold for tree replacement to 6” in diameter, requiring certification for tree service professionals and extending these protections to all zones throughout the City.

“We’ve also heard that the community is interested in taking more time to consider this draft legislation, and that adding new replacement requirements was not enough protection for exceptional trees. In response to that critical input, last week Chair Johnson made a commitment to take more time with this legislation. All three committee members also strongly agree with advocates that we must maintain and strengthen the current protections for exceptional trees.

“In addition to maintaining and strengthening protections for exceptional trees, the committee will continue to consider important issues including the method we use to measure trees, protections for tree groves, funding to properly enforce the ordinance, and more. We all believe that these can be resolved with the community through the normal legislative process. Some of these issues will be discussed at the September 19th, 2018 meeting of the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee meeting. We plan to continue consideration in December after our budget process wraps up.

“It’s our hope that this approach will serve to incentivize preservation of trees as our city grows, and will maintain Seattle’s reputation as a truly Emerald City.”

The Problem

Managing Trees is Complex

Nine different city departments manage trees, and it’s often confusing as to who does what and when a permit is needed. And there’s a need for better data to account for changes to our tree canopy.

Lack of Environmental Equity

Wealthy, white neighborhoods are more likely to have tree-lined streets than poor neighborhoods or neighborhoods of color.

The Solution

Councilmember Johnson’s proposed framework would create stronger stewardship of the trees we have, allow our canopy to keep pace with growth and greater density, and plant more trees in neighborhoods that lack them: poor areas and communities of color.

Tree Canopy Infographic from Councilmember Rob Johnson


  • A Cleaner Environment
    Improved water quality and cleaner air
  • A More Resilient Environment
    A more robust ecosystem responsive to climate change
  • A More Beautiful City
    Increased natural beauty & better connection to nature
  • A Healthier City
    Better mental & physical health for everyone
  • A More Equitable City
    More trees will be planted in areas without them

How it Works

  1. Create a One-Stop Online Portal for Tree Permits
    A new citywide website would be created for tree permits, making it simple for the public to get what they need.
  2. Require a Permit for Cutting Down Trees
    Any tree over 6” in diameter or trees designated to have special value would requite a permit for removal.
  3. Plant a New Tree(s) Somewhere Else
    You can replace the lost canopy by planting a new tree(s) on your property or nearby.

  1. Pay into a “Tree Offset” Fund
    If you don’t want to replace the tree onsite, you can pay an in lieu fee and the city will plant tree(s) elsewhere.


Simultaneous with the publication of the SEPA notice, the draft tree regulation bill will be available on this webpage. The draft bill will also be linked to the SEPA notice.

Public comment will be taken during PLUZ meetings. The public hearing on the draft bill is planned for September 5. Written comment on the draft bill may be sent to Councilmember Johnson at or PO Box 34025 |Seattle, WA 98124-4025.

Times/Dates subject to change.

Publish SEPA Notice
Publish notice of State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) threshold determination regarding tree regulation legislation around the end of July
Comment & Appeal Period
Comment and appeal period on SEPA threshold determination for bill around the end of July-beginning of August
Possible Briefing & Discussion
Possible briefing and discussion at the Planning, Land Use & Zoning Committee (PLUZ) on Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Public Hearing
Public hearing at the PLUZ Committee on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 starting at 9:30 AM at Seattle City Hall
Under Review
The proposed legislation is undergoing additional review

Get Involved

  • Become a Tree Ambassador
    Volunteer to become a steward of Seattle’s trees!
  • Plant a FREE Tree
    Contact Trees for Neighborhoods to increase the canopy in your own yard
  • is a public hearing on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 starting at 9:30 AM at Seattle City Hall.


City Council

Address: 600 Fourth Ave. 2nd Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34025, Seattle, WA , 98124-4025
Phone: (206) 684-8888
Phone Alt: Listen Line: (206) 684-8566
Fax: (206) 684-8587
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The Seattle City Council establishes City policy through enactment of ordinances (laws) and adoption of resolutions. The City Council also approves and adopts the City's budget. The nine Council members and their legislative assistants are part of the City of Seattle Legislative Department.