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Portland Tree Policy Review

3.24.10 I spoke at the Planning and Urban Forestry joint commission meeting last night in support of  The Citywide Tree Policy Review and Regulatory Improvement Project. The full monologue is as follows:

I’m Jim Wentworth-Plato. I participated as an arborist on the SDG. I’ve been working with trees in the Portland and surrounding areas since the mid 90’s and have achieved the Board Certified Master Arborist accreditation from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and I’m a Certified Tree Risk Assessor. I operate a small business caring for our urban forest through planting, pruning for health and longevity, and removing trees when the need arises. I talk with homeowners on a daily basis about their tree concerns and needs.

The proposals in the Review and draft amendments are not focused only on increasing canopy cover in our city, but increasing clarity and communication of regulations concerning trees. I strongly support the creation of a tree manual as a resource for home and business owners, developers, and arborists. There are many resources for identification, choosing, planting, and pruning trees on the web, but it’s currently difficult for the average Portlander to find rules regarding what they can and can’t do to trees. It’s unfair to hold people accountable for what they don’t know. A contact person at the city to answer questions, handle complaints, and document violations will create goodwill and allow the city to respond to problems in a timely fashion.

The stated goals of the city are to increase canopy cover from 26 to 33 percent. Another goal of the city is infill instead of sprawl. There is a lot of friction in this debate. I support both goals, but I’m witnessing a shrinking and decline of our urban forest and livability. Smaller lot sizes don’t leave room for a large canopy tree and a building. In these areas, the city may want to consider additional mini-parks or groves of trees on a single sacrificial property, so the building density can be higher on surrounding properties and still allow enough space for mature trees.

As an arborist in Portland, I’ve seen many violations by home owners, developers, landscapers, and people calling themselves arborists. I’ve forwarded phone calls from clients concerned about what their neighbors are doing or a construction project that they just don’t think is right and I appreciate the assistance of Urban Forestry. There are two types of violators, the ignorant, and the ones taking a calculated risk. We can educate and provide resources for the uninformed to do things properly, but the people betting they won’t get caught won’t follow improved codes either. The biggest problem with poor tree care is that one bad pruning can destroy 100 years of good pruning and the tree. Another problem is that root damage from construction, grade changes, and compaction, rarely manifest for 3-5 years from the time of injury. It behooves us to enforce preservation now to avoid larger problems later. How? There should be a posted sign for concerned citizens to report illegal behavior near the perimeter of construction sites. That number would get you to a person at the city with the ability to address violations in a timely manner and will reduce repeat offenses.

While I applaud the work done to refine, clarify, and consolidate the tree codes, I have a few specific concerns.

  • Removal permits for trees over 12” is too large. I understand the problem of staffing site visits, but many trees, particularly the trees that mature to a smaller height, may take 10 years to get to that size. I recommend 8-10” because many seeded trees grow quickly to 4” and many ornamental trees take quite a while to get to large diameters. Nuisance trees should be exempt.
  • Removal should have an emergency permit allowed with photos.
  • Replanting should be allowed any time, but encouraged to be done in the wet months, instead of the 30 day time frame.
  • I encourage you to consider requiring businesses that get licensed for tree work in the city to have certified arborists on every job site. The ISA has a widely accepted program for certification.
  • There are many trees in the city that are under protection of tree preservation but few arborists or homeowners know if the tree they are working on is on a plan. There needs to be an easy way to access this database if you want compliance. Perhaps putting it on Portlandmaps.com?

Thank you for taking the time to review my concerns.

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