Portland Code: Chapter 11: Trees
I recently spoke at City Council on behalf of all the work done in the stakeholder discussion group, arborists, trees, and tree owners. While it wasn’t the most eloquent testimony, the written info I gave them made up for it. Here’s a compilation of my testimony. If you are interested, get your input in soon. They should be voting on it in March and the homebuilders association has already given written amendments to Council to water down the requirements.
I’m Jim Wentworth-Plato. I participated as the professional arborist on the Stakeholder Discussion Group and spoke at the Council meeting on February second. Unfortunately, I was at a loss for words. After three years of involvement, my minute of time was overwhelmingly insufficient.
The stated goals of the city are to increase canopy cover from 26 to 33 percent. This is in line with the Grey to Green Initiative and the Portland Watershed Plan. This is a noble goal, as a recent study found $3.80 was returned on every dollar invested in trees through water management and societal benefits.You asked for specific ideas that you haven’t yet heard. In the two hours of testimony I listened to, I feel these points weren’t addressed:
1. Citizens and arborists should be allowed to prune lower branches on street trees to provide clearance from sidewalks and streets without a permit. The time saved could be utilized on other site visits. A simple three picture diagram can show proper pruning technique in the tree manual, and a note about risk, traffic, and electrical hazards can help people decide if they need a professional.
2. Removal permits for trees over 12” is too broad, much less 20”. I know this is radical but I recommend 8-10” requiring a permit. I understand the problem of staffing site visits, but simplification is a problem here. Think about counting the rings on a tree stump. There can be 10 in an inch. A 20” diameter tree has a 10” radius, and that makes a 100 years. On the other end of the spectrum I see Ailanthus trees, on the invasive species list, with growth rings as big as an inch. The inspector can tell at a glance the species of tree, and have a better idea of value to the urban forest. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out inspection, and will serve the city’s goals better.
3. Replanting should be encouraged to be done in the wet months, instead of the current 30 day timeframe. It would increase planted survival.
4. 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. See www.isa-arbor.com. Biological systems are complex. Over simplification of the code will result in an urban forest with less diversity and increased risk. Different trees act differently under stress. Arboriculture is more than cutting trees. The city has diverse and complex code regulating electricians, plumbers, and others. The code doesn’t have to be simple enough for a sixth grader. It should address the more technical nature of trees. The tree manual can be super simplified to show people where to go in the code. If you believe that plumbing and electrical mistakes constitute a bigger threat to society and require more oversight, consider a 100’ fir tree toppling due to construction induced root loss.
5. Putting Tree preservation plans on Portlandmaps.com in addition to the contact person would increase compliance. 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 preservation plan. There needs to be an easy way to access this database if you want compliance
6. The required sign in 11.60.030C1c should also have the number for the person at the city with the ability to address violations in a timely manner. Because 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. This will also reduce repeat offenses.
7. The contact person at the city should be staffed during daylight hours, or within an hour or two of dawn and dusk and on weekends. That’s when the most violations are occurring, I believe. This position doesn’t need to be 24/7.
8. Will payments into the tree fund go to purchase easements or mini-parks to keep trees in infill communities? I support the concept of infill but not the current incarnation. I’m witnessing a shrinking and decline of our urban forest as well as the livability of our neighborhoods. Smaller lot sizes don’t leave room for a large canopy tree and a building. I understand the decision has been made that more people close together is in our best interest, but if you’re serious about it, then there isn’t room for trees on site. A 3,000 square foot lot barely provides enough room for the building, some screening shrubs, and the garbage can.
9. The tree manual is one of the best things to come out of this proposal. I have a lot of ideas, tons of reference material, and a willingness to help put together a manual that will address basic questions about the code, the relationship to grey to green, watershed plans, and other codes, simple tree care, simple hazard identification, and references to other resources. Call on me for help.
10. Because there was so much argument on Ladd’s Addition, I’ll weigh in. Norway Maples are invasive because they grow readily and the seeds are tough. They will easily move out into the city from the neighborhood, but at this point in Portland’s fight against invasives, it’s not as large an issue as ivy, holly, or blackberry. Would the neighborhood be willing to do one work party a year battling one of these other invasives in forest park, Oaks bottom, or a location closer to their neighborhood in exchange? Can you even ask that of them? Please don’t let the Ladd’s issue derail this project. It’s already cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in time, paper, and energy.
Thank you for taking the time to review my concerns. Once the Code has been amended according to my suggestions, I trust you’ll hear additional testimony. Don’t waiver, I’m right.