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Protecting Trees in New Urban Planning Areas

Clearing on South Cooper Mountain.  Photo (c) by Eric Squires 
To cut or not to cut, that is the questions.  Some property owners in the newly urbanizing area of South Cooper Mountainhave chosen to clear cut forests on their property in an attempt to avoid permits and fees when they develop their property in the future.  Navigating Beaverton's development code to find out what is required for tree protection is no easy task, so some of the clear-cutting could be motivated by fear of the unknown.

Stimulating wholesale clear-cutting of tree groves on Cooper Mountain is clearly an unintended consequence of  Beaverton's development code.  And Beaverton is not the only place where clearing to avoid perceived regulatory costs has happened.  When Metro was developing its regional Goal 5 Natural Resources Protection Plan, several landowners made the headlines by clearing their land unnecessarily to avoid what they feared was a government takeover.

Just across Scholls Ferry Road is the River Terrace planning area on the western slopes of  Bull Mountain. While trees were falling on Cooper Mountain, the City of Tigard has avoided clear-cutting by identifying significant tree groves. reaching out to property owners with significant groves and offering incentives including relaxation of some planning requirements.  Here are the key points of Tigard's effort.

  1. Property owners are not "punished" for having trees on their property.
    All residential property new development is required to be designed to achieve 40% tree canopy coverage no matter what is growing on the property now.
  2. Incentives are provided for protecting existing trees over cutting and planting new trees. When adding up the tree canopy on a site design, preservation of existing trees is given "double credit".  A property owner with existing forests on a parcel could achieve the 40% canopy requirement by preserving tree canopy covering 20% of the land.
  3. Flexibility in site design is allowed when tree groves are preserved.Housing density requirements are relaxed if a tree grove is protected to achieve canopy goals.  In River Terrace, home developers feel they can be more profitable by building upscale homes on larger lots, and tree grove protection facilitates this.  Similarly height restrictions for commercial developments are relaxed if tree groves are protected on the site.
The City of Tigard has received significant recognition for their innovate urban forestry plan, including a National Planning Excellence Award from the American Planning Association.  Their success in preventing clear cutting in River Terrace should gain the attention of other cities dealing with unintended consequences of tree protection regulation.

See also the Oregonian Article about Tigard's Urban Forestry Plan.

Originally published on Tualatin River Watershed Watch Blog.
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NY Times Article, Why Trees Matter

Helena, Mont.

TREES are on the front lines of our changing climate. And when the oldest trees in the world suddenly start dying, it’s time to pay attention.

North America’s ancient alpine bristlecone forests are falling victim to a voracious beetle and an Asian fungus. In Texas, a prolonged drought killed more than five million urban shade trees last year and an additional half-billion trees in parks and forests. In the Amazon, two severe droughts have killed billions more.

The common factor has been hotter, drier weather.

We have underestimated the importance of trees. They are not merely pleasant sources of shade but a potentially major answer to some of our most pressing environmental problems. We take them for granted, but they are a near miracle. In a bit of natural alchemy called photosynthesis, for example, trees turn one of the seemingly most insubstantial things of all — sunlight — into food for insects, wildlife and people, and use it to create shade, beauty and wood for fuel, furniture and homes.

For all of that, the unbroken forest that once covered much of the continent is now shot through with holes.

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Happy Tu Bishvat, the Jewish New Years of Trees

For the secular in Israel, it is similar to Arbor Day in the United States.  Historically, it has been celebrated for over 1000 years and marks the time of year for calculating when the agricultural cycle began or ended for the purpose of biblical tithes.  It is considered a "new  year" celebration and is one of 4 new year celebrations in the Jewish Calendar.  In the sixteenth century, the mystics of Safed associated the tree of the fruit-year with the S’phirot or Kabalistic Tree of Life. Thus, Tu B’Shvat is the day the Tree of Life renews the flow of life to the universe.

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Can a street tree be too big?

Municipalities often wonder how big their street trees will become and if they will create damage to surrounding infrastructure, however New Orleans seems to have different ethic, let them grow! As a result they have one of the most amazing urban forest in the country. We know the the issues surrounding an uneven sidewalk, but have we considered the advantages? Perhaps with an expectation of uneveness, there would be more awareness and less accidents. Humans did not evolve walking on flat surfaces. Anyway, below is a picture of street tree that has exceeded all expectations, one example of thousands in New Orleans.

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