Possible changes to city tree rules target pruning, topping

Clarifying ordinance is the goal

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer



Public meeting

• What: The Vancouver City Council will hear public testimony on proposed clarifications to the city’s tree conservation ordinance.

• When: 7 p.m. today.

• Where: City Hall, Council Chambers, 210 E. 13th St.

• For more information: Visit the Urban Forestry site at http://www.cityof... or call Urban Forester Charles Ray at 360-619-1128.

Driving around town, it’s easy to see when a tree’s been done wrong.

A mangled pruning that leaves just a few branches trying to feed the rest of the trunk. A tree that’s had its entire top removed, which will ultimately kill it.

Doing that is already a no-no under city code, but a set of recommended changes to go before the Vancouver City Council tonight will make the law more clear, planners say.

“The Urban Forestry Commission (members) felt that some additional language is necessary to clarify what they mean by ‘to destroy a tree’ and what they mean by ‘proper maintenance of a tree,’” Development Review Services Supervisor Chad Eiken said. “(The wording) is there, but it’s really, really open to interpretations.”

Those who destroy trees can face a $250-per-tree fine. But that’s really an option reserved for repeat offenders or especially egregious cases, Eiken said.

“Rather than being out there as tree police … our approach is to educate businesses and the general public,” he said.

Still, the changes were enough to draw suspicion from some of the more libertarian members of the city council when they were presented last month — Councilors Pat Campbell and Jeanne Stewart both voted against the ordinance at its first reading.

Stewart called into question a change that would require homeowners and businesses to prune their trees to the American National Standard for Tree Care Operations, fearing that would require everyone to hire a professional.

“I’m definitely a tree-hugger; my problem is this goes beyond what government should be involved on private property,” she said Nov. 22.

However, after a meeting Friday between the councilors and the city staff, Eiken said the code will now say that trees must be maintained to “national accepted practices,” rather than reference the professional manual. Language will also be included in the code change that emphasizes the city is committed to education above imposing fines.

Stewart said Friday it was a “good discussion” and that she thinks the modifications will be enough to “make this a more reasonable outcome.”

The tree maintenance and destruction codes apply to all trees that would require a permit if they were to be removed. Generally, that means the tree is greater than six inches in diameter. Like many city codes, the city will not look for violations, but rather respond to citizen complaints, Eiken said.

Most homeowners already maintain their trees just fine, he noted. Offenses often occur when a business lops off all of a tree’s lower branches to help improve visibility.

Vancouver Urban Forester Charles Ray said the guidelines aren’t there to dictate what people do, but rather keep the city’s deciduous and evergreen trees healthy to benefit everyone.

“Healthy trees add to the livability of our community, managing stormwater, providing shade to reduce the urban heat island impact, provide habitat,” Ray said. “Taking care of trees is not only good for the individual property owner, but the community as a whole.”

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.