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A Policy to Protect Trees 

By Todd Burley 

Policies are not the most dramatic part of what Seattle Parks and Recreation does on a day-to-day basis. Yet these documents guide the work we do and create consistency across the department in how we live out our values of Healthy People, a Healthy Environment, and Strong Communities.  

SPR recently reviewed our Tree Management Policy and recognized the need to update this 20+ year old document. In particular, we wanted to ensure that the most current forestry practices, climate change considerations, recreational use, and equity were all incorporated into our policy going forward.  

The City of Seattle led the way nationally for examining race and social justice issues, yet there was no mention of them in the previous Tree Management Policy. With new mapping of equity zones and considerations, understanding of inequities involved in tree canopy cover in our city, and growing awareness of the benefits of trees to people, especially those who are most disadvantaged, we now have the tools and experience to enshrine this value into our policies. So SPR added language to ensure equitable distribution of services into our new policy. 

Another area of growth in knowledge in the last 20 years is around the impacts of climate change. Our trees are more vulnerable to the hotter and drier summers, intense winter storms, and exposure to pests that thrive in this new environment. The new policy adds climate resiliency into our assessment about how long trees must be watered to be established. It also considers our future climate in what tree species we plant, including where the seeds are from. We must prepare for a much different future. 

How people in our urban setting use trees has also changed. Slacklines, hammocks, and other recreational uses have grown over the last few decades, and SPR wanted to ensure that our trees were protected from these uses while also allowing for recreation. New language was added to balance these interests. 

A small change that spreads throughout the whole policy is the incorporation of the ANSI-A300 standards as the guideline for how we manage trees. These are the best management practices used across the industry and continue to guide our work with trees. They include guidance on pruning, planting, removal, and more. SPR’s certified arborists are trained in these standards, and now they are specifically called out in our policy. 

Policies are meant to guide our practices while leaving the implementation to our trained staff. As such many practices were removed from the previous policy. In addition, definitions and references were updated to be more current. These types of changes are important to review from time to time.  

SPR recently presented these changes to the Urban Forestry Commission, have shared it for comments from other departments, and reached out to community groups with interest in this area. A briefing of these changes is planned for the July 14th meeting of the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners (details here), and public comment is welcome. Your input is welcome, anytime! Are there other considerations that you’d want to include? Read the current policy and send a note to