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City of Seattle Releases Newly Updated Urban Forest Management Plan

Trees are fundamental to the character of Seattle and to our quality of life. In our rapidly changing climate, Seattle’s urban forest is an increasingly important asset, playing a critical role in mitigating climate change impacts, including heat island effects, as well as supporting Seattle’s public health, providing habitat for wildlife, creating spaces for exploration and enjoyment, cleaning our air and water, and reducing the quantity of stormwater runoff, further helping water quality.

This year’s extreme heat events have had devastating impacts, especially in low income and Black, Indigenous, People of Color communities. Trees are an effective tool to reduce the impacts of heat events, reducing temperatures in and around homes. The role of trees in mitigating this significant and increasing impact to our community underscores how important it is to ensure the urban forest is effectively managed.

Updated Urban Forest Management Plan Provides a Roadmap to a Healthy Urban Forest

Seattle’s newly updated Urban Forest Management Plan provides a framework for policy and action that guides City government decision-making to help Seattle maintain, preserve, enhance, and restore its urban forest.

The core of the plan is a set of outcomes, strategies, actions, and indicators that will guide department staff in supporting a healthy and sustainable urban forest across Seattle’s publicly and privately owned lands.

The suite of actions included in the plan support and protect the urban forest through its full range of growth and development, from on-the-ground tree maintenance and stewardship to promote the health and longevity of the existing canopy; to focusing City tree planting and maintenance in communities that are harmed first and worst by the effects of extreme heat and other inequities; to planning for an urban forest that can withstand the next several centuries in a changing climate by identifying tree species resilient to climate change and pests; to investing in restoration of forested natural areas that provide a welcome respite from summer weather and an in-city forest refuge for our communities and wildlife; to incentivizing tree planting and stewardship on private land through providing trees, education, and resources; to actions aimed at protecting the urban forest, such as updating tree protection regulations. The plan also includes actions to enhance coordination and communication and to further build relationships with BIPOC and low-income communities so that they realize all the benefits of Seattle’s trees and green spaces.

The guiding principles of the Plan are a diverse, comprehensive set of outcomes developed by the multi-departmental Urban Forestry Core Team through a robust, inclusive engagement process:

  1. Racial and social equity. Urban forestry benefits and responsibilities are shared fairly across communities, community trust is built, and decisions are guided by diverse perspectives, including those of environmental justice priority communities.
  2. Ecosystems and human health. The urban forest improves air quality, human well-being, public health and water quality; provides beauty, environmental and economic benefits, fish and wildlife habitat, food, outdoor fun; and helps store rainwater.
  3. Human safety and property protection. In implementing the work, urban forestry teams use up-to-date practices to protect the safety of the public and staff.
  4. Climate change. Urban forestry work helps people, and urban trees and vegetation adapt to, recover from, and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
  5. Community care. The Seattle community, including all people, organizations, institutions, and businesses, works together to appreciate and care for the urban forest and to understand tree protection regulations.
  6. Balance competing priorities. City government will work to grow, maintain, preserve, enhance, and restore Seattle’s urban forest as it meets other priorities. Urban forestry practices and policies work with and support other City and community goals including access to spaces, climate action, culturally appropriate resource provision, economic development, environmental protection, social justice, food and medicine production, housing, balancing tree shade with light, public safety, recreation, transportation, and utility provision.

In order to achieve these outcomes, the Plan includes seven overarching strategies that represent a comprehensive approach to mobilizing informed and effective action. A prioritized set of actions, including the actions described above as well as others, form the action agenda through which the Plan will be implemented and through which the urban forest is managed.

An Integrated Approach to Urban Forest Management

Seattle’s urban forestry functions are organized in an integrated approach, where the responsibilities for the work are housed in nine departments that conduct urban forestry work. These departments worked together to develop this plan and will lead implementation to ensure effective management of this citywide resource across the departments.

The City’s first Urban Forest Management Plan was created in 2007; this is the second update of the Plan.

The City’s Urban Forestry Core Team members worked with their department leadership and staff teams throughout the plan development process. It was also important to hear from community in preparing this update, so an inclusive engagement plan was created to reach out to historically underrepresented communities as the plan was developed.

A Robust, Inclusive Engagement Process

That public engagement plan was carried out in two phases, with initial outreach focusing on BIPOC communities, as well as other key stakeholders, in 2018-19 prior to putting pen to paper. The first draft of the plan was created with that initial input.

The second phase included engagement with and feedback from the Urban Forestry Commission as well as sharing the draft plan with the community and other key stakeholders. Listening session participants and the Community Based Organizations that supported BIPOC engagement in Phase I were also re-engaged in order to make sure we incorporated their input into the goals, strategies, and actions.

All of this input was summarized and considered, and appropriate changes incorporated into the Plan. The team then conducted the SEPA process, which resulted in a Determination of Non-Significance which was not appealed. With the SEPA process finalized, the plan moved to final production and is now published.

The City’s Urban Forestry teams look forward to working together and with community partners to implement the action agenda and continue ensuring the health of this important resource today and for many generations to come. More information on the plan and the City’s Urban Forestry work is available on the Trees for Seattle website.