November 22, 2021 /
Jona Elwell

Introducing…the Urban Forest Preservation Authority Amendment Act Of 2021

As development activity has increased across DC, so has the risk for harm to Special and Heritage Trees. While most developers obtain permits to legally remove a tree, some do not abide by the law. Currently, if an arborist from the District’s Urban Forestry Division (UFD) sees a tree in danger of being damaged or destroyed by construction activity, they have no authority to stop work to save the tree.

Six Heritage Trees along Maine Ave in SW killed by root excavation during construction

One of the first bills I introduced as a councilmember was to strengthen protection for heritage trees. I was proud to work with Casey Trees on that legislation, and I’m glad I could partner with Councilmember Cheh as we continue to update our protection for trees. Our tree canopy is a huge part of making the District a great place to live—and for fighting climate change. – Councilmember Charles Allen

In response to this, Councilmembers Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Charles Allen (Ward 6) introduced the Urban Forest Preservation Authority Amendment Act of 2021. This bill would give UFD stop work order authority, which allows ward arborists to immediately halt any activity that is contrary to a tree permit or puts a Special or Heritage Tree at risk.

The Urban Forestry Division is tasked with protecting and expanding the District’s tree canopy and providing the UFD with stop-work order authority enables the division to be proactive, rather than reactive, in fulfilling this mission.  – Councilmember Mary Cheh

Casey Trees is excited to support this amendment, but we have also requested that Councilmembers Cheh and Allen to add additional provisions to this bill:

Protect All Special and Heritage Trees
The Urban Forest Preservation Act (UFPA) does not prohibit the city itself from removing Special or Heritage trees. This easy change can and should be rectified in the proposed amendment, so that the city can lead by example.

Strengthen Penalties for Illegally Harming or Removing a Special or Heritage Tree
The UFPA’s fees and fines deter most property owners from illegally removing or harming a Special or Heritage tree, but they do not always dissuade large companies. To rectify this, Casey Trees recommends adding a new penalty that would prevent bad actors from receiving a Public Space Permit for up to five years, similar to provisions currently in force in DC’s Tree and Slope Protection District.

Tree Preservation
The Urban Forest Preservation Act is clear on the requirements for removing/relocating Special and Heritage Trees. However, it is silent on avoiding disturbance to a tree’s Critical Root Zone (CRZ) – the area around the trunk of a tree that must be protected if it is to be preserved. Therefore, Casey Trees will recommend adding a definition for the CRZ into the proposed amendment.

We look forward to working with Councilmembers Cheh and Allen and you, to protect our city’s trees!