Trees absorb carbon dioxide, clean our rivers and add history to neighborhoods – but the vast majority of these benefits come from mature trees that have had the time and space to grow. While planting young trees is an important part of re-treeing D.C. – it can’t keep up with canopy lost to development throughout District.
In 2003 D.C. passed the Urban Forest Preservation Act, which required landowners to get a permit and pay a fee to remove any tree with a trunk greater than 55 inches around. This important beginning legislation established protections for mature trees known as ‘Special Trees.’ While helpful, in the ensuing fifteen years D.C.’s tree canopy gains lagged as large trees that didn’t quite meet the Special Tree requirements continued to be wiped off the map. To achieve the District’s 40 percent tree canopy goal by 2032, the law would have to be expanded to protect more of the District’s mature trees.
If we don’t preserve these younger trees they will never get to be old. That’s an important concept to get across to our leaders who are making all of the rules about trees in D.C.” – Casey Trees Advocate Dolores Bushong
To address these shortcomings Councilmembers Charles Allen and Mary Cheh introduced the Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016. Casey Trees Advocates testified and over 500 D.C. residents submitted petitions to update the Urban Forest Preservation Act in the following ways:
- Lower the minimum circumference of Special Trees from 50 inches to 44 inches – creating protections for an additional 160,000 Special Trees.
- Create a new category of tree called ‘Heritage Trees’ that are 100 inches in circumference that cannot be removed, unless granted special approval by the Mayor.
- Increasing the Special Tree removal fee from $35 per inch to $55 per inch, and the unlawful Special Tree Removal fine from $100 to $300 per inch.
- Use Tree Fund money for planting trees on District-managed properties, including schools and parks
- Create an Urban Forestry Advisory Council to coordinate the city’s tree-related matters.
The amendment really came from looking at the special significance of these beautiful majestic older mature trees and knowing we could do better. – Councilmember Charles Allen
The powerful testimony brought before the council by advocates and neighbors made an impact. On April 19, 2016 the DC Council unanimously passed the Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016 and Mayor Bowser signed it into law soon after. When it comes to growing our canopy nothing is more important than convincing the leaders in our city to protect our older trees. Having individuals come and testify on behalf of trees makes a difference because they cannot speak for themselves.