DDOT Performance Testimony of Mark Buscaino – 2022
February 16, 2022
Councilmember Mary Cheh
Committee on Transportation and Environment
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Suite 108
Washington, D.C. 20004
Subject: Comments for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Performance Oversight Hearing
Dear Councilmember Cheh, Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments regarding the District Department of Transportation’s performance. Casey Trees’ mission is to “restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital,” and we consider ourselves a proud partner of DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division, working with them for the past 20 years in pursuit of that mission.
Recent, 5-year land cover data shows DC’s tree canopy declining by 1% overall, however there were significant canopy gains measured along public rights-of-way – the exclusive domain of the Urban Forestry Division. These gains are the direct result of the capable management and expansion of the City’s street tree resource – in short the great work of the Urban Forestry Division. Casey Trees commends each and every UFD staff member, and in particular the leadership of their Director – Mr. Earl Eutsler.
Despite increases in the City’s street tree component, overall canopy is slipping. While 1% sounds small, it represents an area of green, cooling shade equal to the size of the National Mall. We must now focus the same amount of energy previously devoted to the city’s streets to private lots where the opportunity to increase DC’s canopy is greatest, particularly in Wards 5, 7, and 8. These Wards are also the most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate and can most benefit from increased natural infrastructure.
But planting is only half the equation, we must also protect existing trees – and the results are disappointing. Over the past two years, approximately 50 Heritage and 135 Special Trees have been illegally removed. This staggering number is a clear sign that the fines imposed by the City are insufficient. We urge DDOT to review and strengthen them in light of this data and general inflationary pressure.
In addition, we urge Council and/or DDOT to:
First – pass the Urban Forest Preservation Authority Amendment Act of 2021. This Act would provide UFD stop work order authority and equip them with the tools to proactively protect Special and Heritage Trees.
Second – extend tree protections to DC-owned lands. The City does not hold itself to the same environmental standards it does others, and especially now in light of advancing climate change, this is simply unacceptable.
Third – strengthen penalties for willful and repeated violations of D.C.’s tree protection laws. This could be easily accomplished by denying bad actors building permits for a 5-year timeframe, as is now done with the City’s Tree and Slope Overlay Protection Ordinance. This will send a message that our city’s tree protections cannot be circumvented by those willing to pay fines as the cost of doing business
Fourth – modify permit review procedures so Tree Preservation Plans are submitted early in the construction permitting process, so buildings may be built to accommodate existing Special and Heritage trees instead of removing them. In addition, create a shared UFD/DCRA tree preservation specialist position who will support those seeking tree permits, ensure preservation of trees to the maximum extent practicable, and ensure Tree Preservation Plans are crafted to industry standards.
Finally, we urge DDOT to update DC’s Municipal Regulations in accordance with the 2016 UFPA Amendment Act to ensure a consistent understanding of our City’s tree protections.
We are at a critical point in our City’s future, where our policy and planning efforts will either strengthen our ability to be resilient or undermine it by allowing valuable natural resources be taken away from our communities. Now, more than ever, it is time to prioritize the protection and growth of our city’s tree canopy for the benefit of the city and ultimately – the health of its residents.