DDOT Testimony of Mark Buscaino

Executive Director, Casey Trees

February 26, 2021

Performance Oversight Hearing for the District Department of Transportation

Committee on Transportation and the Environment

Good afternoon. My name is Mark Buscaino, Executive Director at Casey Trees. Our mission at Casey Trees is to Restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of nation’s capital. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

In this time of crisis, individuals and communities across the United States are increasingly finding solace in nature. And, for those of us in urban areas, nature can mean a well-treed block in a community, a park, garden or local arboretum. For DC in particular, the City, through DOEE, DPR and DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division, have done a great job over the past two decades preserving and expanding its tree canopy to enhance the lives of all DC residents.

That said, trees are an ever-changing resource, vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of a city, and especially a growing city like DC. To that, I am here to speak briefly on three items we recommend should be addressed to keep DC’s trees healthy and abundant for generations to come.

Protection of Special and Heritage Trees on DC Lands

Current law does not prohibit the City from removing Special or Heritage trees on its own lands. To correct this inconsistency, we recommend that the City extend the tree protections that it requires of private landowners to DC-owned lands as well. This will not only protect the approximately 19,000 of Special, and 1,000 Heritage trees on city property, but it will also show that the City leads by example.

This change could be easily accomplished by amending Section 104 and 104a (DC Code §8–651.04/§8–651.04a) the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002/Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016:

  • “It shall be unlawful, without a Special Tree removal permit issued by the Mayor, to top, cut down, remove, girdle, break, or destroy any Special Tree.” (Section 104)
  • “It shall be unlawful, without a Heritage Tree removal permit issued by the Mayor, to top, cut down, remove, girdle, break, or destroy any Heritage Tree.” (Section 104a)

Tree Preservation

The Urban Forest Preservation Act is clear about the requirements for removing/relocating Special/Heritage Trees. However, it lacks clarity on what is required when a Special/Heritage tree is to be preserved when it will be subject to disturbance that may injure or kill it. This shortfall could be remedied by amending the Urban Forest Preservation Act as follows:

Proposed Bill Language

  • “For disturbance proposed within the critical root zone (CRZ) of a Special or Heritage Tree, a Tree Preservation Plan, developed by an ISA Certified Arborist, shall be submitted to and approved by the Urban Forestry Division prior to the commencement of such work.”

Proposed Definition Addition

  • Critical Root Zone (CRZ) is defined as an area equal to 1.5-foot radius from the base of the tree’s trunk for everyone inch of the tree’s diameter at 4.5 feet above grade. Example: A 24-inch diameter tree would have a critical root zone radius (CRZ) of 36 feet. The total protection zone, including trunk, would be 74 feet in diameter.

(Note: as written, this standard already codified in the DOEE Storm Water Guidebook, and used by the Urban Forestry Division)

Stop Work Order Authority

It does not take a lot of soil disturbance in/around the root zone of a tree to kill or irreparably harm it. And, when this situation occurs, often DDOT/UFD gets call to respond and take appropriate action.

Upon arrival, if the arborist finds the tree is in danger, they need to contact someone in a department that does have Stop Work Order Authority to shut down the work to save the tree. Unfortunately, by the time this happens, which can take hours or days, the tree is already standing dead because damage to a tree’s root zone is typically permanent and irreversible.

Given this reality, UFD should be provided Stop Work Order authority to intervene and halt any activity that will destroy a regulated tree.  The stop work order should then only be lifted once a credible preservation plan, approved by UFD, has been developed and implemented on site.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.