Leave the Trees? Yes, Please!
During the discussion of PUD’s contract renewal at April’s City Council Meeting, the City Manager and the Director of Public Works talked about tree clearing by PUD. Not every tree PUD removes is interfering with power lines, not every tree is an actual danger, not all lots have to be stripped bare of mature trees. In the past, PUD has removed healthy mature trees without the City’s permission. The City Manager and Director of Public Works pushed back hard on PUD until they agreed to change their chain saw ways. No more removals of healthy mature trees without the City’s permission. This kind of robust oversight by the City will preserve and protect our trees into the future.
The City Manager has also begun enforcing Ordinance 95-4: Tree Provisions and Regulations. After a permit is submitted to remove mature trees, our inspector now takes a look-see to make sure the trees have to come down. If in doubt, an arborist takes a look before the permit is approved. A recent application was denied after an arborist concluded that the trees to be removed were healthy.
As we’ve lost our tree canopy we haven’t done a good job of replacing it with the trees that like our rainy climate and poor soil, support our birds and wildlife, prevent flooding and suck up carbon. While I happen to be a fan of all trees, I’m talking here about the Grand Master Flash of the North Coast, the Sitka Spruce, a sump pump of a tree. These bad boys take care of business sucking up water like a shop vac in a flooded basement and sequestering carbon while they’re at it. They get huge like the giant in Cape Meares State Park, but I’ve planted two in my back yard in soggy places to help with the standing water. All the heavy-duty conifers in the area will do the job, but the Sitka Spruce does it especially well and because it only lives in a ten-mile range close to the coast, it’s a vanishing breed like a native of the South Coast, the Port Orford Cedar. Conifers, like these, are of our specific place and help to retain the character and history of the coast in addition to all the environmental benefits they provide.
Trees are making the news everywhere these days. You can read Cannon Beach’s mayor, Sam Steidel’s essay about trees in a recent North County News. And for those with an interest in environmental science, OSU’s Director of the Estuary Technical Group at the Institute of Applied Ecology, Laura Brophy has written reports for MidCoast Watersheds Council, the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition and NOAA on how we in Oregon have lost 90% of the coasts forested marshes. These small stands of water-sucking, oxygen-producing, pollution-fighting, forested habitat occur in small little pockets on buildable land like the .34 acres on the 3rd Street lot. The trees on that lot were natural flood protection from the high water table.
We’ve always had Ordinance 95-4 on the books, which prohibits clear cutting without a permit or tree replacement plan so it begs the question why were the property owners allowed to log those 100+ year-old trees on designated Open Space Land and not put even one back? A condition of Open Space Land is that the property owners aren’t supposed to extract resources or develop the land while receiving the tax benefit. They’re supposed to wait until it’s delisted.
Let’s not blame the tornado anymore for damaging the lot. The trees that blew down were removed immediately but the unpermitted logging happened 2 full months later and there’s no arborist’s report that would attest to the condition of any of the trees. Development on the lot had always been denied before because of the old growth trees and the marshy wetland.
You might think that nobody at City Hall knew the logging was happening. But from the phone calls that were made that day by concerned folks, like my neighbors and I, they did. So why wasn’t a permit issued? Why was no replacement plan on record and why were no trees ever replanted?
Had the City required the previous property owners to follow the Ordinance, would the lot have been cleared at all? Would DSL have approved the in fill of wetland if it were still forested? Every step in the process was in violation of Ordinance 95-4 and it was allowed. Why?
We have Ordinances that are the rules creating the town our Comprehensive Plan describes. If you want to build a house or a motel or tattoo parlor there are codes and ordinances that give you the rules to do so. Most of us follow the rules as best as we can, knowing that there are consequences, if we don’t. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. The rules that govern some of us, should apply to all of us.
It should be a simple thing to find out why, in this case, the rules didn’t apply but it hasn’t been. What I’ve learned this last couple of years since I started this depressing little research project, is that the work of government belongs to every single one of us every single day, not just the few people elected to office. To be a good citizen is to engage. When I fail to show up and be a participant in the stuff I care most about, I’m not part of the discussion and I don’t have a voice in what happens.
Now go on out and plant you something. I sure am.
Kim Rosenberg firstname.lastname@example.org