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The Testament of Trees

Citizen's View Michael Buck

BUCKIn the quiet process of photosynthesis, trees convert light into energy and bestow a “waste” product on us called oxygen, necessary for our human existence. Our City Council, having received the Tree Code Committee’s amendment proposals will be under the public light and seeking their own synthesis from the community on July 5.

Ordinances and codes are derived within a contextual framework of planning that utilizes experience, scientific data and philosophical pragmatism to set meaningful goals and objectives. The Tree Code Committee embraced concerns for our urban forest for the multiple roles it plays in a town whose topography has steep slopes, weak and unstable soils and poor stormwater infrastructure. Trees provide many more benefits than mere aesthetics. They contribute to cleaner water, purer air, cooler summer temperatures, buffering and habitat. So they have functionality besides aesthetic values. Though over 70 percent of trees abide on private properties, they serve as a public good, hence the reason to manifest concern over how this green infrastructure is kept healthy and whole by its primary managers, us. Codes aim at eliciting behaviors that produce good outcomes for neighbors and neighborhoods. The tree ordinance with permit process exists so residents and builders actually decide in a thoughtful fashion when removing trees: that they consider their neighbor or neighborhood and if any negative impact could occur. I think that is not only being a good steward but a responsible citizen. The process also allows data gathering so the City can collect and communicate technical information and resources for continued forest regeneration and health.

The Tree Code Committee recognizes the significant role residents play for a healthy community forest — they are the responsible managers of this asset. Last year, 793 trees over 10 inches in diameter were removed with a Type II process, 331 trees under a Type I. So it is a myth to say trees cannot be removed. The Tree Code Committee’s proposals provide flexibility by facilitating online permitting, increasing the diameter inches for Type I and Type II, allowing any size fruit tree to be removed easily, granting larger parcels like HOA’s to utilize a version of the forest management permit, and giving guidelines for what constitutes a significant tree. The committee would have voted for a three-tree-per-year removal allowance, but not without some size limitation due to potential negative consequences; for example, if someone were to take down three 40-inch diameter trees subject to no City staff review. The “minority group” of the committee would not offer any compromise or agreeable limitations, and fears of harm resulted in a defeating vote by two-thirds of the committee.

Perhaps in the collaborative discussion with City Council, we can reach an agreeable middle ground good for trees and people.

We certainly can then use their synthesis

of trees’ oxygen and the code to breathe


Michael Buck is the chairman of the Lake Oswego Tree Code Committee.