Urgent: Serious Threat to Oregon’s Tree Canopy, Wetlands and Environmental Zones

Oregon’s Governor Tina Kotek’s Housing Production Advisory Council (HPAC) is teeming with developers who recommend that she ditch environmental protections on urban landscapes, including the removal of protections for trees, isolated wetlands, and environmental zones. Using the housing crisis as a ploy, their latest draft proposal would allow developers to ignore city tree codes for new development if trees’ trunks are less than 48 inches DBH! Since very large trees are rare, their recommendation means that virtually all trees in new development could get the axe. Clearly, the Council’s scheme is to ease developers’ ability to build more, profitable housing (though not better or affordable) at the expense of climate, health, livability, and habitat.

Instead of working with current regulations to maintain trees while increasing housing density, HPAC recommends that cities be robbed of their power to enforce existing tree codes, and instead: “On platted lots less than 6,000 square feet where an increase in density from the current configuration of the lot is proposed. No city or jurisdiction shall deny a permit for the removal of trees less than 48” in diameter, nor shall they charge a fee-in-lieu for the removal. For trees larger than 48” in diameter, the city or jurisdiction must offer a program that allows for replacement trees to be planted or for a fee in lieu option, with reasonable caps on fees, when the replacement tree option is not feasible.” In addition, it proposes “… where multi-family or single-family development [is proposed] trees … that are located in areas of needed streets, utilities, topography, grading and density, shall not be required to be preserved regardless of size.”

For more background, see the Willamette Week article about HPAC’s proposal. Also see The Oregonian‘s Steve Duin’s August column about HPAC “putting an ax to your local tree codes and canopy.”

Please submit written comments and attend this Friday’s hearing (Sept 29, 2023) online if you can!

The first hearing of Oregon Governor Tina Kotek’s Housing Production Advisory Council (HPAC) on September 8 didn’t get to the tree-code-related and other recommendations, but the next hearing on Friday, September 29 at 1:30 presumably will. According to Willamette Riverkeeper’s Bob Sallinger, the second hearing will cover abolishment of tree codes, allowance of up to 20% encroachment in environmental zones, and elimination of protections for isolated wetlands.

A strong showing is needed at this second hearing. Although the governor’s office has made registration fo testify at these HPAC meetings very challenging, you can at least register to attend (though not necessarily testify at) the next hearing here: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_1l_xJ4BdSHCIXtHP

Since they’re making it difficult/impossible to testify at the hearing, please submit written testimony to: HPAC.GOV@oregon.gov and Governor.Kotek@oregon.gov.

If you are an Oregon resident, please consider copying your state senator and representative.
Look up your Oregon representative:  https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/house
Look up your Oregon senator:  https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/senate

Suggested Talking Points (please put in your own words as much as possible):

— I strongly object to the recent proposal from the HPAC that would essentially override tree codes that took many people and many years to instigate. The HPAC’s recommendations would greatly restrict local governments from maintaining urban forest canopy while increasing housing density, and stands in sharp contrast to work taking place throughout the nation to increase and maintain urban tree cover to meet projected climate realities.
— I oppose HPAC’s recommendations to erode state and local wetland and environmental zone protections. Developers have wanted to eliminate them for years, even though such changes will definitely impact ecosystems and biodiversity.
— At this time of climate crisis, eliminating or weakening climate, tree-related, and other environmental regulations is a reckless, shortsighted way to speed up housing construction and ensure that the state and its urban areas will be unable to meet their planned climate and canopy goals.
— Many factors affect developers’ ability to quickly build more housing, but tree protections are hardly an issue. For example, Portland’s tree code gives developers the option of paying a fee to remove trees in lieu of preserving them. Such fees are just another business expense and allows them to build more profitable units or large single homes whose prices more than cover any tree-removal fees. Eliminating tree protections will not guarantee that builders will create more affordable housing.
— Tree codes were created to make sure that Oregon remains a livable place. The Portland tree code was actually
strongly influenced by developers and is not as strong as it ought to be.
— A 2022 study by Portland’s Urban Forestry team found that the city’s urban forest has dwindled since 2015, despite strengthening tree protections that year.

— HPAC’s attempt to overturn local climate and tree policies, strikes many Oregonians as wholly undemocratic.
— I strongly urge you to reject the HPAC proposal and to include an equal number of forest and climate justice representatives on your advisory council who will consider both the housing crisis and the climate crisis and habitat.

Some of the above information is courtesy of Trees For Life Oregon.

© 2023 Eileen M. Stark

7 thoughts on Urgent: Serious Threat to Oregon’s Tree Canopy, Wetlands and Environmental Zones

  1. Gov Kotek
    We need more trees more green roofs more safe guards for the future. We elecred you to protect us not sell our future to real estate.

  2. Thank you for encouraging us to write to HPAC and Gov. Kotek expressing our opposition to the proposed tree code changes. Here’s the body of my email:
    “Affordable housing and a healthy tree canopy are not mutually exclusive. The proposed limit for maintaining existing trees is ludicrous! Very very few trees are of this size. A tree that is 18″ in diameter is a good sized mature tree. The health of our communities should not be sacrificed for the sake of maximizing profit. It’s time for housing developers to demonstrate their commitment to our community by working within the existing reasonable rules.”
    Joan Sears
    3420 SE Washington St.
    Portland, OR 97214

  3. Outrageous proposal! Portland will lose it’s shade, it’s clean air, it’s beauty if these developers win. PLEASE DO NOT LET THEM PREVAIL.

  4. Dear Ms. Kotek,
    There is much, I, a third generation Oregonian, could give as comments, but you’ve heard it all.
    Have you gone Republican? Is everything about money? I’m glad I didn’t create a fourth generation Oregonian. The present is bleak . The future looks black.

  5. Don’t expect to get my vote for reelection if this is the route you are going to take. There are other avenues that can be worked such as converting old hotels, warehouses, etc. into affordable housing without ruining our environment. With global warming happening, you find it a good idea to take out more areas that act in natures best interest?


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