Local nonprofit to speak with Bellevue City Council about increasing tree protections

According to Trees4Livability, Bellevue’s tree protections are the weakest in the region.

Trees4Livability, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on strengthening Bellevue’s tree codes, will be presenting their Bellevue Tree Code Study to the Bellevue City Council on March 14.

Trees4Livability was started in December of 2021 by Khaiersta English, who moved from Seattle to Bellevue in 2018, and before that, lived in Oregon.

“Part of what drew me to Bellevue was the trees because we wanted to be closer to the trees again,” said English. “In that time, it’s become evident to me that trees are quickly disappearing for, probably the last two years or more, so I wanted to take some action around that.”

Within the organization, the Tree Code Working Group was developed, and is made up of nine members, including English. During January and February, the Tree Code Working Group investigated tree codes of other cities within the region and compared them to Bellevue’s tree codes.

“The tree codes in Bellevue allow for the removal of five Significant Trees without a permit. There’s zero other cities in our region that allow that. Five significant trees—these are, in Bellevue, defined as 8 inches in diameter that can take 25 to 45 years to grow,” said English. “In addition, there’s no special protections for Landmark Trees, which are in most cities, defined at 30 inches in diameter. Those can be 100 to 150 years old.”

Recommendations in the Trees4Livability report include requiring a permit for Significant and Landmark tree removal; enforce minimum tree density requirements for residential lots; no longer reset tree protection decisions with each new property owner; and to require substantial tree replacement for Significant and Landmark tree removal.

“These trees are huge. They absorb a lot of the carbon, which is great for reducing climate change. They stabilize soil, they reduce sound from the freeway, they put out a lot of good clean air, and they provide a barrier between residential and commercial areas of the city,” said English.

English brought up how trees can be replanted, however small trees take a long time to absorb the same amount of carbon in order to provide benefits. She also mentioned how she believes Bellevue residents value the tree canopy in the city but are unaware of the issue.

“What we’re seeing is developers come in, they buy a home, they literally clear the lot from end to end—even though Bellevue says you have to retain 15% of the trees in an individual development, or 30% of the trees in a subdivision situation,” said English. “They often don’t do that, and enforcement is very lax, and penalties are very lax. The city isn’t enforcing what they have now, and what they have no is the weakest in the region.”

Trees4Livability hopes to partner with the city of Bellevue to provide them with the information they need about tree codes, and to volunteer to do additional research if needed. On March 14 the nonprofit will provide Bellevue city council with an overview of the Bellevue Tree Code Study, with plans to continue presenting to the council during the month of March.

Trees4Livability hopes to get tree code protections as a city council priority for the next year, and English believes the city can take action now by enforcing the current tree codes.

“The city is rich with money, but we’re going to lose all our shared beauty and wealth in the trees if we don’t stop this,” said English.

For those who are interested in protecting Bellevue’s trees, English recommends signing the Tree Code Petition, and to click on the ‘Get Involved’ section on the Trees4Visibility website at https://trees4livability.org/