By Midge Pierce

While a street tree summit was underway in SE Portland, trees on private properties nearby continued to be felled in the name of development.

The consensus at the Parks and Recreation Summit was that fees developers pay for tree removal are insufficient. Current code levies $1200 per tree when developers on a property fail to preserve a minimum of one third of trees over 12 inches in diameter.

Some folks call City tree policies a charade that favors developers. Educator Mark Bello recommends that citizens be vigilant about tree removal and identify trees that are candidates for heritage designations and protections.

Bello has circulated a petition calling for emergency revisions to the Title 11 Tree Code to “reflect the value of trees greater than 12” in diameter”; specifically those removed for proposed developments.

Developers, in turn, feel bias is stacked against them. Four members of an Urban Forestry Oversight Commission recently resigned in protest over a memo presented by Commissioner Amanda Fritz calling for developers to pay fees on an inch by inch basis for trees 45 inches or more in diameter.

In a letter to Oversight members, Fritz indicated that the proposal was an alternative to an outright “moratorium on development when huge trees will be cut”. She added that options are still open for consideration.

After The Oregonian slammed the memo calling it a “clocker”, Fritz shot back that stronger tree protections would not impose hardships on Portlanders.

Out of 659 trees felled since the start of the year, she wrote, only 18 trees on 11 building sites would have qualified for additional fees under her proposal. She added that her memo did not go far enough for many.

The Urban Forestry Commission Chair Meryl Redisch is among those favoring stronger  protections. “It’s not just the large trees that need to be preserved. Trees between 20 – 40 inches need time to be saved so they can grow to be large trees.”

She says the Commission is one of several groups finalizing resolutions to go to the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and eventually City Council.

The Audubon Society’s Jim Labbe recommends site reviews, better public notice, standards that require preservation of 50% of caliper inches on a site and the planting of at least one tree for every six caliper inches of trees felled. When fees in lieu of preservation are enacted, he calls for costs to cover three years of tree maintenance.

“The most critical challenge is getting enough votes on the City Council for both a substantive stop-gap measure …and broader preservation reforms,” he says.

Executive Director of Oregon’s Building Owners Susan Steward was unavailable for comment. She was among those who walked off the Oversight Advisory Committee claiming builder input was not valued.