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Seattle explores new tree-cutting rules

As the city grows, Seattle is starting to look at new ways to protect trees.

A framework of rules for protecting trees in Seattle would require landowners to obtain a permit to cut down a tree larger than a foot in diameter, and take steps to plant a new tree somewhere else.

The plan is meant to allow the city’s canopy to keep pace with growth and higher density, as well as plant more trees in neighborhoods that lack them, according to an informational web page published by Councilmember Rob Johnson, who came up with the framework.

A new citywide website would streamline permitting. Currently, nine different city departments manage trees, creating confusion for people trying to figure out which permit they might need, the document states.

Any tree larger than 12 inches in diameter, or trees designated to have special value, would require a permit for removal. The landowner would be responsible for replanting the tree nearby or contributing to a “tree offset” fund, which pays for the city to replant a tree elsewhere.

“We are in favor of the proposal and think it needs to be strengthened. Other cities are doing much stronger protection, and we think Seattle needs to join them,” said Steve Zemke, a homeowner with the Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance.

WATCH: Zemke explains new plan for tree removal

Zemke thinks the proposed 12-inch rule should be six inches, to protect even more trees.

“The concern is right now with us being labeled as the fastest-growing city in the country, that also means development is going on at a super-fast pace, and we are seeing trees being removed completely from a property, we see property, small houses being replaced with large houses, which removes tree canopy,” Zemke said.

A city council spokesperson said there is no cutting exemption for developers, as some have claimed. There isn't even a bill yet. It's just a collection of ideas right now, and a decision could take six months or even a year.

A plan adopted by the city council in 2013 set a goal of 30 percent tree canopy cover by 2037. A 2016 assessment found that the city was at 28 percent.