There is no place on earth like Cascadia. Lake Oswego is part of the largest, longest-lived forests in the world. A Doug Fir can live 1,200 years, starting from a seed, going into maturity, and continuing to contribute to the ecosystem even after death as a hollow trunk. Maintaining them due to their size and services such as stormwater management, shading, habitat, air quality, carbon capture, etc… has global implications. With trees, the larger the size, the more services. There are no defective or ugly trees: snags, logs, cavities, and brooms have value. Big trees cannot be replaced or mitigated in our lifetime. There is no replenishment possible.
As opposed to preserving our big trees, specifically our Doug Firs, we have been cutting them down and replacing them with dogwoods. We have a Tree Code which seeks to encourage looking for reasonable alternatives to removal, but nothing more. Unfortunately even it ended up being further undermined by a task force in 2015 because the charge was limited to the reduction of regulatory barriers, a fairly constant council goal. In other words, what came out of the task force was how to allow more trees to be cut with less processing in staff time and resources. The actual conclusion of the group was that too many big trees were being cut and the only controversy was whether this destruction could be resolved through the Tree Code or the community development code. (CDC) Outside the charge and therefore rejected were sensible recommendations for more detailed data on trees and an annual state of the urban forest report.
To this day there has been very little council support for addressing the city’s continuous loss of Doug Firs and other big trees. Our Lidar data is delayed and therefore we rely on old data from 2014. Even modest recommendations of establishing lot coverage standards or variances have been rejected. There are no mechanisms to mandate a smaller footprint of a house or a repositioning to save trees. There has not even been a balancing of statewide goals to protect our natural resources against economic development.
Worse the code itself has been interpreted so the trees proposed for removal are examined separately, not in relation to all the lots making up a neighborhood. It is discounted as significant if there are other similar trees in the area.
No weight is given to whether a tree has significance due to its importance to the ecosystem, whether it is a Doug fir, old or complex.
Even after all the analysis of what is or is not a significant tree, a developer, no matter the circumstance, can always nearly clear cut a lot unless, and only unless there is only one tree on the lot.
The rationale for all of this always starts with a nod to trees, self-congratulations about our city being a “tree city,” and even a promise to plant many trees in the future.
Then comes the so-called balancing: the primacy of private property rights, the right of a developer to develop property according to the community development code, loss of profit, decreased rate of return, decrease in property values (and therefore revenue to the city), the need for saving staff time, the expense in pursuing a variance, and even the need for parking. The issue is framed: Are significant trees of such importance that they are going to drive site planning and development thereby modifying the development standards?
The tree, therefore, as a tree, does not have an independent interest to exist. It does not have standing and is generally sacrificed.
Here are the stats:
In 2015, 793 big trees were removed, average size of 18.09”.
From 8-2016 and 8-2017, 790 big trees were removed, average size 20.46” (The stats for the whole of 2016 are not available.)
For the years, 2015, 2017 and 2018, 2,121 big trees were removed with an average size of 19.64”
We do not have the data for 2019 to the present but one analyst offered the stat that in 2020, as of the morning of May 20, 2020, not a single application for a permit had been denied.
As an aside, even the promise of planting many trees in the future got dropped from the recently adopted climate action plan. Even so, maintaining our current canopy of trees which can live through at least the end of this century is more important than planting more trees. Still, this does speak to our inability to prioritize our environment in the face of short term gains.
To conclude, I do believe the economy is important, that our community has even more important needs than the economy, but given our climate emergency, protection of the environment must be our highest priority. The single most important thing we can do in Lake Oswego - that we have complete control over - to address climate change and to be the stewards for and of the earth, is to save the big trees. In the short term, we order a moratorium on cutting down big trees until and if we can work through our development code. In the long term, we make it a presumption that our big trees must be saved.
These big trees must be saved for us, our children and grandchildren to survive. It’s as simple as that.