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Bellingham City Council passes emergency landmark tree protection legislation

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(The Center Square) – The Bellingham City Council has enacted an emergency landmark tree ordinance to protect the city’s largest and most significant trees.

The emergency ordinance took effect immediately after its passage on Monday. It will remain in effect for six months or until the Bellingham City Council amends the ordinance.

The city council took emergency action on tree protection to avoid the risk of landmark trees being damaged or removed without the benefit of a replacement plan or mitigation strategy in the six weeks after a normal ordinance is approved.

According to a press release from the city, several industry professionals said they were receiving more calls for tree removal after the draft was shared publicly.

The ordinance defines landmark trees as any tree that has a trunk diameter of 36 inches or greater and is in a healthy growing condition.

Anyone found to be in violation of the ordinance will be charged a minimum of $800 and a maximum of $5,000 for each violation.

“We were concerned that people would preemptively cut down the trees in an effort to avoid new rules,” Bellingham Planning and Community Development Director Blake Lyon said in a news release. “It became clear very quickly that if we didn’t act soon, there was a high risk of losing some of our city’s significant trees.”

Bellingham shared its draft Urban Forestry Plan with residents last month. The plan, which was prepared by the environmental consulting firm Diamond Head Consulting, calculated that the city’s urban forest provides a cumulative benefit of $42.4 million for carbon storage.

The city will explore potential initiatives recommended by the draft plan in order to reach the Urban Forest Management Strategy’s target of a 45% citywide canopy cover by 2050.

Vancouver, a city in southern Washington right across from Portland, Ore., passed its own Urban Forestry Management Plan last year with the goal of a tree canopy coverage of 28% by 2047. In order to reach this goal, the city could spend somewhere between $25 million or $56.2 million through 2047.