Inside Views: Turning over a new leaf?

For three years, the Urban Forestry Advisory Committee, with members appointed by mayors Miller and Leppert, has been meeting regularly to discuss updates to the Dallas Tree “Preservation” Ordinance. Recently, the committee presented its proposed revisions.

A number of recommendations would significantly improve the ordinance. One of the most important is that control over tree decisions would change from the city’s building official to its chief arborist. That makes a great deal of sense because the arborist’s role is to protect the city’s tree canopy, but the building official is part of the Development Services Department, which promotes development in Dallas. An official whose role is to both make development easier and also protect trees has a major conflict in job responsibilities.

Another recommendation is to establish a Department of Urban Forestry, with arborists assigned to this department rather than to Development Services, as is currently the case. Although city officials have discussed creating an Urban Forestry Department, budget considerations have always prevented it. With a grim budget outlook for next year, too, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

The proposal contains two new categories of trees: heritage and historic. Heritage trees include protected trees with calipers of 24 inches or more, large post oaks, or groves of trees that have reached unusually large sizes for their species. A historic tree would be one that has a “significant cultural connection with the citizens of Dallas, past and present, and those cultures living in the area prior to the mid-1800s, and would include trees that are the only living witnesses to historic events.” Removing heritage or historic trees would be much more difficult, and replacing them much more costly.

When new homes are built in established neighborhoods, the root zones of existing large trees are sometimes covered by concrete for foundations and driveways, or have heavy construction equipment or supplies placed on them. These practices compact the soil and cause the trees to slowly die. Proposed regulations would require that root zones be protected by galvanized chain link fencing rather than the flimsy orange plastic fencing currently allowed. Other proposals include protecting the critical root zones of trees on neighboring properties, and adequately watering new and existing trees on the development site.

An intriguing new idea contained in the proposed revisions is the creation of neighborhood tree conservation districts. These districts would be requested by neighborhood residents to help preserve the existing tree canopy and significant single trees.

The committee is still working on incentives that could encourage developers to preserve more trees on their sites. Up next is a Development Services Department review of the proposed revisions.

Some major problems are still not addressed, however. One of the worst is clear-cutting of trees, or what some people call “weekend massacres”. Others include weak enforcement of the ordinance, too many exceptions to the regulations, exemptions of parcels less than two acres from any tree controls, and no provisions to control the spread of tree diseases.

Look for next month’s column, which will elaborate on these problems.


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