How many government employees does it take to plant a tree?
It sounds like an old joke (the answer starts at five and grows from there), but it is a real question some of us have asked when we see the expansion of “Tree Ordinances” in local jurisdictions in Washington State. The City of Tukwila, for example, is exploring a tree ordinance consisting of many pages of make-work rules to manage every aspect of pruning, planting, protecting, removing, and enjoying trees and landscaping. The question, unanswered, of course, is how did the City of Tukwila become one of the most heavily treed cities (47% according to their “consultant” report) in Washington State without this critical, crucial, crises ordinance process to save our trees from ourselves? This is indeed a mystery nobody in the Tukwila government appears able to solve. However the citizens and elected officials of Tukwila still have the opportunity to avoid the tree ordinance fiasco which the Mercer Island City Council attempted to impose on their citizens (and which was impressively rejected by the residents in 2001).
Anyone who has ever enjoyed driving around some of the older neighborhoods of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Spokane, Olympia, and other cities has been able to enjoy the wonderful landscaping located there– many of the trees are more than a century old. If you were to look back on photos from the late 1800s in most of these locations the ground was entirely barren before the homes were built. No hundred page tree ordinances with fees, fines, arborist requirements, or other complicated bureaucratic contortions existed at the time. Somehow, to our modern amazement – trees were planted and they grew without the Nanny State and Central Planners to micromanage the process. I’m sure this is a great mystery to the current Central Planners and naïve politicians who are writing, and passing these mostly worthless and pointless ordinances. It is something to ponder.
However, if what we are experiencing is “progess” then the “Progressives” have decided that trees can no longer grow on their own, and in fact we would all live in a barren wasteland devoid of plants, trees, and beautiful landscaping without their critical ordinances - despite overwhelming common sense observations to the contrary. At some point, like George Orwell’s memory hole from the novel 1984, the current Central Planners require the inconvenient fact that all those beautiful trees in all those old neighborhoods just somehow were planted, cultivated, and grew without Central Planning’s interference.
Unfortunately, what we are more likely to see with the proliferation of pointless, homogenous tree/landscaping ordinances provided by Central Casting at the American Planning Association (this is the group that provides the cookie-cutter planning documents for most of our planning departments), is the reduction in both variety of landscaping/tree planting results, and the tendency to force whatever the fad of the day might be upon our communities with little local control or individuality allowed. Secret, midnight pruning, and using the ordinance as the excuse to file complaints against neighbors are certain and well-documented outcomes.
My recommendation is to dump most aspects of these pointless tree ordinances. I’ve personally planted thousands of trees and dozens of varieties. I’ve also had to remove trees that were either unhealthy or becoming a problem where they were located. I am far from alone in this interest and activity, and miracle of miracles – nobody had to write a law to force me or most other people to do this. None of us need the Nanny State or Central Planning to tell us what to do. This is the cycle of life, and the beauty of landscaping and interacting with nature is that you can make it better now and for the future.
We do this because we enjoy watching the trees and plants grow, and if a community wants to encourage tree planting, they can do so without these ordinances. Use the history of Arbor Day as an inspiration on how you can get your community to plant trees without government harassment. Review your local ordinances to see what is restricted, "managed," or "permited" where you live. To the Nanny State and those who support it – please just leave us alone and let us plant and manage our trees without your interference. To the amazement of the Central Planners the trees really will grow without their ordinances.
Do we really need a tree ordinance to "manage" this?