Charles Allen

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In one of his last acts before summer recess, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen introduced a bill last week to save the trees.

The Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2015 aims to boost the District’s canopy—that is, the number of square miles covered by trees—from 36 percent to 40 percent in 2032, in line with the Sustainable DC Plan’s goal. The bill aims to do that by strengthening regulations against cutting down “special trees” (currently trees with at least a 55-inch circumference) and upping the fines and fees for the people that do. It was co-introduced by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh.

“It takes 50, 100 years for these old-growth, mature trees to grow. Planting a new tree in that space… frankly, you and I may never see it get back to that size and canopy in our lifetimes. We want to make sure that if we cut a tree like that down, it’s a last resort,” Allen said.

Under the bill, special trees would include those with at least a 47-inch circumference. It would cost $55 per square inch to remove a special tree (after approval from the mayor’s office), up from $35, and those who remove a special tree without proper approval will be fined $300 per square inch of the tree, up from $100. All fines and fees accrued will be appropriated to the Tree Fund, which will pay for trees to be planted in both public spaces and District-owned property, like parks and schools.

Allen points to the development of St. Augustine Church on the Southwest Waterfront as an example of a responsible development. Instead of cutting down a decades-old tree, the development company carefully extricated it from the ground and replanted it.

“With so much construction happening in Ward 6 and really across the city, I wanted to get a little more in front of this, how we protect the canopy we’ve got,” Allen said.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery