Tracking tree canopy is a useful method to assess the impacts of tree policies over time. Municipalities can determine how policies, climate change and other factors affect the tree canopy as it changes. When it comes to balancing the need for housing and trees, measuring progress over time is useful in determining whether existing tree policies help the community reach its tree goals.
Snohomish County is a regional leader in balanced tree policies. Earlier this year, the county published its annual Tree Canopy Monitoring Report for 2022. The report, which tracks how many trees were preserved and planted for residential permits, found that the county’s flexible policies helped increase overall tree canopy, exceeding the county’s own goal.
Flexible policies that balance the need for housing and trees include several components: They incentivize—but do not require—tree retention and preservation of significant trees, they encourage native trees that have a higher likelihood of survival, and they promote planting the right tree in the right place to ensure it lives a long, healthy life and benefits future generations.
According to the county’s report, in 2022, every approved landscape plan met or exceeded the minimum tree canopy coverage required. This means that Snohomish County’s flexible tree policies allowed for more housing and more trees.
All residential developments have tree canopy requirements, but when policies are unbalanced, that might mean fewer homes can be built, resulting in fewer housing choices. Fortunately, in Snohomish County, all developments met their canopy requirements because there was flexibility in how those requirements could be met, either by retaining trees, planting new ones, or some combination of both.
Trees are essential to every neighborhood, and it’s promising to see Snohomish County’s success in maintaining and growing its tree canopy while allowing flexibility for more housing choices. We hope to see more leaders across the region adopt balanced tree policies that benefit current and future residents across our communities.