Laws to Protect Large Trees Sometimes Fail to Do Just That

The District of Columbia is making a real effort to protect, maintain, and increase the city’s tree canopy. This includes large trees on private property. Private property trees between 44” and 99.9” in circumference are considered Special Trees. Trees that are greater than 100” in circumference are considered Heritage Trees.

The removal of Special Trees requires a Special Tree Removal Permit. Heritage trees in healthy condition cannot be removed. Yet, despite these protections I’ve seen large trees removed without permits on more than a single occasion, and often in parts of the neighborhood that can ill afford the loss of tree canopy.

The two cases that come to mind immediately are one that just occurred in the rear of 430 Manor Place. In this case a developer cut down a healthy special tree without a permit. Upon inspection, DDOT confirmed the special tree status and will be issuing a fine.

(All that remained of a special tree when DDOT was able to inspect the property on Manor Place, NW)

The other case occurred ca. 2015 when two large trees were cut down on the 800 block of Otis Place, NW, without permits. That case was particularly sad as they were the only two large trees on that block, and there is no public space available for new street trees. In both cases I alerted DDOT for inspections when they came to my attention.

The Tree Canopy Protection Amendment Act of 2016 is now in effect. It amended the law passed in 2002 known as the Urban Forest Preservation Act. The new law raised the fines for unlawful tree removal from $100 to no less than $300 per circumference inch. In simple math, if you cut down a tree that has a 50-inch circumference you could be fined $15,000.

Considering how long it takes trees to grow to maturity, the challenges we have in developing a tree canopy in many parts of the city, and the benefits that trees provide to neighborhoods, it is in the community’s best interest to protect our large trees. While the money raised through fines is significant and can help plant new trees … there really isn’t anything that can replace a mature tree for the current generation.

If you think a large tree is in danger of being cut down without a permit, you can reach out to DDOT, request an inspection via Twitter, or reach out to me for assistance. I’ll give the Ward 1 arborist a heads up.

(These large trees on the 800 block of Otis Place were cut down without permits around 2015, leaving the entire block absent of large, mature trees.)

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4 Comments on “Laws to Protect Large Trees Sometimes Fail to Do Just That”

  1. george Says:

    I really hope this is enforced.
    Isn’t there an enormous loophole though, in that if a tree is declared dangerous, they can cut it down for free, and basically any enormous tree poses some theoretical “danger”???

  2. Matt Dickens Says:

    The idea that the previous fine was $100 is insane. To be honest $15,000 for a tree that size might not even be enough, that could amount to like $500/yr of growth which isn’t much.

  3. olaoluwa ajibade Says:

    A beautiful morning, pls l need a job. Thanks

  4. Zachary Says:

    I was horrified to see that the tree on Manor place was removed. It provided a wonderful nesting area for birds and, in the evenings, shade for houses on the eastern side of the block.

    It’s also totally unsurprising that this developer went about destroying the tree like this. They’re about as shady as they come. What’s more, they left about four feed of stump to become a hollow nesting ground for bugs and rats as it decays. The city should make them remove the stump and fund the replanting of trees on lawns and city property throughout our tree-deprived neighborhood.


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