Camas may grow tree program

Two months after passing urban tree rules, city eyes protections for unique ‘heritage trees’

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Trees line the streets of downtown Camas. City leaders recently passed Camas' Urban Tree Program to protect trees in new developments. Now, city councilors are looking at protections for Camas' unique "heritage" trees.

A little more than two months after implementing the city’s Urban Tree Program, designed to protect trees in new Camas developments and increase fines for harming trees in open spaces and park lands, city leaders in Camas are considering further protections for the city’s tree canopy.

This time, however, the focus is on Camas’ older or more unique trees.

Unlike its neighbors in Vancouver and Portland, the city of Camas currently has no established “heritage tree” program in place to preserve trees that have unique value or characteristics. After dozens of community members turned out to an August public hearing on the Urban Tree Program to decry what they said was a rapid “de-treeing” of Camas over the past decade, city councilors asked Camas staff to gather information about “heritage tree” programs that might better protect the town’s more noteworthy trees.

On Nov. 19, Camas Senior Planner Sarah Fox, the architect behind Camas’ new Urban Tree Program, presented councilors with an overview public programs that focus on “heritage trees.”

Cities use different names for these kinds of programs, Fox said, pointing out that Portland and Vancouver both use “Heritage Tree Program,” while cities on the East Coast, including New York City, tend to call these trees “great trees.” In Olympia, Washington’s capital, the program refers to “landmark trees.”

Regardless of what they’re called, Fox noted, these programs all seem to share common traits: there is a tree board or commission that sets the standards and rules, a registry of trees, land owners must grant permission for the tree to be included on the registry, there are protections in place for these trees and penalties for harming them.

Some cities allow trees that come with an unusual story — perhaps a famous person planted the tree — Fox said.

“They all have very similar set up,” Fox said of the various “heritage tree” programs. “I like New York’s ‘great trees’ (that) captures stories to go along with these trees.”

In Vancouver, for instance, a tree associated with a historical figure, property or historical event might be included on the city’s Heritage Tree Program registry alongside old-growth trees, distinct species of trees and trees that simply “possess exceptional beauty.”

Implementing a similar type of “heritage tree” program would fall in line with Camas’ comprehensive plan, which states one of the city’s goals is to “protect Camas’ native landscape and mature tree cover,” Fox told councilors at their Nov. 19 workshop.

City councilors said they would like the same committee that worked on the city’s Urban Tree Program to investigate a possible “heritage tree” program for Camas.

The city’s new Urban Tree Program does not prevent an individual property owner on a residential lot smaller than 24,000 square feet from removing old-growth or unique trees in their backyard — something that concerned many residents who turned out for the Aug. 6 urban tree hearing.

“There is room to grow from here,” Fox said after the city council approved the Urban Tree Program in early September. “We were pretty clear that we weren’t planning to protect trees on individual lots, but on new developments. We were putting in place a good starting point.”

Fox said Nov. 19, that city staff planned to expand outreach about the new Urban Tree Program via the city’s website, local newspapers, flyers sent to homeowner associations, possible partnerships with the Camas School District and information presented to the region’s arborists and landscapers.

“We will do more outreach, and we’re working with staff so everyone knows what the new rules are, and are tracking (street tree) permits coming in,” Fox said.