The Salem City Council needs to establish an Urban Tree Commission, as recommended by the Shade Tree Citizens Advisory Committee.

In the past several years there have been tree removals that remain controversial.

Spring 2013: 5 trees were removed on State Street in the downtown area near the U.S. Bank building.

December 2014 through 2015: At least 50 trees including “significant” white oaks were cut by Salem Hospital near the old Howard Hall location. These were not city-owned trees.

March 2015: 14 black walnut trees (some over 100 years old) were destroyed on the north campus of the Oregon State Hospital.

May 2015: 3 trees just south of the Elsinore Theater were axed.

How does the city of Salem decide which trees remain standing and which may be cut? Are there criteria to follow?

Salem Revised Code Chapter 86 (SRC 86) Trees on City Property, has the purpose of protecting and enhancing the asset of trees and canopy which belong to all of us.  In response to citizen outrage about the removal of street trees in downtown Salem, the City Council appointed the Shade Tree Citizens Advisory Committee to recommend improvements to SRC 86.  After two years of study this group recommended revisions to SRC 86 including the establishment of a City Council-appointed Urban Tree Commission.

The Urban Tree Commission would replace the Shade Tree Advisory Committee. It would establish criteria for tree removal and determine a process for notifications and appeals. It would have the authority over city-owned trees except for trees in the way of public works projects. It would also hear permit appeals, variance applications, and Heritage Tree nominations. Its seven unpaid members would be appointed by the City Council. To be effective this commission needs to have the authority to make final decisions about tree removal and preservation.

In order to avoid further controversies, this revision to SRC 86 must be enacted by the City Council. Certainly it will not solve all problems, but it will clarify the process of tree removal on city property and take those decisions out of the hands of the Public Works Department.

Salemites place a high value on the trees along our streets and in our parks. Salem proudly bills itself as a “Tree City USA”.  Citizens know that trees are a major capital asset to our city. Trees are critical to sustainability by reducing air pollution, producing oxygen, and absorbing carbon dioxide. Trees increase property values and enhance our quality of life.

Let’s EARN our designation as a “Tree City USA”.

Urge the Salem City Council to approve the Urban Tree Commission and the other proposed improvements to SRC 86.

The public hearing on this issue is scheduled for September 28, 2015 at the City Council meeting. If you have questions you may contact Patricia Farrell at pfarrell@cityofsalem.net. Contact your City Councilors at citycouncil@cityofsalem.net

Salem Weekly editorial board members:

Lois Stark, Russ Beaton, Jim Scheppke, William Smaldone, Naseem Rakha, A.P. Walther.