Commentary: Preserving Trees

Commentary: Preserving Trees

This Board Matter, introduced by Supervisor John W. Foust, is shared with the Connection:

Background: Madam Chairman, on many occasions, our Board has stated its strongly held belief that tree preservation is an essential element in our environmental plans and in our efforts to protect and improve the quality of life in our county. We have acted on this belief and our goal to preserve trees by adopting the Tree Action Plan, the Tree Conservation Ordinance, Section 12-000 of the Public Facilities Manual (“Tree Conservation”), the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance, and the Board’s Environmental Agenda, among others. It would be difficult for the Board to send a clearer message that tree preservation is important and must be considered when both public and private developments are proposed.

In a separate Board Matter, I will address concerns and recommendations I have with respect to tree preservation on private in-fill development. With respect to public projects, the Board’s Environmental Agenda states that tree conservation should be increased by optimizing tree preservation and planting efforts in design and construction of public facilities. Based on recent experiences in my District, especially with respect to stormwater and sanitary sewer projects, I believe there may be more that can be done to meet tree preservation goals on public projects.

On Dec. 9, 2009, the Board adopted a Board Matter that directed staff to examine issues relating to preservation of trees during development of county property. Among other actions, staff was directed to form a work group to develop standard operating procedures that address tree preservation, tree planting and ecosystem management in the design and review of County projects. Staff was also directed to reach out to the private sector for assistance.

On March 22, 2011, at the Board’s Environmental Committee meeting, staff presented an excellent report in response to that Board Matter. I have attached a copy of the report for Board members’ reference. Some of the actions that staff recommended implementing include the following:

Include the Urban Forestry Management Division in the early planning stages of county projects to assist with development of project budgets, site layouts and construction practices.

Improve the process used to identify potential tree conservation and landscaping costs and embed these in Capital Improvement Program budgets.

Develop an outreach program for submitting engineers and in-house project managers to help these groups become more knowledgeable about County policies and guidelines pertaining to tree conservation.

Develop a Tree Canopy Loss Mitigation Policy that complements the County’s 30-year Tree Canopy Goal and Tree Action Plan.

Examine if the Comprehensive Plan, Policy Plan objectives for developing public facilities could be amended in a manner that increases tree preservation efforts and, if so, prepare amendments for further consideration and possible adoption.

The report recognizes that public projects, like private projects, will frequently have an unavoidable negative impact on the tree canopy. However, the recommendations also recognize that a project’s impact can and should be mitigated by making a proactive effort to include tree preservation as a fundamental design consideration.

I commend staff for these recommendations. When implemented, they should significantly improve the county’s tree preservation efforts on public projects. However, based on my experience with public projects in my district, I believe these recommendations either have not been fully implemented or that the implementation could be more effective.

Motion: Therefore, Madam Chairman, I move that the Board direct staff to report to the Board’s Environmental Committee on the status of the implementation of the recommendations contained in the March 22, 2011 report. Because these recommendations should also be considered by others responsible for public construction projects in the county, I further recommend that when staff reports to the Environmental Committee that it present drafts of letters for the Chairman’s signature addressed to the Chairs of the Fairfax County School Board, the Fairfax County Park Authority and Fairfax Water setting forth the county’s goals and requirements for tree preservation and requesting that their boards, to the extent applicable to their organizations, adopt similar recommendations for tree preservation on their public projects.