SELC op-ed: Nashville government needs to make tree protections more transparent

According to one conservative estimate, Nashville's urban canopy declined 13 percent between 2008 and 2016. Managing Attorney Amanda Garcia says the city urgently needs more comprehensive tree protections. (© Brandon Jean)
Attorney Amanda Garcia, who manages SELC's Tennessee office in Nashville, penned this op-ed for Tennessean on why the city's tree code needs to incorporate greater transparency and public participation into the tree removal process.
"One fundamental problem with our tree code is that most decisions to remove existing trees take place behind closed doors, with little opportunity for public involvement in decisions that affect this valuable community resource," she says.
An excerpt of the article is below, and its full text can be found here.

Earlier this summer, the Metro Council took important initial steps to better protect Nashville’s dwindling tree canopy by amending the tree code for the first time in nearly a decade to provide stronger tree protection for Nashville.

However, while the amendments provide long overdue increases in tree replacement requirements on non-residential property, the compromise bill doesn’t go nearly far enough to reverse the causes of Nashville’s disappearing urban trees. One fundamental problem with our tree code is that most decisions to remove existing trees take place behind closed doors, with little opportunity for public involvement in decisions that affect this valuable community resource.

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There is growing public awareness about trees

Trees are an integral part of what makes our city so special, and the growing public support to protect them speaks volumes. This past spring, nearly 70,000 Nashvillians signed a petition to stop the removal of 21 mature cherry trees in full bloom in order to make way for a temporary stage for the NFL draft. Our community responded not just to the needless destruction of these beautiful, productive trees for short-term economic gain, but also to Metro government’s failure to notify—let alone consult with—the community regarding its decision.

Unfortunately, the cherry tree debacle is only one, highly visible example of an alarming trend in the loss of Nashville’s urban canopy and the lack of transparency in tree removal decisions. According to one conservative estimate from Metro Water Services, our urban canopy declined 13% between 2008 and 2016. Our city urgently needs more comprehensive tree protections.

Decisions about removing trees should not be made behind closed doors, but rather in the light of day with robust civic engagement. Council and government leaders must work to provide adequate public notice and an opportunity for Nashvillians to be heard regarding tree removal permits and similar actions. Currently, there are none.

Click here to finish reading the op-ed, and for examples of good tree policy.

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