Clearing on South Cooper Mountain.  Photo (c) by Eric Squires 

To cut or not to cut, that is the questions.  Some property owners in the newly urbanizing area of South Cooper Mountain have chosen to clear cut forests on their property in an attempt to avoid permits and fees when they develop their property in the future.  Navigating Beaverton’s development code to find out what is required for tree protection is no easy task, so some of the clear-cutting could be motivated by fear of the unknown.

Stimulating wholesale clear-cutting of tree groves on Cooper Mountain is clearly an unintended consequence of  Beaverton’s development code.  And Beaverton is not the only place where clearing to avoid perceived regulatory costs has happened.  When Metro was developing its regional Goal 5 Natural Resources Protection Plan, several landowners made the headlines by clearing their land unnecessarily to avoid what they feared was a government takeover.

Just across Scholls Ferry Road is the River Terrace planning area on the western slopes of  Bull Mountain. While trees were falling on Cooper Mountain, the City of Tigard has avoided clear-cutting by identifying significant tree groves. reaching out to property owners with significant groves and offering incentives including relaxation of some planning requirements.  Here are the key points of Tigard’s effort.

  1. Property owners are not “punished” for having trees on their property.
    All residential property new development is required to be designed to achieve 40% tree canopy coverage no matter what is growing on the property now.
  2. Incentives are provided for protecting existing trees over cutting and planting new trees. When adding up the tree canopy on a site design, preservation of existing trees is given “double credit”.  A property owner with existing forests on a parcel could achieve the 40% canopy requirement by preserving tree canopy covering 20% of the land.
  3. Flexibility in site design is allowed when tree groves are preserved.Housing density requirements are relaxed if a tree grove is protected to achieve canopy goals.  In River Terrace, home developers feel they can be more profitable by building upscale homes on larger lots, and tree grove protection facilitates this.  Similarly height restrictions for commercial developments are relaxed if tree groves are protected on the site.

The City of Tigard has received significant recognition for their innovate urban forestry plan, including a National Planning Excellence Award from the American Planning Association.  Their success in preventing clear cutting in River Terrace should gain the attention of other cities dealing with unintended consequences of tree protection regulation.

See also the Oregonian Article about Tigard’s Urban Forestry Plan.