Update: Several groups worked together to get this done across the state including many individuals. Everyone pat yourself on the back for this tremendous victory! The Honorable Joe Straus, Speaker of the House, acted to remove two major bad amendments in catching the drastic changes in the original bill and demanded a correction.
- SB 14 had passed the Senate
- HB 7 (nearly identical to HB 744) was introduced and was more damaging that SB 14 and HB 70,
- Allowing developers to replace huge trees with saplings, minimal fees for large tree removal.
- Could clear cut without penalty any trees under two feet in diameter.
- No protection for trees located in extraterritorial jurisdiction (city outskirts that currently sees increased development)
- HB 7 passed without the detrimental amendments.
- Cities’ ordinances were not usurped and are still law in this victory
- Home builders still cannot remove all trees without replacement or fees. However, commercial home builders and developers were able to reduce mitigation fee and replacement plantings but ordinance is still intact.
- Residential homeowners inch by inch rule was narrowed.
In the wake of Governor Abbot’s agenda for one of the state’s most precious assets, city’s rights to their trees have been hanging in the balance. As you have probably seen posted this summer during this 85th Texas Legislature’s Special Session (week of July 14, 2017), Abbot’s “Ax Bill” as it has been referred, House Bill 70 (and Senate Bill 14), landed back in the house with neither side satisfied.
Abbot’s agenda has been to gut, deregulate, and abolish cities’ ordinances for what property owners can do to act, or not act, on private land concerning trees, essentially at the risk of losing citizen’s say to what happens collectively to their city’s trees as a whole. Some recent articles say Abbot is mad because his current city’s ordinance in Austin is not in agreement with his pocketbook when he wanted to chop down a pecan tree on his more than two acre property.
A number of Texas municipalities who currently have the protection ordinances under their jurisdiction are having to fight back Abbot’s efforts to remove their power that is provided them by the home rule charter under the State of Texas. The ordinances vary from city to city. Some cover the types and size of trees regulated, including other conditions affecting property owners who want to remove trees.
Some require permits before removing a protected tree. With removal, some have mitigation rules applied to any loss of trees by paying a fee, or planting trees elsewhere, and or include other actions as well. Many city parks get a new tree grove when development calls for clearing an old growth property for example. As tree ordinances go, Austin has one of the most sophisticated. The risk of removing or overriding these city ordinances does not appear to outweigh any eco-climate or ecosystem benefit to the few who want to move on this deforestation bandwagon.
The debate here comes down to how trees are valued and by whom and under what criteria. Is it sustainable criteria or is it a short-term gain investment method that de-evaluates trees their good to a particular property? And is that evaluation of their good reasonable or unreasonable, or does their existence “interfere[s] with distinct investment-backed expectations”? Are trees resources for the sustainable benefit of the entire state as they have contributed globally for millennium? Or folly for strategized deforestation and hardscape so to speak?
Texas’ more progressive cities who have adopted a plan “for” trees do not want to go backwards and have their authority removed. Their citizens and Mayors have spoken up and sent letters in opposition to the proposed bills by State Representatives Paul Workman and Bob Hall and Senator Kolkhorst. Even the Attorney General Ken Paxton has stated his position.
Since the legislature is not in a normal session, but in an extra special session, Hall’s bill would go to the House Committee on Urban Affairs and Phelan’s House Bill 7 would go to the Senate Committee on Business & Commerce, and eventually the two sides would get together or one bill to emerge. Hard to say whether either bill will end up on the governor’s desk. According to the International Society of Arboriculture the bill was a reintroduced tree mitigation bill from the Regular Session that was passed by both the Senate and House but was vetoed by the Governor. It was amended July 27th to preempt local control and includes parts of SB 14 that will allow clear-cutting in new developments.
As of August 13, Sunday, the legislation to limit city tree ordinances has run into a potentially fatal problem as the Legislature, entering the final sprint of the special session.
On a personal note, I have always felt stewarding our trees and our ecosystem of life is a privilege. It’s not a thinking thing but a feeling thing once you get past realizing our trees are a part of the web of our very survival on this beautiful planet. In spite of the fact that tending to delicate balances so often get overlooked for progress. Even to the point that deforestation has whittled away over the decades and has all but taken down the tiny few left behind of our Monarch flyway populations. And the important food chain that so many depended. A food web upon which even all humans depend.
If only trees could access the internet and log on for themselves…They can’t. However on the very bright side, we have the power to communicate through our legislative branches by the people and for the people – and plants! Let’s not let that slip out of our hands. If you can take twenty minutes this year to brief and speak to let your mayor and reps know why it’s important that trees and our ecosystem be protected in your city and across the state you’re a local hero.
Go here to take action for or against: http://defendtexastrees.org