SB 1377 – Tree Killing Bill

Greg Abbott has decided that trees are nothing more than property; same as an old car or piece of junk mail. Get rid of it if you don’t want it.

He recently vetoed a [terrible] bill that was aimed at limiting the fines for removing trees. But, declared the reason he vetoed the bill was because he wants a law totally protecting property owners’ rights to cut down any tree residing on their property. HB 1377 has been called into special session, it is an old bill from 2 sessions ago in 2013. There are several details to this bill, but pertaining to Austin, it eliminates any requirement to preserve trees.

A tree is an individual unit contributing to our natural resource known as the forest. Collectively, the trees in the urban forest provide beauty, shade, erosion control, wildlife habitat, water & air filtration and a connection to earth that is otherwise hidden by concrete. Your tree(s) affect the entire community, not just you. That’s why we have rules to protect them. Just like we have rules to protect the water and the air. Shame on Greg Abbott for failing to appreciate our urban forest. I really can’t understand why Abbott is so inspired to support this; surely he’s not politically or financially motivated (tongue in cheek). The issue is really an Austin and San Antonio thing, do we need a state law?

Why Abbott Wants Tree Removal Legislation

I’m going to throw an assumption out there, one I’m quite confident of: builder and developer groups are behind this. I know from personal experience there are very, very few people in central Texas that don’t put a very high value on trees. They pay me lots of money to figure out how to preserve trees in construction projects and maintain them afterwards. The only time I get exposed to situations where people want to get rid of trees is when they are planning an investment property (commercial, multi-family, etc.) It’s easy to destroy an environment when you have no intention to live in it. Can you imagine somebody saying, “Wow, I really love that house with no trees or privacy and I hate the big tree in front of that other house.” Right, nobody ever says that.

So, forget about the fact that people living in our community actually want trees, lets focus on the property rights component for a minute. Property rights is Abbots assertion about removing trees. I have two points here:

  1. Trees are a natural resource that contribute to the quality of life of the entire community. You don’t have the right to poison the creek on your property with arsenic because that creek flows into a river and everybody gets affected. That’s illegal. For the same reason we can’t let everybody cut down any tree they want because all the trees work together to make up our forest and we can’t pretend that there aren’t tangible benefits we get from other people’s trees.
  2. The Austin tree ordinance doesn’t actually infringe on property owner rights. I know the arborist reviewers in Austin specifically aim to avoid this issue. If code says that your are allowed to build 2,500 sqft of house on a given lot size and protected trees are preventing you from executing that, the city arborist will allow you to encroach on protected root zones or remove protected trees all together. I see this all the time.

Local Politics of Tree Permitting Issues

There is one last topic I want to cover, a topic I detest, a political topic, one misused and abused by many, I want to refute any notion of trees affecting “affordable housing.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard a developer or land planner complain about tree review delays affecting costs and preventing affordable housing…I’d be rich. People with lots of money having a willingness to pay lots of money for a property prevent affordable housing. I’m 100% sure nobody is going to lower their prices for a house because they saved $1,000 on the tree permits for their construction.

Mr. Abbott, please stop being a bully and throwing rocks from the other side of the playground. You don’t live here. Most of Texas doesn’t live in Austin. Austin can handle itself, we don’t need you to micro manage our trees. How about you focus on something that needs attention on a statewide level, like public education.