(Photo by Adina Keeling)

Emily Okallau, the City of Evanston’s Public Service Coordinator, is in the process of developing a new ordinance that will protect trees on private property.

Evanston’s existing tree preservation ordinance protects trees on public property, but homeowners can choose to cut down trees on their own property. 

According to the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan, trees improve air quality, absorb stormwater, provide shade for the community and sequester (or store) carbon. 

“At least 70% and likely over 80% of our urban forest is located on private property,” Okallau wrote in a memo to the RoundTable, citing lidar, or light detection and ranging, data analyzed and processed by the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, a partnership of nonprofits, associations and government bodies.

Evanston’s Climate Action Plan calls for an ordinance that would require homeowners to obtain a permit to remove a tree on their property. The city tried to pass such an ordinance earlier this year, but due to a lack of resources in the Public Works Agency and Community Development Department, City Council decided to postpone discussions of the ordinance until more information and resources become available, according to the May 10 meeting minutes.” 

Okallau is spearheading a new effort to pass a private tree preservation ordinance. She has given presentations about the potential ordinance at ward meetings, where she asked community members for their input. 

In an interview with the RoundTable, Okallau said some residents expressed their appreciation for the proposed ordinance, particularly because trees help mitigate the impacts of climate change. Other community members responded with questions about the implementation of the ordinance, while others responded negatively, with concerns about what it would mean for their property, she said. 

The ordinance still hasn’t been drafted yet. Okallau said that equity is one of the most important factors in its development and the needs of the entire community should be considered. 

Okallau added that one scenario in which homeowners would always be able to obtain a permit for cutting down a tree is when it posed a significant safety risk. “The path to removing those trees will be straightforward,” she said.

From a climate and environmental perspective, it’s crucial that the community participates in protecting the urban canopy, Okallau said.

Community members interested in providing input can contact Okallau at eokallau@cityofevanston.org, or reach out to their ward’s council member.

 

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  1. I hope the ordinance considers thresholds for requirement. For instance, no need for government approval to remove 1 tree, perhaps combined with a square footage metric to allow for scale. It would be best if the city put it’s own tree-removing activities under a microscope and that of developers. While individuals certainly play a role, it’s meaningless if the city can cut down a dozen trees for development of a town square and developers can clear away dozens of trees to build large scale condos. For instance, what will become of the trees around the civic center?