Trees

Bellevue is known as a "city in a park." In fact, Bellevue has 2,500 acres of parks and open space, and nearly 8,000 acres of tree canopy. Our trails, open space, parks, recreation centers, ballfields, blueberry farms, community gardens (p-patches) and playgrounds make up 12% of the city's land. Nearly three out of four residents have a park or trail access point within one-third of a mile from their home.

Bellevue's thousands of acres of trees provide health and economic benefits, increase property values and traffic safety, reduce crime, limit stormwater runoff and improve water quality. Trees are also essential to the protection of salmon habitat because they provide shade along streams and preserve water quality by preventing erosion.

2018 marks Bellevue's 27th year of recognition as a "Tree City USA" community by the national Arbor Day Foundation. Bellevue is committed to working with our residents and businesses to help build a healthy community by planting trees.

Benefits of Trees

The City of Bellevue is committed to natural resource stewardship and a healthy and sustainable urban forest. Trees and vegetation provide a multitude of benefits, including clean water, clean air, enhanced quality of life, and improved property values. A 2017 assessment of the benefits of the city’s tree cover found 37 percent tree canopy coverage city-wide.

Bellevue’s urban forest stores 28 thousand tons of carbon, filters 1 million pounds of pollutants from the air, and purifies 315 million gallons of stormwater every year. These ecosystem services total $43 million in savings annually. Urban trees also reduce the risk of flooding and landslides in addition to providing everyday benefits to mental and physical health.

In the updated Comprehensive Plan, the City set a target of 40% tree canopy cover, as recommended by leading national experts American Forests. 

Tree Canopy Assessment

We have been measuring our tree canopy using aerial imaging roughly every ten years since 1986. Up-to-date data on tree canopy cover and impervious surfaces allows the City to make informed decisions about stormwater management, land use, and the benefits that trees provide.

The most recent 2017 Tree Canopy Assessment provides key insights in Bellevue’s forests. While there has been a decline in tree cover since the first assessment in 1986, the decline has leveled off since 2008. Two-thirds of all the park land in Bellevue is forested, but a majority (65%) of the City’s tree canopy area is in suburban residential areas. The Environmental Stewardship Initiative is working to conserve existing trees while finding opportunities to plant more throughout the city. 

For more information, go to Bellevue's 2017 Tree Canopy Assessment Fact Sheet and the 2017 Tree Canopy Assessment Report.

City Efforts

The City is working to preserve and maintain our tree canopy through the following recent activities and initiatives:

  • Planted over 1,050 trees in city parks and open spaces (2016)
  • Actively maintained 15 acres of natural areas each year
  • Achieved target for maintaining 72 percent of urban forests in a healthy condition (target of 70 person in class 1 or 2 condition)
  • Joined King County's 1 Million Tree Campaign
  • Updated the Clearing and Grading code through the NPDES effort to require a permit for the removal of more than five trees over three years

To get involved with tree preservation in Bellevue, check out the many volunteer opportunities in our parks or plant a tree on your own land using the Tree Care Resources below.

Tree Rules in Bellevue

According to the City's Conflict Resolution Center, 25 percent of neighborhood mediation cases in Bellevue involve trees.

Know the rules and be a good neighbor!

Overview

Vegetation removal is prohibited or requires City approval within the areas below. In some cases, if trees are diseased or dying and are deemed hazardous by a certified arborist, they can be removed if a permit is obtained from the Land Use desk in Development Services.

A permit is required by the City of Bellevue if you will be clearing over 1000 square feet, grading over 50 cubic yards, or removing more than 5 significant trees within any three-year period.

Tree removal can occur in several different ways such as cutting the tree off at the main stem, killing the tree using herbicides, girdling the tree, cutting off a significant portion of the roots, or excessive pruning.

Trees help the city by retaining storm water and naturally purifying the air and water. Removing tree branches reduces the tree canopy and may expose the underlying soil to erosion. Excessive pruning of trees can adversely affect the health of the trees.

Bridle Trails Ordinance

This ordinance applies to lots zoned R-1 in the Bridle Trails subarea. Key elements of the ordinance require a permit for removal of any significant trees (eight inches diameter at four feet above grade).

For significant tree removal activity, a three-year vegetation management plan can be submitted to the city for review, which any include some tree replacement requirements.

Trees within 20 feet of property lines in most of the neighborhood must be retained, and can only be removed in they are deemed hazardous.

Trees on City Property

It is illegal to tamper with trees on City of Bellevue property. The public is not authorized to remove (or reduce) any vegetation-including trees-from any public property. 

If someone removes, tops or otherwise prunes a tree on city property without permission, the individual may face civil penalties including fines up to three times the assessed value of the trees involved. Depending on the circumstances, criminal charges may also be brought.

Tree Care Resources

The Right Tree for Your Yard

Planting the right tree in the right place ensures a safe and beautiful property for decades to come. Some key factors to bear in mind are size, site condition, and your own preferences.

When choosing a location for your tree, plan for the size it will become, not the size it is when you get it. Larger trees should be planted well away from buildings and power lines, while smaller trees can be planted closer to a home. Different species also prefer wetter or drier conditions, so consider the soil as well as surrounding structures. Most importantly, plant a tree that you will love. Whether it's for beauty, privacy, or fresh fruit, pick a tree that will make you happy year after year.

Planting

Now that you have a tree and location in mind, it's time to plant. Call 811 before you dig to make to make sure there are no buried utilities nearby.

Once you know a site is safe, dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball and 2-3 times as wide. Gently remove the tree from the pot and place it in the center of the hole, being careful to handle it from the bottom and not by the trunk. Brush dirt away from the roots and loosen them, as a good spread of roots will help your tree grow strong.

Start filling in the hole with dirt. Make sure of two things: first, that the trunk is vertical, and second, that the root flare is just barely exposed. The root flare is where the first large root extends from the trunk, and burying it can lead to rotting. A guide to proper planting can be found here.

Caring For a Young Tree 

Young trees need three things: water, mulch, and pruning. 

Water your trees twice a week in the dry summer months. A new tree can need as much as 15-20 gallons of water, enough to wet the soil two inches below the surface. Water below the canopy but not right up against the trunk, which can lead to rotting. Additionally, you can water in the cooler morning or evening hours to conserve water.

Spreading two inches of mulch around the base of the tree also helps it thrive. Mulch helps reduce water loss from evaporation as well as keeping down weeds that may compete with the trees. When mulching, avoid piling up a "mulch volcano" around the base of the tree.

Pruning is about more than making your trees pretty; it also helps them thrive. Removing weak of competing branches early ensured that your trees will grow into a healthy, pleasing shape. The Bellevue Parks Department has created a guide on pruning techniques.

Caring For a Mature Tree

Mature trees take less care than young ones, but you can't ignore them entirely. In hot, dry weather, they need the same watering that young trees do. Mulching can help regulate temperature and moisture as well.

Mature trees should be regularly inspected by a certified arborist. They will be able to tell you if your tree is healthy or if it needs treatment. Pruning is important for older trees, as lower branches will often need to be removed as they become less useful. Only a certified arborist should removed branches from mature trees, as they know how to do it safely. If you are concerned about tree hazards, they are the best people to ask.

Property Questions

If you are unsure whether a tree is yours or belongs to the city, refer to your property title report or email rightofwayuse@bellevuewa.gov or parksweb@bellevuewa.gov to help determine whether a tree is on public or private property.

For more information about trees, visit the City's Development Services department site.

Tree Canopy Mitigation

Bellevue remains committed to maintaining its "city in a park" character. However, steady development over the last 30 years has resulted in a significant loss of trees. In 1986, the tree canopy was estimated at 45 percent and by the year 2007, it had declined to 36 percent. 

To accommodate growth in Bellevue over the coming decades, several major infrastructure projects are planned to expand light rail, road capacity and electrical infrastructure capacity. These projects will all result in some tree canopy loss.

By recognizing the potential threats to trees, the City of Bellevue remains pro-active by requiring mitigation for tree loss from these major projects. This mitigation will result in more trees being planted and taking root in Bellevue. Read more about tree canopy mitigation projects here.

My Alerts

Contact

Jennifer EwingProgram Manager

Telephone

(425) 452-6129

Email

jewing@bellevuewa.gov
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