Article written by
Richard Alles, Forests/Trees Conservation Leader
Alamo Group of the Sierra Club
Bills Would Reduce Tree Mitigation Requirements Across Texas
Two bills in the Texas Legislature would reduce tree mitigation standards for new development. SB 744 and its identical companion bill, HB 2052, would preempt mitigation standards in all 77 local tree ordinances across the state.
In a nutshell, the bills allow builders and developers to plant fewer trees or pay less mitigation fees than are currently required. The bills were written by the Texas Association of Builders (TAB).
Where are the bills today (on 4-13-17)?
Lack of opposition in the Senate results from an agreement among major cities, TX Municipal League and TAB. Cities agreed to drop opposition to the bills in exchange for TAB’s pledge not to move the tree clearcutting bills.
These “clearcutting” bills would allow developers to clearcut trees, even old heritage trees, and strip most of the authority cities currently have to regulate tree removal. For reference, the clearcutting bills are SB 782 & its companion HB 2535 by Bill Zedler (R-Arlington), SB 898, and SB 1082 by Konni Burton (R-Fort Worth).
Who can I contact?
There are two Representatives from the DFW area on the House committee:
You can contact your state Senator and Representative by entering your address at Who Represents Me?
What is tree mitigation?
Municipalities typically require tree mitigation to compensate for excessive and/or unnecessary tree removal from development sites. It can take many forms, but the most common are payment of fees into a tree planting fund or replanting of new, smaller trees.
Standards vary widely among municipalities. In San Antonio, mitigation is required when more than 65% of trees larger than 6” diameter are removed for a new residential subdivision. In addition, every heritage tree (larger than 24” trunk diameter) removed must be mitigated. Mitigation is not required for any trees removed for streets, easements or rights-of-way.
LANDMARK WILDLIFE LEGISLATION
In July 2016, Congressman Don Young introduced HR 5650, entitled “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2016.” The bill, which is the result of a three-year process by wildlife and industry representatives (the “Blue Ribbon Panel”), says that diverse fish and wildlife populations are vital to our nation’s infrastructure and economy. It is in the interest of our country “to retain for present and future generations… a wide variety of fish and wildlife, to recover species of fish and wildlife…and to prevent fish and wildlife species from declining to the point of requiring Federal protection.”
The Blue Ribbon Panel represents the outdoor recreation retail and manufacturing sector, the energy and automotive industries, private landowners, educational institutions, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups, and state fish and wildlife agencies. The panel recommend funding solutions and Congressional policy options for delivering sustained conservation funding to help maintain a balance between natural resource diversity and natural resource-based enterprise.
HR 5650 was introduced as a “marker bill” designed to start conversations, begin planning, assemble partners in the Congress and in the nation, and create a placeholder for similar legislation to be introduced in the next session of Congress. When the new session of Congress reconvenes, Mr. Young will reintroduce this legislation, and a member of the U.S. Senate will do the same. After the reintroduction, expected in the spring of 2017, the legislature will have about 20-22 months to consider and vote on the bill.
What does the bill say? There is a current fee that is paid by energy corporations that explore or produce energy (fossil fuels and renewables) on offshore and federally- owned land. That fund generates about $12 billion annually, which goes into the general treasury. HR 5650, if passed, would dedicate $1.3 billion from that revenue source towards sustaining our most imperiled species. The money would be required to be spent on Species of Greatest Conservation Need and mandates that state fish and wildlife agencies are the appropriate stewards of those funds. These agencies would work with the conservation community in their states to implement the Wildlife Action Plan. In Texas, that plan is called the Texas Conservation Action Plan (TCAP), and was developed by Texas Parks and Wildlife.
But what can it be used for? These funds can only be used to implement the Texas Conservation Action Plan, which provides a roadmap to recover more than 1,300 imperiled species in Texas. It includes both imperiled species and sensitive habitats, and lists the major threats to each of these. These funds, if passed, could also be used for education, outreach, technical guidance, land management, land acquisition, conservation easements, research, and wildlife-based recreation, as long as these activities benefit Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
Organizations that would like to bring this message to their members can request newsletter articles and in-person presentations from the True to Texas Wildlife Coalition. Contact Karly Robinson at K.Robinson@teamingtxwildlife.com.
from an article by Richard Heilbrun, Certified Wildlife Biologist, TPWD, San Antonio, TX
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