Tumwater halts tree code amendment process, new wildfire codes to consider


Tumwater has put a pause on its Urban Forestry Management Plan (UFMP) as the city prepares to adopt a new state building code that seeks to prevent wildfire spread.

The UFMP seeks to update the city’s street tree plan and various chapters of its municipal code pertaining to tree regulations, namely TMC 16.08 (Protection of Trees and Vegetation), TMC 12.24 (Street Trees), and TMC 18.47 (Landscaping).

The city’s Tree Board, Planning Commission, and General Government Committee are currently discussing various code amendments, which were not anticipated to be adopted until the end of this year, but city staff is now extending its timeline until at least February, according to an updated contract with a consultant.

According to City Manager Brad Medrud in an email to The JOLT,  Tumwater's consultant contract has been extended until June 2024 for the time being, but have not established a timeline to finish the projects, because the city needs to see the final, adopted version of the Washington State Wildland-Urban Interface Code first.

City staff would have to first assess the impact of the Washington State Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Code, which the State Building Code Council adopted into the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) on April 2023. Local jurisdictions are required to adopt the code by October 29.

The code itself was based on the 2021 International Wildland-Urban Interface Code developed by the International Code Council and addresses fire spread, defensible space, and water supply for buildings near wildlands.

Department of Natural Resources has developed a map indicating where in the state the WUI code applies. Areas classified as “non-vegetated inhabited” are urban areas and are exempt from the code while areas classified as “interface” and “intermix”, places where development intermingles with wildlands, would need to comply with the code.

Complicated directions

City staff are still working to study the full impact of the new code, but some members of the city council and Tree Board were already unsupportive of it.

Members of the Tree Board, in their July 10 meeting, discussed a rule in the WUI code requiring trees to be at least ten feet away from structures and other trees within a property.

Sustainability Coordinator Alyssa Jones Wood said that such a rule would complicate their current direction with the Urban Forestry Management Plan. Among their many proposed amendments as part of the UFMP is to establish a tree credit system to quantify how many trees should be retained for proposed building development.

She added that though the code could reduce the risk of fire, it was problematic from a climate perspective as cutting down trees as a result of the code would make the environment hotter.

General Government Committee amends consultancy agreement to accommodate new timeline

This sentiment was echoed by City Councilmember Joan Cathey during the General Government Committee meeting on July 12.

“I don't know where all the climate science and everything's coming in at the state level, but this is antithetical to what we're trying to do in terms of clean air and tree canopies and staying cool,” Cathey said.

The committee met to deliberate and recommend to the city council, albeit begrudgingly, a contract amendment for consultant firm DCG/Watershed to accommodate the extended timeline for the UFMP.

The firm is helping the city develop various amendments as part of the UFMP. The committee is recommending extending the terms of the firm’s contract until June 2024 and adding $17,928 to the contract amount, which raises the total amount to $113,849.

The contract would now be forwarded to the city council as part of its consent agenda at a future meeting.

Jones Wood said that the city would be working with other jurisdictions to understand the new code. “All of the jurisdictions are still trying to make sense of it,” she said, adding that Tumwater might be the first jurisdiction in the local area to investigate the new code as it coincides with the UFMP.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated on July 19, 2023, with corrections on the  UFMP's scope, Medrud's explanation, and the date of the  WUI into the WAC.