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Research shows residents want more protection of city's trees

In its 2015 community survey, the City of Lake Oswego asked residents (question 12A) whether “homeowners should be allowed to remove one or two trees every five years from their private property without a city permit” (i.e., should tree protection be reduced); 54 percent said yes. Question 12B asked whether “current regulations have worked. Changing the tree removal regulations would be detrimental to the city and neighbors” (i.e., keep current regulations); 41 percent said yes.

Some City officials say that the 54 percent means that more than half of us want less restrictions on tree removal. But I was skeptical of the validity of the 54 percent and the interpretation it is given, so I designed my own research instrument, which I called IPOP — an independent public opinion poll.

My higher-education experience includes exploring the opinions of five college faculties in Maryland and Virginia as part of my doctoral dissertation, and using public opinion polls in my teaching of communication and English composition classes. The litmus test of any scientific research is, “Can the instrument and its findings be replicated?” Just how valid are the City’s “54-41” percentages?

The single question of Oswego residents in my poll is, “For both developers and homeowners to remove healthy, mature trees, do you think there should be less protection of the trees or more protection of the trees, or keep the current regulations?” I conducted the poll at high-foot-traffic, popular Lake Oswego retail centers that serve diverse neighborhoods. To date, 17 of Lake Oswego’s neighborhoods are represented in my results.

In the City survey (300-400 responses):

  • Reduce tree protection, 54 percent

  • Keep regulations, 41 percent

    In my survey (125 responses as of Sept. 28 and increasing):

  • Reduce tree protection, 18 percent

  • Keep regulations, 40 percent

  • More protection, 42 percent

    When the percentages for “keep regulations” and “more protection” are combined (both are the opposite of “less”) the “keep/more” vs. “less” ratio is 4:1.

    An underlying facet of this discussion is cost cutting vs. tree cutting as simultaneously operating elements. The authors of the 54-41 numbers do a disservice in using cost cutting as a device to ramp up tree cutting, often in service to developers.

    Cost cutting combined with less-burdensome paperwork is laudable, but the results of my survey to date leave no doubt about how Lake Oswego citizens feel about their trees: 80 percent want sustained or increased protection of our large, mature trees (and, no doubt, a simplified, cost-cutting code; the two are not mutually exclusive).

    My research continues. Any Oswego citizen who would like to view my methodology, data collection and 1:1 interviewing in the field can email me. I would be pleased to meet with you. Maybe you will join me in some aspect of the enterprise.

    As citizens of our neighborhoods and our planet, we collaborate to protect, sustain and replenish the trees we have inherited; our intent is to convey to all future inheritors a robust community forest.

    It takes 50 years for Mother Nature to raise a tree to maturity, and five minutes for a chain saw to bring it down.

    John Huffman is a retired English professor and a 20-year resident of the Lake Grove, Mountain Park and First Addition neighborhoods. He is a member of the 2015 Lake Oswego Ad Hoc Tree Code Committee and presented his independent research to the committee on Sept. 21. Reach him at DrJohn@JHU.EDU.


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