Fort Worth adopts first urban forest plan, vows to address tree clearing fines later

by Cecilia Lenzen, Fort Worth Report
June 25, 2024

Trees await planting at the Rolling Hills Tree Farm in south Fort Worth in 2021. City Council adopted Fort Worth’s first urban forestry master plan during its June 25, 2024, meeting. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Fort Worth City Council member Gyna Bivens believes the city needs to “do right by its trees.” A self-proclaimed tree hugger, she has been outspoken about preserving Fort Worth’s existing trees and penalizing developers that illegally clear trees for development projects. 

Bivens encouraged the rest of council June 25 to adopt the Fort Worth Urban Forest Master Plan, a first of its kind which is designed to preserve trees and increase the city’s tree canopy. The unanimous vote of approval comes four months after council tabled the decision over concerns that the plan didn’t include harsh enough penalties for developers who would tear down Fort Worth trees.

The plan adopted does not include penalties for tree removal, but development services director D.J. Harrell said fines and penalties can be added into the plan in the future. 

“This is an initial work,” Harrell said. “Basically, the urban forestry master plan just lays out the overall objectives and goals of the city, and it also offers recommendations for implementation.”

One such recommendation is that the city place fines for tree removal and incentives for tree preservation, he said. In February, Bivens expressed concern with approving the plan under the caveat that penalties for tree removal could be added later on. 

“I don’t care if it’s phase one, two or three. We’ve got to be sure that we’re not injuring ourselves by saying, ‘This is just phase one,’” Bivens said in February. “We can’t put something out there without looking ahead about how it’s going to be received by the public.”

During the June 25 meeting, Bivens said she doesn’t want to see tree removal penalties be forgotten or glossed over now that the plan is adopted. 

“We, in Fort Worth, are not going to tolerate developers coming in here willy-nilly taking down our trees,” Bivens said. 

Bivens, along with council member Alan Blaylock, co-chaired the committee that oversaw the planning process in developing the master plan. 

The plan has been in the works since May 2022, when council members authorized the Texas Trees Foundation to create a roadmap for expanding Fort Worth’s tree canopy from 19% of the city to 30% by 2050. Fort Worth contributed $50,000 to the process, while the foundation raised $250,000 in private donations from companies such as BNSF Railway.

Fort Worth City Council member Gyna Bivens speaks at a council meeting in May 2024. (Camilo Diaz | Fort Worth Report)

Blaylock echoed Bivens’ concerns about penalties and fines, while reiterating that the master plan’s adoption is only a first step. 

“I want to be clear that the job is not done yet,” Blaylock said. “So let’s keep working toward the best possible solution for the city.” 

Bivens requested that council revisit the matter of penalties in September. She said staff and council will continue a “robust” conversation until that vote. 

“I’m letting all the tree huggers out there know: get ready because it’s going to be a conversation,” Bivens said. “I think every tree hugger in Fort Worth, and that includes myself, will be very happy with this.” 

Cecilia Lenzen is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at cecilia.lenzen@fortworthreport.org or @bycecilialenzen

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This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

To learn some of the reasons why Fort Worth has decided to adopt a tree ordinance, review these previous articles/stories, As Fort Worth shapes strategy for protecting trees, residents and developers likely to clash over policy, Developer Avoids Fine After Bulldozing Fort Worth Trees, East Fort Worth neighbors try to ‘speak for the trees,’ but bulldozers roar on, ‘An environmental disaster.’ Residents decry clearing of trees in southwest Fort Worth, and lastly, sign a petition that Daniel Serralde started to persuade city leadership to enact stronger regulations for environmental protection.