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Hearing for Bill That Could Fell Austin's Heritage Tree Ordinance

Another battle is brewing in the Texas Legislature over local control, this time over trees. The city of Austin’s ability to regulate heritage trees on private land may be in jeopardy.

House Bill 1377 received a hearing in the house Urban Affairs committee yesterday. Dubbed an "Austin bashing" bill by the City Council, HB 1377 would limit a city’s power to regulate and preserve trees by making a uniform law for all Texas cities to follow. 

City of Austin arborist Michael Embesi says it could lead to more trees being cut down without oversight as development in the city expands.

“The bill prohibits municipalities from preserving trees on private property,” Embesi said. “It undervalues the benefits that we receive from mature trees every day.”

The city has worked actively to preserve trees since the early 1980s. As the city expands, and developers build more homes and commercial buildings, Embesi wants tree conservation to remain a priority.

The conservation group American Forests has ranked Austin’s urban forest among the top 10 nationally.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who sponsored the bill, says it’s not meant to demonize conservationists and tree lovers. It’s meant to make a uniform code across the state.

“This is not against trees and it’s not against local control,” Kolkhorst said. “Many times in the state of Texas when we meet as a body, we meet to give guidelines, guardrails. And that’s what this was meant to do. And maybe this isn’t something we want to do in Texas.”

Kolkhorst said that she would be willing to work with cities who oppose the bill, before it’s heard again in committee sometime in the next few weeks.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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