ATAG Press Release: Saving the Dawn Redwood (June 25, 2018)

Arlington Tree Action Group
Advocating for Trees in Arlington
Facebook: ArlingtonTreeActionGroup
Twitter: @ArlingtonTreeActionGroup

For Immediate Release
Media Contact: Angela Dickey at
571-243-8368, or 571-357-9151


Arlington, Virginia – June 25, 2018.  A Commonwealth of Virginia State Champion Tree – very likely one of the oldest Dawn Redwoods in the United States – is at risk of being cut down. As Arlington County acknowledges, the Dawn Redwood is located in a Resource Protection Area (RPA); the Chesapeake Bay Protection Ordinance (CBPO) requires RPAs to be designated near Arlington streams because those waters flow into the Bay. Thus, both this tree and this RPA are important for protecting the air and water quality not just of the immediate neighborhood and Arlington County at large, but of the Bay watershed. Other single-property homes in this RPA have observed the restrictions placed on building in a RPA.

This has the makings of a landmark case. A Champion Tree and the RPA in which it is located are at stake; the loss of either would call into question the enforcement of the CBPO, not to mention the County processes used to designate Champion Trees and RPAs.

This Dawn Redwood, given its size, is likely one of the oldest in this country. It was identified by American Forests, the Virginia Urban Forest Council, the Virginia Forestry Association, and Arlington County as both an Arlington Champion Tree and a State Champion Tree. When last measured by Arlington’s Urban Forester, it was found to be 114 feet high, with a crown of 60 feet and a circumference of 185 inches.

A Resource to Protect

Generally speaking, the removal of large trees (more than 3 inches in diameter) is not permitted in RPAs, although there are exceptions where, for example, the application of the buffer would prevent the achievement of a “minimum buildable area.” The exceptions require the submission of water quality impact assessment data, a tree preservation and protection plan, sediment and erosion control plans, and other materials. The county website describes RPAs as “…stream or wetland buffers [that] help protect water quality by: filtering out pollutants from storm water runoff; reducing the volume of storm water runoff; minimizing erosion, and; providing wildlife habitat. A fully vegetated stream buffer can help protect private property by preventing erosion along a water body. Steep slopes (25 percent or greater) that are adjacent to buffers are also part of the RPA because of the potential for erosion in these areas. In RPAs, existing trees and other vegetation are protected and building projects are regulated to protect water quality.”

The Dawn Redwood lies within the Williamsburg Civic Association (WCA); the WCA 2017 Neighborhood Conservation Plan, like that of many civic associations, identified the loss of mature trees through development as one of the biggest concerns of residents. A key goal of the Civic Association is to promote efforts to stem “the decline in the tree canopy occasioned by residential development and tear-downs.”

The Dawn Redwood is an unusual tree. Throughout most of modern history Dawn Redwoods were known only from the fossil record. The living tree was discovered in China in the early 1940s and seeds were imported into the United States in the late 1940s. The trees are considered endangered in the wild but have adapted to urban settings because of their tolerance for urban air pollution and wet sites. It’s one of the few deciduous evergreens, losing its needles in the fall and replacing them in the spring. They can live up to 600 years.

Neighborhood petition

A petition launched by neighbors recognized that this beautiful, healthy tree is on a lot large enough to keep the tree and build new homes, just set farther back on the lot. The petition quickly garnered nearly 800 signatures. An article in Arlington Connection (6/13/18) quoted a resident who reviewed the notes to the permit database in April and found building in the RPA had been rejected “…because of failure in the grading plan, the water quality impact assessment, the erosion and sediment control plan and the tree preservation and protection plan.”

Civic Association Plea

In a June 22 letter to the Arlington County Board, the President of the Williamsburg Civic Association lamented that razing the tree “will jeopardize important environmental protection goals embodied in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, Arlington’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance (Chapter 61), and Arlington’s Stormwater Manual.” Ruth Shearer added that “state and local law generally prohibit the removal of trees in Resource Protection Areas,” and concluded that the “loss of such a prized and recognized tree would be a tragedy, not only to this community, but also to Arlington and to Virginia!”

Dangerous Precedent?

The Champion Dawn Redwood and the RPA in which it stands provide benefits to all residents, including: capturing carbon and purifying the air, filtering water (ending up in the Bay), giving shade and saving energy, supporting wildlife, mitigating climate change (by removing carbon from the air), and adding to the beauty, ambiance, and history of the neighborhood and county. Both deserve protection.


ATAG is a network of concerned Arlington citizens working to preserve the sustainable urban forest, promote green infrastructure, and protect the environmental ambience that makes the community economically attractive. Working with individuals and established community organizations, the group seeks to highlight important issues facing Arlington’s urban forest and bring together resources to maximize their goals.

The ATAG web site offers resources, voices of other residents concerned about tree loss, innovative tree programs in other jurisdictions that can be good models, and news at

1 thought on “ATAG Press Release: Saving the Dawn Redwood (June 25, 2018)

  1. The following letter was sent to several Arlington residents fighting to save this magnificent tree. We believe it shows uncharacteristic lack of leadership, and care on the part of our County Board. This is not a small matter, it has received a great deal of attention from over 1,000 Arlington citizens and was reported on WUSA 9 TV news on July 7th at 6pm by newscaster Bria White.
    Thank you for your concern,
    Karen Elliott

    On behalf of the County Board, we wish to thank the community for supporting the preservation of the Dawn Redwood tree located at 3260 North Ohio Street. We are honored to serve a community that values our tree canopy as essential to the quality and character of Arlington and would like to provide some updates to address outstanding concerns.

    As you noted, the tree is a state-recognized “champion.” However, in terms of legal protection, this is an honorary recognition only. The tree is not protected under state law or County regulation. For the tree to have legal protection, it would need to be designated as a Specimen or Heritage Tree under the County’s Tree Preservation Ordinance. Such designation requires consent of the property owner. Prior owners at this site did not file a petition for either designation.

    The Dawn Redwood is part of a private lot currently under consideration through the County permitting process for demolition of the existing home and construction of a new home. The owner also is pursuing a subdivision for the lot. You may access the status of permits for this project on the County website. The owner has considerable development rights under State and local law. The County is, however, exploring possible options for preserving the tree. Here are the steps that we’re taking:

    o Staff is evaluating ordinances relevant to the redevelopment proposal. The tree is located within a Resource Protection Area (RPA) buffer, established under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. The Ordinance balances private property rights with maintaining effective buffers for water quality. Not infrequently, trees are removed and mitigation/replacement requirements are applied.

    o Staff is having direct discussions with the owner-developer, Richmond Custom Homes, to explore whether alternative construction options exist within the boundaries of all applicable County regulations. In these discussions, staff has shared the local community interest in support of preservation with the developer.

    It is important to note that, although we’re exploring and examining all practical and feasible options, this may not ultimately result in preservation of the tree. As County staff works through the process, we will provide updates on the status and outcomes of our discussions.

    More broadly, please know that the County will be launching a community process to update our Urban Forest Master Plan and Natural Resources Management Plan early in 2019. We are also exploring new administrative and legislative tools to protect and enhance Arlington’s tree canopy and hope that you will engage with us on all these important initiatives.

    Again, thank you for your support in attempting to preserve the Dawn Redwood.


    Katie Cristol, Chair John Vihstadt, Member
    Arlington County Board Arlington County Board
    Liaison, Urban Forestry Commission

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