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Guidelines on Tree Removal

Trees are valuable not only to the environment but also to the neighborhood. Yet, sometimes it seems they disappear mysteriously, or sometimes not so mysteriously, in plain sight.

Seattle has rules — many of them — about cutting trees. Namely, permits are required in most cases no matter whether the tree is on private or public property. Any tree that is on public property, including street rights-of-way, is protected by ordinance. One must obtain a permit from the appropriate city agency responsible for the tree before taking any measures to remove or prune it. In most cases, the applicant must pay a permit fee, hire a qualified arborist and replace each tree with two trees that are acceptable to the city. More information is available from the Seattle Department of Transportation at (206) 684-8733 and from the Department of Parks and Recreation at (206) 684-4113.

Private property owners are covered by rules for any tree over 6 inches in diameter, or for any tree located on environmentally sensitive land (steep slope, or landslide prone, wetlands, wildlife habitat), or for any tree of exceptional value (any tree that is of significant size or has historical, ecological or aesthetic value.) The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections regulates tree cutting on private property and issues the permits. Private property owners cannot cut down more than three non-exceptional trees 6 inches or greater in diameter each year. Call at (206) 684-8850 for information or access to application forms.

The rules, generally for privately owned land, are:

  • You cannot remove any exceptional trees. Exceptional trees are trees that are of significant size or have historical, ecological or aesthetic value.

  • You cannot cut down more than three non-exceptional trees 6 inches or greater in diameter each year.

  • You can remove trees determined to be hazardous through a hazard tree assessment by a certified tree risk professional.

The Department of Construction and Inspections also has restrictions on when private property owners remove shrubs and other vegetation.

As citizens, we should feel free to report tree-cutting we observe to the appropriate city agencies to make sure that it is permitted and if not appropriate, enforcement actions are taken.

~John Barber, Leschi CC Chair of Parks & Greenspace

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