The Tale of Two Trees
A nearly 100 year old Western Red Cedar defined by the City of Seattle as exceptional and marked for preservation was illegally cut down by the development company Millad VII LLC in April 2021. The tree graced the Leschi neighborhood on property zoned Single Family and in a slide prone Environmentally Critical Area (ECA). Although the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection placed a Stop Work Order on the tree, the developers damaged the cedar and then paid their arborist to say the tree caused a potential danger. Without waiting for SDCI’s approval and a Stop Work Order wrapped around the tree, a demolition crew quickly cut down the tree before the SDCI Complaint Lines were staffed and an inspector was able to respond to the many calls from neighbors trying to save the tree.
Recently a Paper Bark Maple, a small deciduous tree, was been planted near the sidewalk on the vacant lot where the Cedar once stood. The City fined the developer over $90,000 for violating the stop work order and removing the Western Red Cedar and required an approved restoration plan prior to replanting. To date, according to the Seattle Services Portal, the fine remains unpaid and a restoration plan has not been presented or approved.
While these developers may regard they have appeased the City and neighbors who protested the removal of the cedar by planting this little tree, their actions are an excellent example of why the City needs to pass comprehensive tree protection to save trees important to the environment. The Paper Bark Maple with a diameter of a few inches will never provide the needed canopy and root stabilization of the Red Cedar with its 38” diameter and extensive root system that stabilized the hillside lot.
Seattle has poorly managed the protection of trees and each year many trees are illegally cut down. For over 10 years, tree protection ordinances have been before the Mayor and City Council with no action taken. Without legislation for strong enforcement the only recourse is through imposing fines but a developer willing to violate City orders on a one million plus dollar residency can maximize profits by incorporating the cost of the City fine in the sales price. It is the new homeowner who essentially pays the fine as well as neighbors who have the invisible cost of damage to the environment’s necessary tree canopy.
Seattle Council members Dan Strauss and Alex Pedersen have introduced Council Bill 120207 as a starting point for tree protection. The bill would require arborists and others who cut down and remove trees in Seattle to be registered and to act in compliance with existing tree protections. If this legislation had been in place when the Red Cedar tree was in question, the arborist and tree service would be as guilty as the developers as they knowingly sanctioned and removed a tree the City had designated as protected. Hopefully by the time you read this piece, Council Bill 120207 will have passed.
For those wanting to stop the illegal cutting down of the City’s exceptional trees, its important to let the Mayor and the City Council know. Let Mayor Harrell know it is time for the passage of comprehensive tree protection legislation. The City Council has been waiting on the Mayor’s office for years to submit an updated comprehensive tree protection bill. The new Harrell administration needs to direct the various city departments responsible to get proposed legislation to the City Council immediately.
If you want more action items for saving Seattle’s Tree Canopy, go to www.dontclearcutseattle.org.
~Mary-Carter Creech & Jayn Foy