LETTER: White Center neighbors decry large clearcut and ask King County for executive tree protection order
Dear Executive Constantine,
We are writing to ask you to take immediate steps to protect King County's urban trees, and to investigate the removal of a White Center forest. We are a group of White Center neighbors and urban forest advocates. We know that you value and have worked hard for the environment, and we hope you will extend this care to forests in urban areas.
On June 22, a forest of 13 exceptionally large trees was removed from 10628 19th Ave SW, to build one house. Although this was done without a permit and potentially more than the legal limit of 5000 board feet of timber were removed, a permit was retroactively granted. County enforcement staff refused to investigate despite our copious documentation of the trees and the removal. We have forwarded our concerns to the Ombudsman.
Further, through the gracious assistance of CM Joe McDermott, we learned that unincorporated King County has virtually no protection for urban trees. In his attached email, he explains that urban trees are not protected because this could impede development. Yet we are not adding density by removing trees in single-family neighborhoods, we are making them less livable and less sustainable. Even if these areas are upzoned in the future, we can and should retain our mature trees with thoughtful planning.
Unincorporated King County neighborhoods cope with airport and industrial pollution, historic racism, poorer health outcomes and are home to a greater number of BIPOC people than other county jurisdictions. Yet the benefits of large trees--filtering air pollutants, improving health, nurturing wildlife and fostering community--are not available to these neighborhoods if we allow our forests to be lost so easily. Nearly every other King County city, from Black Diamond to Seattle, protects its urban trees. Unincorporated communities deserve this too.
Photos above show the forest before and after its removal and its location on the county's heat map. Since it bordered the downtown White Center urban heat island, removing it served to expand the heat island, countering all the other climate mitigation efforts the county is making. We have noted the removal of numerous other large trees in this neighborhood in recent months, and a corresponding increase in heat retention.
Please issue an executive order granting immediate interim protection to all urban trees of substantial size (we suggest 20" diameter at standard height). This common-sense protection could be like Bellevue's recent mayoral order, requiring permits for removals, and requiring that licensed professionals do this dangerous work. This would slow the loss of our remaining trees and protect public safety while allowing the Council time to draft a comprehensive urban forest ordinance.
Thank you for launching the 3 Million Trees initiative and planting trees! Yet, it will take many years before the saplings we plant today can even come close to what our large urban trees provide right now. We would be glad to meet with you to discuss creative approaches to preserving King County's amazing large urban trees. We are a group who live and work in White Center, including neighbors, arborists, conservation scientists and urban forest stewards. Working together with your leadership, we know that we can create more livable, sustainable, and wildlife-friendly communities while building new homes.
White Center Neighbors for Urban Trees*
Kersti Muul - Urban conservation specialist, Seattle Audubon Conservation Committee
Sandy Shettler - TreePac board; The Last 6000 steering committee
Stuart Niven - Panorarbor; TreePac board; Seattle Urban Forestry Commission member
Marisa Hancock - neighbor/White Center community member
Margaret Grace - neighbor/White Center community member
Barbara Bernard - The Last 6000 steering committee
Noemie Maxwell - Defenders of North SeaTac Park
Woody Wheeler - Conservation Catalyst and TreePac board
Janet Way - TreePac board, former City of Shoreline councilmember
*Signers' organizational affiliations listed for information only and do not represent endorsement