SDOT stops illegal tree cutting; Only one of three large cedars still stand
By Kersti E. Muul and Sandy Shettler
On Saturday morning, a homeowner at 39th SW and SW Webster attempting to remove large trees on their own was forced to stop work by an Arboriculturalist from the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).
Only one of the original three large Sawara cedars on the property survived, though it was damaged. The illegal cutting was reported to urban conservation specialist Kersti Muul by a concerned neighbor late on Friday night.
Here is her report of the events:
"I received an email late Friday night from a neighbor about these three majestic cedars which are beloved by many on the block. I knew of the trees, and I knew they were large. Instinct told me they were being illegally removed.
It was unclear to me if the cutting was happening then (at that late hour), so I went to investigate around 10:30 PM. Two of the three trees were halfway down already, the third (and largest) had some top removed as well. There were branches covering the whole yard, and bigger trunk stems cut up on the parking strip. I measured the largest tree, which showed a diameter of 32". They are Sawara cypress, which have exceptional and protected status in Seattle when their trunks reach 30" DBH (diameter at breast height), and cannot be removed without a permit.
I approached the homeowner who had come out on their porch to watch me, and I alerted them to the violation. They told me the trees were "very small" and they could "do whatever they wanted" and, they were "coming down regardless." I told them I would be back in the morning to stop the illegal cutting, and to further document and report to the city.
I called my colleague Sandy Shettler from TreePac/Last 6000. We met on site at 7AM to protest and inhibit the cutting. With help from TreePac, we learned that the trees were also in the SDOT right of way. I called SDOT and they were on scene quickly. The inspector spoke with the homeowner and let him know he could not do this work, and he would not have been granted a permit to remove them. Even to finish removing the remainder of the entirely cut trees he will now need to aquire a permit. So the half-cut trees stand in situ for the time being.
After we left, the homeowner started cutting again, but police and SDOT were again dispatched and work shut down. Reports will be filed and should result in consequences/citation. A permit for removal of the last remaining, exceptional tree should not be granted. We will follow up with SDOT and SDCI next week.
Illegal tree cutting is happening all over West Seattle, even with growing awareness of the value of big trees. Our largest trees are our most valuable trees. They cannot be replaced in our lifetimes once they are removed. We need them more than ever as temperatures rise to dangerous levels more frequently and intensely. We are here to help with this confusing and frustrating process. I am available to answer any questions regarding trees and wildlife in real time. The sooner I am alerted to something, the better the chance of successful intervention. Once a tree is down it's too late, and the consequences unfortunately, are not prohibitive enough or commensurate with the permanent damage to the environment."
Kersti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is an urban conservation specialist who specializes in raising awareness about the interface between the urban environment and the natural world. Sandy is an urban forest advocate and can be reached at email@example.com. Concerns about trees at risk can also be sent to www.dontclearcutseattle.org and The Last 6000 on Instagram.
You can also call 206-684-TREE to report cutting in the ROW or SDCI at (206) 615-0808 to report suspected illegal cutting of trees. Even if you are unsure, it's best to call and inquire.