Story and photos by Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Kaly Cook says someone poisoned trees on her Harbor Avenue property five years ago, at which time she called the state for advice, but was unsure what else to do. Now, saying that more trees have been poisoned, Cook has taken her complaint to the public in a very visible way.
You might have seen the banner she hung this fall on the slope over her home near Seacrest, reading “Trees Poisoned For View”; WSB has received a few notes asking “what’s the story?”
The answer, from Cook: She says the stand of red alder has been cut into with chainsaws and that in all, 17 have been dosed with poison.
These trees are at the top of a steep slope that Kaly Cook has owned as part of her property since the 1960s.
She says she has previously allowed other property owners to “top” the trees — removing the uppermost trunks and branches. “Topping,” however, is a damaging practice for trees, and experts say it ultimately results in a tree’s failure.
As Cook learned more about arboriculture and the importance of healthy trees to maintaining the structural integrity of her slope, she says she asked the property owners to hire an arborist to properly prune the trees rather than giving further permission to top them. She says: “Nothing happened for a while, but then I discovered trees were being both poisoned and cut down.”
She says she has since hired three different arborists to determine whether anything can be done to repair the damage. In the meantime, the trees that she says were poisoned five years ago are beginning to break and fall, endangering the people and animals that live below them.
Three goats also inhabit this hillside; as you can see from the next photo, a large trunk from the one of the poisoned trees narrowly missed crushing the goats’ house during a windstorm.
The arborists Cook hired determined that nothing can be done to save the trees, and if the city deems them to be hazardous, Cook will have to pay to take them down.
Nolan Rundquist, a City of Seattle arborist, calls this “really unfair.” He adds, “Trees are a part of the view. Unless you own everything between you and the view, you have no business thinking it’s your view.”
Asked about the role of trees in stabilizing slopes, especially a slope such as this one with natural springs running through it, the senior urban forester for Seattle Parks and Recreation, Mark Mead, says there are “multi-layered issues” with tree cover: “The roots pull water out of the soil (to keep it from getting saturated) and act as ‘glue’ — growing into a mesh that keeps sandy soil on the slope. The tree canopy intercepts water so it doesn’t reach the slope and it allows native vegetation to grow under the trees, absorbing more water, while shading it from invasive species. When you lose canopy, you get invasive species (such as blackberry or ivy) that are not as deeply rooted and less beneficial for soil retention.”
Arborist Rundquist says that without living trees on the slope, “I wouldn’t want to live at the top OR bottom of the hill. It’s scary stuff.”
There are ordinances against damaging trees, and the penalties are stiff fines. Private concerns that have been found guilty of damaging trees on public property have typically settled out of court. A case of illegal tree-damaging drew attention on city-owned Harbor Avenue land back in 2008, but records don’t show if it resulted in anything more than that.
Cook describes the hillside over her house as being home to “birds, raccoons, red fox and coyotes. We even had river otters come and splash around in the yard.” She adds, “I wish there were a resource for people who have trees and the people who want views. We need an intermediary.”
For urban forester Mead, it’s not a matter of losing a few trees. Seattle parks have lost two percent of their trees in just the past six years.* Because of the ecosystem services provided by trees, such as removal of pollutants from the atmosphere and oxygen creation, as well as the natural habitat and stabilizing reasons stated previously, Seattle is looking to increase its tree canopy to 30 percent, from the current 22 percent.
For this reason, Mead says emphatically that, “The loss of any tree in the city is a big deal.”
Meantime, since her contention is something that is difficult to prove short of actually catching someone in the act, Cook has hung her banner, and is hoping it makes her point.
*This sentence corrected 12/30/10 – what was originally published suggested the entire city had lost two percent; instead, it’s the city’s parks.