This past week while others were celebrating Earth Day, at the University of Washington Arboretum they were busy clearcutting an area to remove some 34 trees. Many of them were mature trees that had been around for 50 or more years.

A sign posted on the corner of Arboretum Dr and Lake Washington Blvd claimed that the mature trees including big leaf maple and Douglas fir trees did ” not contribute to the horticultural collection” but made no mention that the removal of these trees obviously contributed to the continued loss of Seattle’s urban forest canopy.

Click on  the link here to see the short  video by Michael Oxman.  Most of the trees have already been cut but you can listen to the chainsaw as some of the fallen trees are cut up to remove them.

The city’s concern for loss of our forest canopy has increased in the last several years as the realization has sunk in that the city has lost some 50% of the forest canopy we had in 1973.  Then some 40% of the city was forested, now it is anywhere from 18% to 23% depending on which study you look at.

The sign noted that the Project master plan was adopted by the City Council and Mayor in 2001. Back then few people were concerned about the loss of the City’s forest canopy.

The land the arboretum is on is owned by the Seattle Parks Department but the trees are owned by the University of Washington. But city taxpayers have contributed some $2.5 million to the project as part of the recent Parks and Open Space Levy. The current clearcutting area is only part of the Arboretum long range plans which involve the removal of many more trees.

The arboretum’s removal of the trees is part of creating the Pacific Connections Garden with this particular area to be a Chilean focal forest.  Some 72 Chilean trees will be planted in the area.

A memo from the Parks and Recreation Dept. gives cursory detail of the trees to be removed. No measurement of tree age or height or canopy is given. A list of trees to be planted and an accompanying picture seems to indicate a significant loss of native habitat and canopy when compared with the replacement tree picture. No detail is given as to the ultimate size of the replacement trees but the habitat value to native bird species and other animals displaced by the removal of native trees is likely not minimal.

TREE REMOVALS

Count Botanical Name Common Name Size Native?

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 12-18″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 18-24″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 18-24″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 24-30″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 6-12″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 6-12″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 24-30″ Y

1 Acer macrophyllum Big Leaf Maple 6-12″ Y

1 Arbutus menziesii Madrone 12-18″ Y

1 Juniperus occidentalis Western Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus occidentalis Western Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus scopulorum Telleson’s Blue Weeping Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus scopulorum Telleson’s Blue Weeping Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus Sp. Columnar Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Juniperus them Columnar Juniper 6-12″ N

1 Pinus cembra Swiss Stone Pine 12-18″ N

1 Pinus cembra Swiss Stone Pine 6-12″ N

1 Pinus x ‘Mercy’ Pine 18-24″ N

1 Populas trichocarpa Cottonwood >30″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir 6-12″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir >30″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir 24-30″ Y

1 Psuedotsuga menziesii Douglas Fir >30″ Y

1 Quercus vacciniifolia Huckleberry Oak 6-12″ N

1 Quercus vacciniifolia Huckleberry Oak 6-12″ N

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 24-30″ Y

1 Thuja plicata Western Cedar 18-24″ Y

Total 34

IV. Tree Replacements

OVERSTORY PLANT LIST – CHILE

Count Botanical Name Common Name Size Native?

7 ARAUCARIA AURUCANA MONKEY PUZZLE TREE 72″ BOX N

5 AZARA DENTATA BOXLEAF AZARA 8′ HEIGHT N

13 DRIMYS WINTERI WINTER’S BARK 5 GAL. N

16 EMBOTHRIUM COCCINEUMCHILEAN FIRE BUSH 5 GAL. N

5 JUBAEA CHILENSIS CHILEAN WINE PALM 48″ BOX N

5 JUBAEA CHILENSIS CHILEAN WINE PALM 15 gal N

13 PODOCARPUS SALIGNUSWILLOWLEAF PODOCARP 5 GAL. N

6 PRUMNOPITYS ANDINA LLEUQUE 5 GAL. N

3 SOPHORA CASSIOIDES KOWHAI 5 GAL. N

Total 73

Review of the decision paper by David Graves in 2007 entitled “Analysis and Decision by the Superintendent of the Department of Parks and Recreation for the project reveals that up to 550 trees in total will be removed from the arboretum. It states that “The trees to be removed include “native Matrix” forest that consists of trees, shrubs and ground cover that are largely self seeded” In the next paragraph it states that “The Arboretum is not a natural forest, it is a plant collection managed to preserve and protect worldwide species …”

Just what is a “natural forest” if not trees, shrubs and ground cover that is largely self seeded.

Maybe this mass scale removal of fully grown trees and urban forest was business as usual in the past but the University of Washington’s Arboretum clearcutting is only the latest example of many jurisdictions having trees but each acting independently without regard to thecurrent  overall health of Seattle’s urban forest.  These include the Army Corps of Engineers along the ship canal and the Seattle School District at Ingraham High School. Their efforts all contribute to increased loss of existing forest canopy.

They all have higher purposes and goals.  Trees and their associated habitat and the current urban forest canopy are frequently expendable in pursuit of those goals. These are issues that the City and the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission need to examine if they hope to come to grips with how the city can preserve and increase Seattle’s urban forest.

for additional information on the plans of the Arboretum see:

Washington Park Arboretum and Green Space Levy Project Information

Washington Park Arboretum Pacific Connections Pro Parks Project Information

> DNS

> Determination of Non-Significance Analysis

> SEPA Checklist

> SEPA Appendices

> Figure 1: Vicinity Map

> Figure 2: Garden Sketch

3 Responses to University of Washington Arboretum Clearcuts Trees While Others Celebrate Earth Day

  1. Janet Way says:

    Thanks for posting this story. It is truly a travesty of public policy and must conflict with other goals in the City's Comp Plan.

    While there may be a need to "manage" this site by the UW/City, the preservation of the canopy must be the overriding goal. The replacement trees will take decades to reach a size that is "significant.

    The City should now plant twice as many as those cut here or elsewhere to replace.

    JWay

  2. Benjamin Lukoff says:

    I also thank you for posting this story — but it looks like the link to the video is broken…

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