Tag Archives: tree groves

Ingraham Trees Again Face Chainsaws – End Draws Near for Trees


NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School

In a brief decision, King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle recently ruled against the appeal of Save the Trees-Seattle to prevent clear cutting a quarter of a grove of 70 year old, 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and western madrone tress in an uncommon plant habitat at Ingraham High School in North Seattle. This was despite the fact that only a few hundred feet away the Seattle School District had identified in a Master Plan a large open lawn area as a future building site.

The decision clearly says that in Seattle trees have no legal standing. Judge Doyle’s decision in essence says that development of any property in the city trumps tree protection and preservation. The Seattle Department of Planning and Development’s stated policy is that they are all for protecting trees unless it limits the development potential of a lot. In this instance Judge Doyle is saying it does not even matter if there are alternative locations close by on the site that the building could be moved to or even if habitat is uncommon.

Despite Seattle City law saying that priority should be given to protecting uncommon, unique, or rare habitat, the Judge’s decision ignored a Seattle Hearing Examiner’s decision that the NW Grove is an uncommon plant habitat in the city of Seattle. It is a remnant of a conifer madrone forest in the City of which only 52 acres remain elsewhere. The species diversity present at the Ingraham site, some 14 different tree and shrub species, is comparable to that at the other major site where this plant community exists, namely at Seward Park in South Seattle.

What is disturbing about the decision is that it supports DPD’s tacit authority to ignore City tree protection laws and gives more impetus to DPD’s current proposal to actually remove from current city law, all protections for trees outside development. In any given year only 1% of city property is being developed. That means that 99% of the City’s trees in any given year would have no protection.

DPD’s proposal was reviewed by Mayor McGinn before it was released. It would remove all protection for exceptional trees and for tree groves. It is a death warrant for our city’s trees and will make it impossible to reach our goal of increasing the city’s tree canopy over the next 20 years or so.

The proposed clear cutting of the trees at Ingraham High School is just a continuation of the unofficial policy of the City of Seattle to prioritize development by any means over protection of our urban forest infrastructure. And now DPD wants to formally make it City law to prevent citizens from even questioning the misplaced priorities of the City.

Citizens need to speak out against this senseless slaughter of trees and our urban forest infrastructure without regard for the social, environmental and economic costs of this loss and the loss of what citizens value in living and enjoy in a city with trees and a vibrant urban forest.

Send an e-mail to Mayor McGinn and all 9 members of the Seattle City Council and urge they reject DPD’s proposal and instead work to add additional protections to the interim ordinance passed last year by the City Council.

Councilmembers’ e-mail adresses:









Send a letter: Mayor’s Office, Seattle City Hall 7th floor, 600 Fourth Avenue, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749

Where’s the Green Going in Seattle??

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School


The Seattle City Council’s passage last week of Council Bill 116404 – the Interim Tree Protection Ordinance is a small step that is long overdue. The bill closes a loophole the Seattle School District tried to use at Ingraham High School to stop further environmental review of their ill advised decision to build a new addition to the school in a grove of mature trees.

The new interim ordinance will limit to 3 per year the number of trees larger than 6 inches in diameter tthat can be cut down on undeveloped property and on single family property larger than 5000 square feet. The bill extends tree protection to groves of trees by adding them to a definition of exceptional trees.

The interim tree protection ordinance is and has to be viewed as a stop gap measure to give the Mayor and the Seattle City Council time to develop a truly comprehensive approach to protecting and preserving Seattle’s natural green habitat for plants and animals and the rest of us that live in Seattle.

The interim tree protection ordinance is not a comprehensive tree ordinance and only partially addresses the issue of trying to stop the senseless cutting down of trees and tree groves, by limiting tree cutting on lots prior to development. But an even bigger problem is that it did not address what happens during the permit approval process.

Once developers decide to build somewhere, saving trees is not a high priority of the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD). In most cases trees always lose out to construction and development. The job of the DPD is to assist developers in their plans for construction and to gain approval for their projects. The interim tree ordinance still allows trees to be cut down during the development process, even if they are exceptional.

The Department of Planning and Development’s current tree policy is guided by the Director’s Rule 6-2001 on exceptional trees. The exceptional tree rule has a very limitied definition of exceptional that only applies to a small number of trees. . This policy, by Council staff’s own admittance, only potentially protects 1% of Seattle’s trees. That means 99% of Seattle’s trees are not protected.

Even that percentage is questionable because right now any property owner proposing a construction project can cut down almost any tree, no matter how exceptional; all they have to do is say they can’t build if they can’t cut down the tree. This is what just happened in trying to save an old cedar called Big Red in the Ravenna neighborhood.

One trick they use, which DPD seems to buy off on, is that the developer can propose to plant new trees, maybe even 2 to 3 for each one they cut down. Planting two inch saplings while taking out 100 year old trees is not any kind of equivalence. It is a rip off of our urban forest.

The rules to be classified an exceptional tree are very restrictive. Very few trees actually qualify to even be considered exceptional under the DPD’s decision process. For example, DPD’s exceptional tree rules says Douglas fir trees have to be larger than 36 inches in diameter to be considered. Of the 72 trees the Seattle School District wants to cut down in a grove on the west side of Ingraham High School, the largest Douglas fir is 30 inches. The trees in the grove are 75 years old, 25 years older than the school, but none of the Douglas fir qualify as exceptional.

The Ingraham site also has Pacific madrone trees which are rare in the city and declining in numbers but at Ingraham they are labeled as not exceptional because they are not young. The DPD says young madrone trees may be protected. At Ingraham the School District has been moving the understory area and cutting down young trees shoots of madrone. So mismanagement of the habitat is being rewarded by the City.

Tamara Garrett of the DPD in reviewing the Ingraham High School Construction Project repeatedly described the cutting down of the 72 trees that are 75 years old and represent 100 foot tall Douglas fir, western red cedar and pacific madrone trees as “Several mature trees situated in the Northwest Grove have the potential to be affected by the proposed project.” And “conversely, members of the public opposed to the proposal mainly cited concerns about negative impacts associated with the removal of several mature trees on the site” and “The planned removal of several mature trees from the area of the site could negatively impact the survival of existing spawning, feeding or nesting areas of the birds.”

One has to wonder at what point DPD considers the removal of trees more than several. Would cutting down Seward Park or the trees at Green Lake also be nothing more than ‘the loss of a few trees?” The problem is that the DPD has given no consideration to the value of tree groves (read urban green habitat) as distinct from whether any tree in a grove is exceptional.

Taking 1% of our current 18% tree canopy means we could potentially save only .18% of Seattle’s tree canopy according to the DPD’s Director’s Rules on exceptional trees. Can you really call this any kind of tree protection measure? This is a gross misinterpretation of the SEPA laws of the City of Seattle.

From a habitat sense, birds are not avoiding the Ingraham grove because it doesn’t have a 36 inch Douglas fir present. They are using the grove because it has many trees present, some 130 in all. And scientific studies show that the larger the grove, the greater the diversity of bird species. In an older grove of trees, like at Ingraham, vertical stratification also occurs as different species occur at different height levels of the tree canopy.

The Seattle City Council passed an ordinance last year asking the DPD to revise it’s tree policy to reflect the intent of the SEPA provisions in the Seattle Municipal Code and give protection to tree groves. While the DPD has drafted a new interpretation it still has not approved it.

The guiding rule that DPD should be using for tree protection is SMC 25.05.675 (N). How does one go from the requirement to protect rare and uniques plant and animal habitat to only protecting .18% of the tree canopy in Seattle?

You do it by not giving any value to Seattle’s urban green natural habitat. The City needs to take the environmental review out of DPD’s hands and make it independent from those involved in approving construction permits. One way to do this is to move environmental review of construction projects to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. That sounds like their job is to promote sustainability and the environment. The DPD’s is not; it is to promote construction and development.

One other problem in trying to stop tree loss in the city of Seattle is that no one is tracking the trees being cut down. Current city law does not require anyone to get a permit to cut trees down, like many other cities do. DPD does not keep track of how many trees are cut down each month or year.

Seattle also has no tree inventory, so it truly does not know what it losing or gaining. The best estimate of the state of Seattle’s urban forest status comes form the Urban Forestry Plan which estimated an 18% canopy cover city wide two years ago, down from 40% in 1973. Without a city wide inventory and tracking system and permits no one is keeping count of the trees being cut down. No one.

There is no tracking possible without a permit system of what we are losing. We need to require permits before trees can be cut down.

Environmental review of habitat and trees really needs to be moved out of DPD and done independently – like by the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. It is obvious that when DPD interprets protecting rare plant and animal habitat under SMC 25.05.675 (N) as only requiring protecting so called “exceptional trees”, that it gives no real protection to our natural green habitat or priority to basic ecological values within the city.

Such a limited narrow interpretation is a serious misreading of the Seattle Municipal Code and the intent of SEPA law. It hinders and prevents efforts to sustain and expand Seattle’s urban tree canopy. It is allowing the continued destruction of important plant and animal habitat.

Any new urban forest plan and tree protection ordinance needs to be based on sound urban forest management practices and basic ecological principles. The current system run by DPD is allowing the continued destruction of Seattle’s green natural habitat and needs to be ended.

Seattle City Council Passes Interim Tree Protection Ordinance.

By a vote of 8 to 1, the Seattle City Council yesterday passed an emergency interim tree protection ordinance. Council Bill 116404 is a step in the right direction to try to halt the continued loss of trees, especially mature ones in the City of Seattle.

Since 1973 the city tree canopy has decreased from 40% down to 18% according to the Mayor’s Office when he announced his 2006 – 2007 Environmental Agenda.

Council Bill 116404 would limit tree removal and topping to no more than 3 trees that are 6 inches in diameter per year. It expands the definition of exceptional trees to include “group of trees”. Hazardous trees and dangerous trees would be exempt from the law.

While a step in the right direction the interim tree ordinance mainly gives protection to trees that are not being threatened by construction or building permits. Unfortunately the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) still will have the authority to approve construction projects without significant regard for the loss of trees in the process. This is why there is an urgent need to pass new strong legislation to protect trees in Seattle.

The DPD’s recent approval to cut down 72 trees in a rare plant habitat at Ingraham High School near Haller Lake in North Seattle because the understory was not in a pristine condition and the approval of cutting most of a grove of mature Douglas fir trees at Waldo Woods in North Seattle finds the DPD’s bias is to cut down trees without regard to its impact on Seattle’s urban canopy and continued loss of natural habitat.

The understory in most urban forests needs restoration. Many of Seattle’s Parks have little native understory because they have been overrun with ivy and blackberries. Understory can be restored in a few years time while 75 year old trees like at Ingraham literally take 75 years to be restored.

Waldo Woods is being appealed in King County Superior Court and the Ingraham decision is being appealed by Save the Trees- Seattle before a City Hearing Examiner on April 1, 2009.

You can watch the watch the full council meeting here , listen to the public comment and and to the Council members as they discuss their support for the measure before they take their affirmative vote. The tree ordinance vote is their first action item on the Agenda.

All the Council members except McIver spoke in favor of the ordinance and voted for it. They did express the need to do a tree inventory for Seattle so we can track how fast trees are being lost and whether we are reversing the trend.

Save the Tree-Seattle noted the need to require permits before trees can be cut down as the only way we can track tree loss accurately. They also suggested that the Environmental review process should be turned over to the Office of Sustainability and the Environment for independent review, rather than DPD doing it.

The ordinance that was passed will only be in place until a long term tree protection law can be put in place, hopefully this year. Unfortunately such a new law has been talked about for years and little publicly has been seen coming from the Mayor’s Office. Hopefully this will change.

Seattle Tree Massacre on 5th Ave NE

Clearcut, massacre, slaughter, call it what you want, Saturday while I was driving down 5th Ave NE toward Northgate I suddenly came across the above scenes at 123rd NE and 5th Ave NE.

The pictures tell a story in one sense but it is also a part of a larger story that is re-occurring too often in Seattle. It’s not one we should see in Seattle in this day and age. Yet the remaining groves of trees in Seattle are threatened and disappearing under the bulldozer and chainsaw just like in the pictures above.The west tree grove at Ingraham High School is only on a temporary stay of execution as the Seattle School District has reapplied for its permits to build the same identical building as before in the exact same location. The open lawn area on the North side of the school, among other locations on the largest public high school campus in Seattle, could easily accommodate the new addition without any problem. But the Seattle School Board doesn’t get it and doesn’t care. They have forgotten that they serve at the pleasure of the voters and most voters want to save trees, especially when viable alternatives exist.

Waldo Woods in the Maple Leaf area is also facing the chain saw as proponents for saving the area recently lost their appeal before a Seattle Hearing Examiner. Faced with the only possibility being going to Superior Court, Waldo Woods supporters face the possibility of having to post a huge bond of hundreds of thousands of dollars, which even if they could raise, they would lose if they lose an appeal in Superior Court.

And now the mowing down of a greenbelt area in the Pinehurst Community. One lot cleared and 4 more to go. The 5th Ave NE lot appears to have been cut down illegally. After a Sunday press conference by Save the Trees – Seattle and checking with the City, it turns out that the owner never received approval of his building permit for a single family home or permission to log the area. A cease and desist order has been issued to the owner but the trees are gone.

As Seattle’s tree canopy and green habitat continues to diminish, tree by tree and grove by grove, Seattle becomes less and less an Emerald City. So where is the city in all this. Seattle has a terribly weak ordinance pertaining to protecting trees.

It’s main thrust has been trying to save “exceptional trees” but this definition is so restrictive that few trees get saved. And tree groves currently have no protection because the Seattle department of Planning and Development under Greg Nickels does not consider them as valuable habitat areas to be saved.

The Seattle City Council has directed the Director to re-interpret the Director’s Rule to follow what they say the original intent was – to save not just single trees but also groves of trees because of their habitat value.

The Seattle City Council is currently considering an ordinance to declare a moratorium on cutting down tree groves on vacant lots until a revision of Seattle’s Tree Ordinance can take place. Such a revision must include a more enlightened vision of saving more of Seattle’s threatened green heritage because Seattle’s current tree policies are not saving tree groves.

Seattle City Council to Act on Saving Tree Groves

Threatened NW Tree Grove at Ingraham High School


This Tuesday afternoon at 2 PM, the Seattle City Council ‘s Environment, Emergency Management and Utilities will be discussing and considering passing a resolution on clarifying the existing rules on protecting trees in Seattle “to include groves or groups of trees or other vegetation that are determined to have substantial ecological, educational or economic value”

Resolution 31065 is sponsored by Council President Richard Conlin and Sally Clark. You can read their press release here. They expect the Committee to vote on the issue June 24 and the full council to vote on June 30, 2008.

It does not appear that the public will get much chance to comment on the resolution because the Committee is only allowing 10 minutes of public comment for a jam packed meeting that also includes discussion of a 20 cent per bag green fee on disposable shopping bags and another discussion on prohibiting polystyrene containers for food and shifting to compostable and recyclable alternatives.

The best bet for those that want to help protect existing groves of trees from being destroyed in Seattle is to call or e-mail Seattle City Council members urging their support for added strengthening tree protection. Certainly come to the meeting to show your support as well. The Seattle City Council members can be contacted by going to the Seattle City Council website.

The two current battles over threatened destruction of trees includes a grove of 130 old Douglas fir and western red cedar and madrone trees at Ingraham High School in north Seattle and another grove of mostly Douglas fir in the Maple Leaf area in Seattle called the Waldo Woods.

Recent articles on the proposed tree ordinance:

Seattle council members want groves of trees protected” Seattle Times 3/29/2008

Call to Protect grove of trees is sent to Nickels” Seattle PI 3/29/2008

Seattle Treescape: A bigger canopy” Seattle PI editorial 6/11, 2008

Neighbors Urge Seattle School Board to Redesign Ingraham HS Project”, MajorityRulesBlog 4/15/2008

A growing contradiction at Ingraham high, Seattle PI 3/28/2008

Maple Leaf appeals decision on letting developer cut down trees” Seattle Times 5/28/2008