Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Letter: Landmark tree bordering Idylwood Park threatened

Idylwood Park
(subject tree is on the left)
 I and my wife are trying to alert everyone in Redmond, plus those who use Idylwood Park, that an absolutely magnificent tree in is danger of being taken down for ... a patio! This huge, beautiful red cedar tree, estimated to be over 80 years old and 100 feet tall, is one that will be familiar to many people. It is located just inside the fence line of the Fairweather Condominium complex next to the park.

It is the official policy of the City of Redmond to protect our urban trees. There can be little doubt this tree qualifies for protection as a "significant tree" under the City of Redmond tree policy. Our unofficial yet very conservative calculation indicates that, under the City's formula, the size of the tree's diameter far surpasses the threshold for being deemed a significant tree. 
In addition, the tree meets at least one of six criteria for protection under another part of the City's tree policy, namely, "being adjacent to public parks and open space." The threatened tree is the companion of two other beautiful red cedars located on the other side of the fence line in Idylwood Park. (I have attached pictures of the trees to this message. The tree in question is the one on the left in the photo taken from the park side.) These trees were wisely preserved for future generations by the Buckans, the family construction firm that built the Fairweather in the late 1970s. 
We also recently learned that the tree may be protected under federal law. The Redmond office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service advises us that a tree where a migratory bird nest has been built is protected from destruction if the nest has eggs or young in it. A tree with an eagle's nest is protected regardless of whether the nest is active or inactive. We know that many birds, including bald eagles, frequent the tree. We are soliciting help from bird watchers to gather evidence that may show the tree is protected under federal law.
The tree is not diseased, nor is it decaying such as to pose a threat to anyone from falling branches. Thus it does not fall under the key exceptions of the city policy that would allow a tree to be destroyed..
We believe this tree meets several criteria for protection. But we are concerned, and fighting hard, because so many trees have been taken down in Redmond, regardless of what the laws say. And we are up against residents and a condominium association board whose members show little interest in preserving the natural beauty of our area

William "Bud" Wurtz, PhD


Anonymous said...

The three trees in the picture look to be Douglas Fir. Is the western redcedar elsewhere?

Bud Wurtz said...

Due to the efforts of so many good people like you, City of Redmond code enforcement officers visited the threatened tree in the Fairweather complex next to idylwood Park. They let us know that EVERY EMPLOYEE that works for the City of Redmond -- you read that right: EVERY EMPLOYEE!! -- has been informed of this situation. And city employees are to stop any attempt to harm the tree unless and until there is a valid permit issued.

More good news. No permit application has been filed yet. Plus, for complex reasons that I won't try to explain in this short update, the permit process looks like it will be a difficult one for those who want to destroy the tree.

Our sense is that the people who want to destroy this majestic tree have felt the strong winds blowing against them and are laying low -- for now. But we will continue to monitor the situation for threats and for any attempts to apply for a permit.

The City's chief enforcement officer told Carol and I to call him directly if any attempt to cut on the tree is made and he will stop it. If an attempt is made during the evenings or a weekend, we are to call 911 and get the police out here and they will stop it.

We will not only continuing to monitor the situation, we are continuing to pull out all the stops to protect this tree. We are still seeking knowledgeable bird watchers to help determine if there are any eagles nests in the tree. Any eagle's nest, whether active or not, immediately gives the tree protection under federal law.

We also want to see if there are any active nests of other migratory birds. This would be another way to gain automatic federal protection for the tree.

Finally, we thought you might be interested in looking at the report on the tree from the arborist who was recommended by Plant Amnesty. There are some good photos in it.

Again, thank you so much for helping to save this great gift of nature.

Bud and Carol

Susan Wilkins said...

Let me start by stating that I'm not an arborist, so I can't give professional advice; however, I do know a lot about trees from research and observations. I also have had some experience with falling trees.

I stopped by your condo complex Saturday afternoon and walked along the fence that separates Idylwood Park and the Fairweather Condos. I found the cedar tree that your neighbor wants to cut down with the orange ribbon around it. I could see how the cedar tree is located on part of your property and how the fence is built at an angle so I think you have a valid argument that it's your tree and you don't want it to be cut down.

The cedar tree is very close to the landmark Douglas fir that is on the Idylwood Park property. Cutting the cedar tree will likely destabilize the Douglas fir tree over time. When the cedar tree is cut down, its roots will die and decay, weakening the ground around the fir tree. Also, without the cedar tree to help deflect wind, the fir tree will endure greater gusts of wind during storm events. Furthermore, cedar trees absorb water quickly during and after rainstorms, preventing soil saturation that contributes to trees blowing down during storms.

What many people new to the area don't realize is that during our windstorms, the strongest gusts come from the south and blow northward. During the historic December 2006 windstorm, the wind blew from the south and most trees toppled northward. Cutting the cedar tree will destabilize the Douglas fir that is to the south of the Fairweather Condos and could eventually cause the fir tree to fall northward - directly onto the condo of the resident who wants to cut down the cedar tree. (I see some poetic justice here.)

In December 2010, a gust of wind from the south toppled a hemlock tree northward onto our car that was parked on the street. (see photos) The diameter of the hemlock tree was much smaller than the diameter of the Douglas fir next to your condo complex, but it caused significant damage. (The tree belonged to the neighbors and was sick and should have been cut down, but it was far from the street and nobody thought too much about it until it fell.)

Trees may not look sick, but they may fall during storms if there is an intense gust of wind. (see http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/weather/high-winds-knocking-out-power-throughout-the-seattle-area/ ) If cutting the cedar tree weakens the ground, the Douglas fir could fall even if it isn't sick.

Your neighbor needs to realize that cutting the cedar tree will very likely destabilize the Douglas fir and that might cause it to fall onto her condo. It might even kill someone in her condo. Even if City of Redmond owns the tree and insurance pays to fix the damage, I can tell you that having a tree fall is a terrifying experience.

Your neighbor's back yard is very small so there isn't a lot of room for a big tree, but the issue here is more complex than cutting a tree to make room for a patio. It is a question of destabilizing a bigger tree that could damage her home. If it were my home and patio, I would not cut the cedar tree and I would monitor the health of the Douglas fir (and I wouldn't go upstairs during a wind storm.)

You had said that you thought it would be a good idea to educate your neighbors about tree protection. How would we go about doing this? When will your attorney get a decision about whether the tree can be cut?