Friday, June 24, 2016

Cottonwood Tree Removal On NE Surber In Pedestrian Triangle Postponed Till Fall, Oak Trees To Replace Them

cottonwood trees to be removed in the fall
and replaced with Oak trees

notice of tree removal posted in April

Removal of four cottonwoods (Populus Haagus) in the pedestrian triangle of the entrance to NE Surber Drive, off of Mary Gates Drive, has been postponed until the fall.  The trees were originally planned for removal in April as shown in the picture above. 

The City will plant two scarlet oaks and smaller understory trees yet to be chosen.   LCC, along with several neighbors will pay for the removal and grinding of the cottonwoods.

The Laurelhurst Community Club worked closely with the City on the decision to remove the trees stating:

About 10 years ago, a neighbor coordinated the installation of the pedestrian refuge island at the corner of NE 41st and Surber and purchased the original cottonwoods.  LCC was deeply involved and was a major help with the fundraising on the adjacent median on NE 41s Street, part of the same project to improve the street and the City of Seattle, through a Small and Simple Grant, was also involved.   
Very unfortunately, the cottonwoods (Populus Hagus) have not worked out. Their roots have taken over the site and made it impossible for the ground cover plants (Genista pilosa) to thrive. A neighbor has replanted the ground cover a couple of times to no avail. Further, the cottonwoods are prone to aphids.  And in the Spring,  the cottonwoods sucker in the spring, which works well in the Colorado wilds, but not so much in this space. 
Ben Roberts, SDOT Arboriculturist and ISA Certified Arborist, by chance dropped by an extra scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) he had left over from another job and the neighbor  asked him if the cottonwoods could be replaced with three new oaks and he said that would be possible.  They are much longer lived than cottonwoods.

The neighbor said that the site will be lovely and the trees will add to the urban canopy. And they have great fall color.

LCC said in a recent letter to Ben Roberts confirming approval to remove the trees:
LCC voted unanimously to support the removal and replacement of the four cottonwoods  at its April 11 meeting  and agreed with SDOT's recommendation that the pedestrian refuge should be replanted with three red oaks. 
In your April 8 email to LCC about why the cottonwoods should be removed: “Populus species in general are a short term, fast to grow, fast to die species, that historically have a reputation of failure once to a mature size. In addition this species has an overly aggressive root system has the potential to damage ROW infrastructure such as the sidewalk and curbing.”
LCC has heard from one neighbor on the tree replacement and considered his views.

The neighbors who originally were involved in planting the cottonwoods as part of a grant to LCC in the highly competitive Neighborhood Street Fund concur.  Neighbors have particularly noticed the negative impacts of the cottonwoods’ aggressive root systems. This is apparent in LCC’s annual traffic circle clean-up.  
The dozens and dozens of cottonwood seedlings that surface each year have very deep root structures and are impossible to pull. All we have been able to do over the years is clip the new seedlings and they return. In the meantime, they choke off the groundcover with beautiful yellow flowers planted below. 
The neighbors and LCC have agreed to pay for the removal of the trees. LCC is pleased SDOT will replace them with three Quercus coccinea, the scarlet oak, and maintain them. LCC urges you to move forward with this project soon. Thank you for your efforts in addressing this issue and working with our neighbors.

Ben Roberts provided this history of the decision to remove the trees:

SDOT Urban Forestries' decision to remove the existing Populus trees out of the Right of Way triangle was based on the idea the community was in support of this restoration, re-forestation project. SDOT UF came together with the local community members who had originally established the trees and developed a plan that would, in the long range of tree life, and maintenance, beautify and improve the area based on tree species and understory improvement, including SDOT Urban Forestry taking over ownership and maintenance responsibilities of the Oak trees for the extent of their lifespan.

The original Oak tree that was intended to be planted in the triangle,  a crew was sent out out to salvage the tree before it got too dry due to the closing of the optimal tree planting window.
SDOT Urban Forestry was trying to find a location to plant an Oak tree that was originally part of a 2 for 1 replacement program. I found a suitable ROW planting strip in the Pedestrian triangle at 41st NE and Suber. I then placed a flag notifying the proposed planting location so that the proper steps could be taken to plant the tree. (This planting was to be done by an outside contractor, not SDOT).  
That day, SDOT Urban Forestry was approached by a neighbor, the original community member who had planted the under story plants and the Populus trees within this pedestrian triangle some 10-15 years ago.  
The neighbor explained that she would like to re-establish the vegetation and tree canopy within the triangle, noting that the tree species was not the most ideal selection for the location. ( The species Populus is in fact not an approved species to be planted in the ROW, based on our current SDOT UF standards)  
At this time (March 30th) I inspected the location with the neighbor and discussed the health and long term outcomes of these trees. Populus species in general are a short term, fast to grow, fast to die species, that historically have a reputation of failure once to a mature size. In addition this species has an overly aggressive root system that has the potential to damage ROW infrastructure such as the sidewalk and curbing.  
SDOT Urban Forestry’s Standards on Ownership/maintenance are as follows:
  • If SDOT Urban Forestry planted the tree- then the tree is “Owned and Maintained” by SDOT Urban Forestry
  • If someone other than SDOT Urban Forestry planted the tree, than it is under the ownership and maintenance of the adjacent property owner.
  • Because these trees were originally planted by Mrs. Colley, SDOT Urban Forestry does not Own nor Maintain these trees. Therefore the trees removal request was treated as a Citizens Request for Tree Removal and Replacement.
  • As per standards, the neighbor was then required to hire a Registered Tree Service Provider, Receive a permit for removal and replacement, and fund the entire project privately.

I then approved the removal of these trees based on:

  • Unsuitable species within the ROW & with the mindset of improving the long term canopy potential of the public triangle. 
In addition: SDOT Urban Forestry had in its possession 2 additional Scarlet Oaks that we needed to find suitable homes for. (This species is a highly desirable ROW tree with long lasting canopy potential, structural integrity, beautiful fall colors, etc.)

My contribution to this project was to plant these additional 2 trees for a total of 3 in this landscape, and after their installation, take on watering responsibilities for the required 3 year establishment period, and for SDOT Urban Forestry to take on ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the life of these trees. Its SDOT Urban Forestry’s goal to improve and maintain the urban canopy. Suitable, long term asset acquisition is part of this goal.
From my understanding, the neighbor has worked endlessly within the local community, to help improve local public space (Median strips along 41st, and work within the UW wetlands).  From what I have gathered the neighbor has raised several hundred dollars from the local community members to help fund this project, and she sent out a community email on March 31st explaining the project.  
No City funds, aside from my 1 hour visit/inspection, were allocated to this project. This has been treated as a standard SDOT Urban Forestry Permit Application, and standard SDOT Urban Forestry practices have been followed.

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