Mourning Lost Giants

By Cami Joner
Vancouver, WA (July 18, 2007)- Two barren stumps are the only remnants of an incident that will change the Shumway neighborhood for years to come. That’s the way Michele and Richard Wollert see it. To the Wollerts, nothing – not even the nearly $10,000 fine issued to those involved in removing the trees – can replace the ambience of the towering Douglas firs that were cut down in May.

“I heard all these chain saws and chippers going and I noticed they were taking down these enormous trees,” she said. Wollert called the authorities, but she was too late to save the trees. “Someone from the urban forestry office came out and put a halt to the sawing, but they (the work crew) had already topped and limbed the trees,” she said.
Tree cutters from 4 A’s Tree Service and property owners from Cornerstone Consulting and Redevelopment Group received an “Unlawful Removal of Trees” citation, issued for removing the trees without the permit required for cutting down trees on private property. Vancouver’s tree ordinance requires the document to remove certain trees, said Chad Eiken, supervisor with the city’s Development Review Services Department.
Considered mature trees, the 100-foot-tall Douglas firs on the Shumway lot “probably wouldn’t have been allowed to be removed,” Eiken said. That’s not the way Battle Ground-based Cornerstone Consulting interpreted the rules, said LeAnne Bremer, the company’s Vancouver land-use attorney. Based on her research of the code, the size of the lot and its boundary lines, her client is “not subject to the ordinance,” Bremer said.
A spokeswoman from the tree service said Cornerstone gave her company the go-ahead to remove the trees. “We thought they had the permits,” said Marina Diaz of 4 A’s. She said the fines could be devastating for the landscaping business launched less than two years ago by her husband, Visente Cruz. “We’re a new company. We thought we were doing everything right,” Diaz said.
“They really provide the most benefits,” said Charles Ray, the city’s urban forester. Ray said older trees cleanse and add oxygen to the air, intercept stormwater and improve the community’s overall quality of life. “That’s why we want to preserve them,” he said.
Ray said a recent report found the tree canopy over Vancouver is sparse compared to other cities in Washington. On average, the state has a 30 percent urban tree canopy – the total area covered by tree branches and leaves. “We’re at 19 percent; Portland is at 24 (percent),” Ray said.
As for the Douglas firs now missing from the Shumway area, “It will take at least 30 years for another tree to mature to that point,” Ray said. In the meantime, Eiken said, the fines collected for cutting the evergreens down would be used to plant replacements. “They (the violators) will need to show us a planting plan,” he said.
The remaining money will end up in the city tree account, used to plant trees throughout Vancouver. Michele and Richard Wollert hope some of those trees end up on their street, though it won’t look the same. The stumps “just draw home the point about how much you miss what was there,” Michele Wollert said. Cutting the trees also severed a neighborhood link to the past, said Richard Wollert. “They were planted by people who lived here long before us. I think that’s worthwhile to consider,” he said.
Tree Facts
* There are two kinds of permits for cutting down or pruning trees in Vancouver: one for street trees, one for private trees.
* The street tree permit is required for pruning or removing any tree that’s adjacent to the street, and the private tree permit is required for removal.
* While not all tree-cutting requires a permit, it’s best to call the city’s urban forestry department to find out before starting the work.
* Failure to obtain a permit beforehand could result in a violation and monetary fines.
Related Resources:
The Columbian
Vancouver Urban Forestry Department