Reader view: Leave tree-removal decisions to homeowners

The following was sent to members of the Edmonds City Council. It’s being republished here at the author’s request.

Residents of Washington for the most part are tree-huggers. If and when they make a decision to remove a tree, one that is threatening their homes and their personal safety, or has become so large that it is obviously “the wrong tree in the wrong environment,” they do so reluctantly. As I have witnessed from living in Edmonds most of my life and selling properties here for almost 38 years, this is never a hastily made decision.

However, trees like all living things have a life span and one only has to walk in any of our local forested parks like Hutt, Yost or Pine Ridge to witness the damage caused when a tree, or part of a tree, succumbs to age, storms or gravity. Unless the city is prepared to finance property loss and maybe worse, the loss of a resident’s life, they need to continue to allow the owners of personal property to make these difficult decisions — without the expense and over-reaching input of bureaucrats who have no business forcing their prejudiced views on any of us.

I have witnessed this city removing trees, in fact entire borders of trees, that with maturity are encroaching on city sidewalks and streets. Public spaces remain under the jurisdiction of city officials, but unless a tree is located in an environmentally sensitive area we must not allow government to take away our decisions on property that we maintain, beautify, and pay taxes and insurance on. That is our private domain and no business of adherents of the liberal cesspool that believe they have the right to reach their tentacles into all aspects of our private lives. That is a true snapshot of the loss of freedom.

By Debbie McCallum

Debbie McCallum lives in Edmonds.

  1. I couldn’t agree more. The fact the city of Edmonds holds the decision authority over whether I can remove a tree on my own property feels like a violation of my rights. We say this is a free country yet I can’t remove a tree without government permission.

  2. I was open to your opinion until you made the liberal cesspool remark. I lost respect for your opinion at that point.

    1. I agree with Justin. We can all aline with either political leaning, but when name calling starts that’s when many stop listening.

      Over the years I slowly watched my views of sound and mountains disappear. It would be nice to know I could reach out to neighbors and seek agreements on trimming or removing.

      1. Name-calling and broad-brush generalizations are often the sign of a weak argument or a mind not open to others’ ideas. Like the phrases “fake news” or “virtue signaling” it’s an attempt to shut down discussion before it starts.

    2. I absolutely agree. Can we please stop politically segregating ourselves? This topic is about the rights of a property owner being free to do what they want with the property they own and nothing else.

      1. I totally agree that we should be able to talk to each other without political labels.
        How about if we all agree to use the term “neighbor?” This as in, “Hi neighbor, I’d liked to chat about…?

    3. Totally agree with Justin. We instantly lose the rhetorical upper hand when we let our anger take over. This forum is the modern equivalent of a town hall meeting, and nothing productive ever gets done once the shouting and name calling begins.
      But on the topic of trees, I agree with Debbie. My neighbor and I recently talked to a tree specialist here in Lynnwood about an old, diseased and hazardous tree that threatens both our homes. He talked at length about the delays and costs involved in getting permission from the city to remove it. $450 for a certified arborist to show up and pronounce the tree diseased? It’s obvious to anyone who looks at it. Our city’s councils need to revisit these regulations and make them far less costly and cumbersome.

    4. Debbie McCallum makes points worth considering, and I agree with Justin Reeder: part of the problem is that terms like “liberal cesspool” are confusing. For example, according to dictionaries, liberalism is about stopping government from getting tentacles into private lives (
      About Debbie McCallum’s useful points: For an example of City tree removal, consider the City’s tree removal on the north side of Dayton between Sunset and 2nd. And here are more details about the 2017 death in Meadowdale park that Sam Spencer mentioned:

  3. Especially alders. They are timebombs waiting to go off as they did in Meadowdale park a couple of years ago, killing a young woman.

    1. A neighbor of mine growing up was paralyzed by a decaying maple tree snapping and hit him in the back. This was in Edmonds – University Colony in the 80s. Today the city would have to approve and permit removal. There are many people in Edmonds that have trees around homes that are too dense packed. You can have beautiful landscaping and trees that are maintained and not a 100 feet tall.

  4. Darn, just when I felt like a reasonable discussion could occur the author writes “ liberal cesspool that believe they have the right to reach their tentacles into all aspects of our private lives.”
    I am a liberal and I also agree with the rest of your letter. We have ideas in common and yet your words are such a turn off.
    My concern is with developers clear cutting large numbers of trees. There must be a solution that allows for the single family home owners to maintain their property but prevent land owners from wiping out large numbers of trees.
    Please stop calling liberals “cesspool” – it is offensive.

    1. Reality is with the regulations today the developers are clear cutting. Look at all land select homes has cleared for their developments. Why can they and I can’t remove a tree in my yard without fees, red tape, permits and permission. Something is amiss.

  5. Was the “liberal cesspool” remark removed? Let us all see who the posting person was it would be good to know.

    1. Frank,

      The author, Debbie McCallum, made the “liberal cesspool” statement. See the next to the last sentence in the last paragraph:
      “That is our private domain and no business of adherents of the liberal cesspool that believe they have the right to reach their tentacles into all aspects of our private lives.”

    2. Frank it is in the article above at the end. The writer or the article is the person. But freedom of speech is still freedom of speech. Now slander that is quite a different thing with consequences. The writer did not scandalize anyone. I know, believe me, you take the good with the bad. You consider the anger sometimes when people speak their minds and well you just have to let it go in a bit. What concerns me is how you say ” It would be good to know”. Why? Just suggesting in kindness that anything that could suggest retaliation should probably also be avoided. I hope you have a lovely day.

  6. When we reach the point that cutting down our trees, or not, is some sort of political statement; I think we are beyond hope to really solve any problems. There are only two types of ideas really; good or bad in terms of what we want them to accomplish. I think private property rights are a good idea, and if we lose a tree once in awhile; so be it. The value of that tree was a matter of opinion and the private property owner should have the right to protect his property and/or the views he likes from the property.

    1. Ah Hi Clint, Well I think you hit the nail on the head! Trees cut in moderation and with some thought and respect for one’s neighbors is of course the answer. We all know who the BIG tree cutters are and why they are cut. I had a neighbor cut down a very tall evergreen on his side of the fence 15 years ago or more and he asked us if we were ok with it as it did change my garden area from shade to full sun. We said fine do what you want its your tree! I watched one man and a chainsaw all day cutting it down. From this side of the fence haha) I saw 11 very tall trees cut 6 months ago and well I could see why that person hated being in complete darkness. I hated to see 11 tall evergreens go (for the birds) but as far as I know no one harassed this person. They were new to the neighborhood and they were kindly welcomed. I btw have no idea what party they affiliate with and I don’t care either.

  7. Isn’t the moratorium on tree removals on private property expired anyway? The only contexts that require permits now are critical slope (so that your whole hillside doesn’t end up in someone else’s living room) and new development, especially those relying on subdividing lots. As far as I understand from recent conversation with the city, any other tree removal is currently up to the homeowner and requires no specific permitting.

  8. The entire reason we have laws is because some people violate the norms of society. While all of us can agree that we love the environment and the trees of our neighborhood, it is inarguable that some actions we take on our property affects others in the community.
    You are not free to set up a slaughterhouse in your backyard as silly as that may sound but the principle of unfettered use of your land is also regulated by zoning and health codes.
    People need to get out of their selfish focus on their desires and think about the rage they may feel if their neighbor chose to do something with their property that did not like.
    We have tree regulations because the public wanted them. They recognize the benefits to the community and the environment. If we change our minds then we can vote to have them repealed but the representatives that have those views tend to carry a lot of other destructive views that incite hate and division and serve only the wealthy and few.

  9. Debbie makes some good points. A good head-scratcher though are the ‘tuning fork’ trees at the NW corner of 2nd and Edmonds. Although they are on private property, the City regularly cuts right through the middle of them to create space for the utility wires. Look up the next time you approach that corner while going either north or south on 2nd. Goofiest piece of tree maintenance I have ever seen. But be careful if you are on foot. Their roots are buckling the sidewalk.

  10. I now further believe that we can’t trust people like you with decisions regarding natural resources. Great op-ed.

  11. It’s very easy to apply for a permit to remove trees, and under a certain size no permit is needed.

  12. I don’t think many realize what a dangerous gamble this is for a city on a steep hill. A city who wants protection for its Marsh and The Puget Sound and all of the Salmon we are struggling to save. Our water and sewage systems… As far as developers go they just move on to the next city (as we have seen) and they don’t care about Edmonds, they care about their cause and the builders care about their profit. SO no they don’t care. Some may use their political ideology as a reason. Yes, some trees do need to go. But not for the reasons of building but maybe to protect some power lines. If we were smarter we would begin immediately to bury every possible power line we can. WE would forgo beautification for security and in the end we would save money. We would be safe and we would have staff to handle the other needs in Edmonds too. The rush that we are to be made to feel we must do it all and do it now is killing our budget and displacing families.

    1. Mark Robertson’s comment is so sensible. If you live in a society, with all the benefits and responsibilities that implies, then you must acknowledge that certain laws, ordinances, etc., are for the good of all community members even if you personally don’t like them. Trees contribute enormously to the health of our ecosystem but some are threats to safety and should of course be removed.

  13. Just did this after seeing your comment Natalie. Great public service and participation in this discussion on your part.

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