Not all trees provide value

I wanted to offer a few comments on the tree issue as both a homeowner and a landscape designer. I would first like to inquire if there is a clear reason for keeping trees. While that may seem obvious, let’s not keep something just because. There would need to be a substantial benefit to preserving a particular urban tree compared to the drawbacks (danger, loss of views, loss of light, excessive messiness, etc).

While I have been in this area most of my life and live around big trees, I acknowledge that not all trees are beneficial or appropriate in a given situation. For example, no one should be required to leave a 100-foot cottonwood close to their house. They continually lose limbs, drop sticky buds that leave permanent marks on cars, blow cotton in the spring, and then present us with leaves that stain concrete in the fall not to mention that they are prone to breakage.

Then, there is the matter of shade. Due to the growth of my own trees, many of my native salmonberry bushes no longer produce berries which means they’re not feeding the birds. Light is essential for the flower and berry production necessary for birds, butterflies, and bees. Also, the homeowner doesn’t have the opportunity to pursue their own food production (local and sustainable!)

I don’t believe a tree has value simply due to its size or age. It may be completely useless to wildlife and an eyesore. No one should be forced to live with poor judgment in tree selection. If someone plants a deodora cedar 10 feet from the house because it’s cute, it should go when it gets to 60 feet tall and 40 feet around rotting the siding and roof.

The city of Issaquah has done a good job selecting street trees but is quite ready to remove them when necessary. Homeowners should have the same flexibility. Here are some considerations for keeping or planting trees:ability to withstand storms; usefulness for erosion control; messiness (limbs, leaves, staining berries); habitat for wildlife; food for wildlife; food for people; structural integrity; mature size appropriate for nearby structures and lot size; life span; appearance; not obscuring views (residential; visibility of business & signage); impact on sidewalks – heaving, staining; proximity to power lines; number of that tree variety currently in the area; tree shape – tall & skinny could be used where broad would block views.

Many small trees and large shrubs perform greatly without the ugly consequences potentially caused by large trees in the wrong place plus adding the necessary middle layer critical to many species. Large trees are fantastic in the right place and let’s keep as many as we reasonable can, but allow people to make that choice. “Green” does not necessarily equal big trees and Issaquah could be quite “green” by using a mix of vegetation. If the City does anything, it should concentrate on establishing overall vegetation variety and recommend appropriately sized and shaped and broadly beneficial vegetation.

Finally, I believe tree owners should not be penalized for letting a tree grow. I must advise clients to never plant a tree that they don’t want to be stuck with forever. Wouldn’t it be better to have trees for a while than to never have them planted at all? It won’t take long for folks to figure out that is in their best interests to not plant a tree than to risk the consequences of a tree that becomes a forever problem.

I would like to recommend “Landscaping for Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest” by Russell Link, Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife as a resource for establishing such a plan.

-Samantha Zistatsis

Toad Hollow Designs