The City That Knows How – Seattle?

This is a first-person account from a reader, but it’s not one of our occasional Park Visitor series. It’s about Seattle.


A few months ago, I visited Seattle. Like every tourist, at some point I headed for the Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle, the Chihuly Garden, the EMP Museum.  We parked in the underground garage, and emerged at street level to an avenue of graceful trees.

red stanchions and notices on trees in Seattle

Some road work was in progress, and all the trees had small notices on them.  Coming from  San Francisco, I knew what those must be, and my heart sank.  Removal notices. After all, every project in San Francisco means removing trees, doesn’t it?

heavy equipment and tree notices in Seattle

Not here.  As I got closer, I found they were the exact opposite of removal notices.

protect tree

In fact, they were notices to protect the trees. They went further. To each tree, they ascribed a monetary value, and it was not trivial. This tree is valued at approximately $9,000.

$9000 tree in Seattle

Here’s the notice up close. It has specific instructions, and a requirement for notification.  It not only doesn’t permit the tree to be removed, it tries to protect it against damage from the process of construction.

Tree valued at approximately $9,000

Another, larger, tree nearby had an even higher valuation. Here’s a notice for a $15,200 tree.  And none of these trees was anywhere near the size of some of the larger ones we see in San Francisco and cut down so casually.  I don’t know how they calculate the value, but if we go by size, we probably lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of trees.

$15,200 tree in Seattle


Maybe San Francisco should have a system by which the value of each tree cut down has to be donated to some group like Friends of the Urban Forest.  (But not to the city, that would be a perverse incentive.)

For a start, every project should publicly list  up front every tree to be removed, together with a monetary value reflecting the replacement cost of a tree that size.  In some cases, this may even be reason to revise or scrap a project.

Most of the benefits of trees – carbon storage, pollution protection, habitat value, wind protection, slope stabilization, visual impact – are linked to a tree’s size and maturity. But instead of protecting our mature and majestic trees, San Francisco appears to focus on negatives and looks for ways and means to remove them. This may be one of the reasons our urban tree canopy is one of the smallest among major US cities – and is shrinking, not expanding.

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4 Responses to The City That Knows How – Seattle?

  1. alicia snow says:

    This is very valuable information. Someone should call to find out how they do these valuations.  The number is provided right on the green notices.  206-684-TREE  I can do it from here in France, if you want me to.  But before I do, I need to think through just what I want to know from them.

    For a start, here are things that come to mind.

    Who does it?

    What are their qualifications?

    What criteria do they take into account?

    Who gets the penalty money for trees damaged?

    What is their herbicide and pesticide policy?

    Anything else?  I can call today or tomorrow.  I am 9 hours ahead of you guys, so I call call them in the mornings.  The only problem is that i might have to leave messages, and no one will want to call me back at overseas rates from the US.  If I can get direct communication, I will do so.

    Thanks for posting this!



    [SFFA: Alicia, it’s very good of you to offer. Please do try, and let us know what you find out. If the logistics prove difficult, please email us and we’ll find someone else to do it.]

  2. Tony Holiday says:

    LOVE this post and pix. How cool would it be to see this kind of thing in SF!

  3. Kathy Hallinan says:

    Absolutely great – great – great – this post should be forwarded to Nuru, DPW! And Supervisors, wonderful post – thank you

  4. Pingback: Can We Save These San Francisco Trees? | San Francisco Forest Alliance

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