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Editorial: Spokane can’t afford to cut down its pine trees

Ponderosa pines do not get the respect they deserve.

There are trees in the city more than 250 years old. Photographs of 19th-century Spokane depict park-like tracts of well-spaced pines that withstood repeated cycles of fire. Some groves have survived in state, county and city parks, and carefully developed neighborhoods.

But those trees are largely defenseless if growing on private property and remain vulnerable even in public areas.

Last month, a licensed arborist topped eight mature pines on the Indian Canyon Golf Course. The trees would have interfered with signals to a tower that will be part of a new Spokane County emergency communications system. So, off with their heads at dawn.

Except no one – the system designer, the dish installer or, most importantly, the arborist – had a permit to cut anything. There is no excuse for this lapse. A taller tower could have solved the problem.

The trees, valued at $175,600 before losing 25 feet to 30 feet in height, may be worth $35,000 less today. More importantly, they will have many fewer tomorrows. City urban forester Angel Spell says topping will kill the trees off much sooner. They would be taken down except that the remaining limbs still protect adjacent properties from flying golf balls.

Some fine seems in order here; at least a modest fund to indemnify those nearby residents who lose a windshield to a Titleist.

The city would not approve a permit for topping, Spell says, adding that education efforts have greatly increased the public’s understanding of the long-term ill effects of the practice.

But the incident suggests local jurisdictions could do more.

Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and several smaller cities in the region require permits before trees on private property can be removed. Applicable conditions include factors such as diameter, species, and whether the property is developed or vacant. Is the tree a hazard, or located in an environmentally sensitive area?

Spokane regulations apply only to the planting, pruning or felling of trees on city property, mostly parks or rights-of-way. On private property, trees that may have been growing for more than two centuries can be fed to the chopper because the owner dislikes removing pine needles from the roof gutters.

If the trees are replaced, most landowners plant fast-growing species that will produce a maximum amount of shade in a minimum amount of time; maples, for example.

A new organization, Spokane Ponderosa, is encouraging more pine plantings, and the preservation of existing trees. Its website,, is an excellent resource. Founder Larry Stone has set a good example by lining the streets of the new commercial development at the old Playfair track with pine seedlings.

Mature trees of all kinds are a heritage that deserves more than an early-morning chainsaw funeral.


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