“Topped” trees along W Comstock St. raise concerns among neighbors and city arborist

Reader Susan P. first noticed a row of what she described as “brutally hacked” London Plane trees while walking past W Comstock St. along Queen Anne Ave N on Monday, April 26.

The four tall trees bordering the south side of the Greenwich Apartments at the top of the south face of Queen Anne hill are the victim of “topping,” a term that refers to the practice of “stubbing” or “dehorning” a tree in an attempt to prevent overgrowth.

According to PlantAmnesty.org, an organization dedicated to ending the “senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs,” topping trees is an ineffective and misguided practice that actually worsens the health of the tree or shrub.

Topping has become the urban forest’s major threat, dramatically shortening the lifespan of trees and creating hazardous trees in high-traffic areas.

Concerned about the legality of topping, Susan wonders if it was the work of a private party or business. “It couldn’t have been done legally because the City doesn’t allow topping trees,” she wrote.

“This work definitely wasn’t done by the city,” confirmed Seattle Department of Transportation City Arborist Nolan Rundquist. “When work is performed on street trees by a tree firm or a resident, they are required to obtain a permit from the Urban Forestry section of Seattle Transportation. This type of work is something that we never would have issued a permit for.”

According to Rundquist, the trees meet none of the city’s tree pruning specifications, and looks to be the handiwork of a “tree cutter,” who he said are often “more concerned about making a buck than performing work that was beneficial for the tree and community.”

“The work is very unprofessional (in my opinion, of course) – we’ve been trying to get the “topping is bad” message out for the last 30 years,” Rundquist said, referring readers to Plant Amnesty’s “5 Reasons to Stop Topping Trees” list.

We called the manager of the adjacent Greenwich apartment building, Berit McAlister, to see if she knew who was responsible or had heard anything from other tenants or neighbors. McAlister first said she did not know, and then requested we send a formal letter in writing inquiring for more information.

Regardless of who is responsible, however, Rundquist urges community members to actively discourage tree topping. “We’d certainly like to know the name of the company or person who performed the work, so we can contact them and hopefully keep them from destroying any more trees,” he said.

For more information on urban forestry, street tree regulations, pruning tips, or to file a street tree pruning/removal request or hire a permitted contractor, visit SDOT’s website.

(Thanks to Susan for the tip!)