LETTER: ‘Why is the City of Burien in Such a Hurry to Cut Down this Tree?’

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]


On Thursday, March 21st, the City of Burien Parks Department plans to cut down or significantly modify the Eagle Perch Tree, which is on private property near Eagle Landing Park. The property that the tree is on is owned by hundreds of property owners in Seahurst. Most of them probably don’t even know they own a common, undivided interest in this chunk of land just south of the stairs at ELP. The Parks Department did not have a permit when they started cutting trees today, so they applied for a permit, which, I am told, will be approved tomorrow. They are basing their permit on the approval of one property owner of that community property, even though she was clear to state that she was only speaking for herself and not the hundreds of other property owners. I have asked the Parks Department and the Planning Department, and even the City Council for more information about this tree cutting, and I have received either no response or very terse, minimal responses. The only reply I’ve gotten from all my questions is that a permit will be issued tomorrow based on permission from just one of the hundreds of property owners.

The land below the Perch Tree recently had a landslide. Several people think this is partly due to the City of Burien dumping collected storm water in Eagle Landing Park. This water has been dumped there since before Burien was a city. An obvious and simple solution to this problem is to stop collecting the storm water in the first place, and let it soak into the ground where it lands, elsewhere in the neighborhood. This is an approach the City, and private property owners, have taken in other areas. The storm drain problem has been there for decades and they have ignored it. Why do they need to cut down the Perch Tree tomorrow?

At least 3 portions of trees have fallen on or beside the trail at Eagle Landing Park since it opened in 2005. You can see the trunks of fallen trees beside the trail in places. These trees or portions of trees were large enough to have killed someone if they fell at just the right time at just the right place, but no one was hurt. I was within 60 feet of one of the trees when it fell. Could the Eagle Perch Tree fall and kill or injure someone in the park? Possibly. If you were there at the moment it fell, and you were within 60 feet of the base (which is the closest part of the stairs to the tree) you would have a one in twelve chance that you could be struck by a branch, if the tree was equally likely to fall in any direction. But you would have to be there at the right time. The tree would be falling for a period of less than thirty seconds, and there are 31 million periods of time that are 30 seconds long each year. 31 million times 12 is 372 million, so you would have a one in 372 million chance of being hit by the Eagle Perch Tree this year if you walked in the park every day. Then again, you would have to be tied to the stairs and unable to move as this giant tree slowly started falling in your direction. Don’t let anyone tie you to the stairs if you don’t want the Perch Tree to fall on you. The odds of a person in the US being struck and killed by lightning this year are 1 in a million. Your odds of being killed in a car accident are significantly more likely than that. Arborists who climb in and cut trees are ten times more likely to die than people in other industries. If the City of Burien wanted to ensure that no one in any of its parks was ever killed or injured by a tree, they would have to cut down most of the trees in Seahurst Park, and all of the other parks. However, if the City of Burien is really interested in reducing the risk of injury or death, then they won’t ask an arborist to climb or cut the Perch Tree. I am not advocating placing people at risk of injury unnecessarily, but the risk of injury or death from the Perch Tree falling on a park user is much, much smaller than any of the other risks in daily life.

The Eagle Perch Tree has been used by the eagles every year for decades. It stands alone above the canopy of the surrounding trees, so the eagles have easy access to its branches. It is within 400 feet or so of the Eagle Nest Tree in Eagle Landing Park. Many fledgling eagles have made the perch tree one of their first stops as they learned to fly. If the tree is really 164 feet tall, as an arborist claims, it is a rare tree in Burien, and it is not one that could be replaced soon. The alder tree that was cut down today was pretty much like all the other alder trees in the park. It was in the last ten years of its life, given the average lifespan of an alder. It was leaning right over a section of the stairs, as it had been for the previous eight years. I pointed out the hazard of that particular tree to the Parks Department 8 years ago, and they chose to do nothing about it until today. Why are they in a hurry to cut down the Perch Tree when it took them 8 years to get around to the ordinary alder tree looming over the stairs?

The Perch Tree is very unlikely to land on a person, and it is unlikely to hit the stairs. If it did hit the stairs, the repair of a metal stair section might cost in the neighborhood of $10,000. If you divide that cost over the 45,000 citizens of Burien or even just the 300-400 owners of the private property it sits on, that is a very small price to pay for the eagles to continue to have their tree. How much is it costing to have the tree cut? Probably more than any damage it could cause.

The Perch Tree used to have a companion. A dead Douglas-fir tree stood next to it for decades. It was just as tall, and it was dead from at least before 1913 until it fell sometime in the late seventies. That dead tree stood there for at least sixty years without falling. When it did fall, no one was hurt. Even if the Perch Tree is compromised by pests, disease, and moving soil, it could still stand for another sixty years or more.

Because the Perch Tree is near the Nest Tree, it is recognized by State and Federal Wildlife officials. The City of Burien would need to get their approval before cutting down or significantly altering this tree.

Why is the City of Burien in such a hurry to cut down this tree?

This is an eagle in the Perch Tree, taking off:

– Jim Branson

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7 Responses to “LETTER: ‘Why is the City of Burien in Such a Hurry to Cut Down this Tree?’”
  1. Hairfarmer says:

    Well put! I agree, Leave the Tree! Leave the Tree!

  2. Lee Moyer says:

    I agree. Let the trees run their natural life cycle. All we need is a warning sign that says “danger, in the wind something could fall on you”
    And maybe signs posted through out the city that say “Caution, someone with a gun might shoot you”, since that is a far greater likelyhood..

  3. Ghost of Maplewild says:

    Fix the stairs. That is a far more greater danger. I saw a older woman last week almost fall flat on he face on the bottom stairs.

  4. John Poitras says:

    I would be interested in knowing why the city of Burien is spending money on this because of the request of one resident if this article is correct.
    The taxpayers would be better served by spending the money to fix the stairs.

  5. Lori says:

    I find it curious that the city did not have to follow the same protocol as others that are trying to prune/remove a tree in a critical area. In order to remove a “significant” tree (exceeding 6 inches in diameter) on any property in a critical area, the city requires a “vegetation management plan”, among other things, which is a plan of how the homeowner is going to replant the hillside with vegetation to try “undo” the damage done by removing the tree. In true fashion, the city only decided they needed a permit when they were caught with their pants down – without a permit. And voila – there was no red tape – they had one within a day. Guess it pays to have friends in high places…

    Regarding the stairs at Eagle Landing-

    I have been trying to replace my stairs to the beach since I moved into my house over a decade ago, something the selling agent assured me was a “no-brainer” when I purchased my property. The Shoreline Commission, among other folks, has made it nearly impossible because they claim that “predatory fish” (sharks?) hide underneath the stairs and eat salmon, who have to more rights than me at this point. Therefore, I cannot have a permanent structure there. When I asked the guy at the Parks Dept. how they got a permit to install new stairs to the beach, he hemmed and hawed and finally gave me some lame story about how some Eagle Scouts had done it for them. In other words, NO PERMIT, and no regard for the rules that govern the rest of us.

    Where does it state that one partial owner can make the final decision for hundreds of others – usually it takes a majority in situations like that. Again, friends in high places???

  6. Carol says:

    One reason the city may be in a hurry to cut the trees is that the Seahurst Community club board members have voiced thier conceren of the trees to the city. The city may not want us to discuss the issue at next weeks scheduled Seahurst community club meeting 3/28 as one of the issues on the agenda is the trees. If you are in the Seahurst community club boundries you should have recieved a post card about the upcoming meeting.

    As for the tree leaning over the stairs I have called the city about it and am surprised that it has been less than 2 months and it may be coming down.

  7. Kevin says:

    Now that the Eagle Perch Tree is gone, the Burien Parks Department should change the name of Eagle Landing Park to Seagull Landing Park. It would be the only honest thing to do.

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