Seattle officials are investigating two incidents of illegal tree topping this year at Golden Gardens Park in Ballard.

Three large maple trees were cut down without a permit March 30 and two trees were topped in May near the dog park, said Seattle Parks and Recreation spokesperson Rachel Schulkin.

Both cases have been reported to Seattle police, Schulkin said. Though only a small number of trees were impacted, she said, Golden Gardens Park has been hit with illegal cutting three times in the past three years. Patches of trees were removed in 2019.

Tree topping, the removal of branches or the top section of a tree, is prohibited within any city-owned parks, boulevards and greenbelts, though trees may be pruned with a permit from the city. Culprits are typically homeowners looking to improve their home’s view.

In the latest incident, Schulkin said three other trees were removed on private land bordering the park.

Jane Ripley Wheeler said she reported the most recent set of cuttings when she spotted them while on a walk just north of the dog park. The trees, she said, had orange tags with the name of a private tree service company.

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A call to Seattle Parks and Recreation confirmed the trees were removed without proper permitting.

Wheeler, who has lived in Ballard for nearly 20 years, said being able to access nature at Golden Gardens Park has been important to her mental and physical health during the pandemic.

“It’s a place where people can recharge and rejuvenate and it needs to stay healthy and preserved for all citizens,” she said.

Homeowners to pay $440K as the city settles one lawsuit over West Seattle clear-cut

Illegal tree cuttings occur sporadically and generally upset the public, Schulkin said. In these cases, individuals are harming trees in public spaces to benefit their own view, she said.

The city of Seattle has taken serious action against tree topping in the past. In 2017, the city brought two civil lawsuits against homeowners over the damages of 150 trees in two neighboring sections of the West Seattle greenbelt to improve their views.

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In one case, trees of varying sizes were destroyed, including many big-leaf maples and Scouler’s willows, and were left lying on a steep slope designated by the city as an environmentally critical area at risk for landslides.

Seattle law also prohibits the removal of trees from environmentally critical areas without prior approval. The responsible homeowners settled for $440,000.

In 2006, federal Judge Jerome Farris had to pay the city more than $600,000 for cutting 120 trees in Colman Park. His gardener, according to Farris, misunderstood his directions to cut down trees on his Lake Washington view property along a fence bordering the park in the Mount Baker neighborhood.

Schulkin said urban forests like Golden Gardens Park are not only beautiful natural spaces, but are also important in the fight against climate change. The trees stabilize the slopes and cannot be replaced easily, especially if they are decades old, which is often the case if they are blocking a view.

“It’s part of what makes Seattle, Seattle,” she said. “We work really hard to keep these trees and the forests healthy and growing.”