Photo by Erik Haugen
City Arborist Nolan Rundquist, standing with microphone, talks to curious Ballard residents about trees, trees, trees.

City Arborist chit-chats about trees, slams BNSF

If it's one thing Seattle has a lot of, it's trees. Counting just street trees maintained by SDOT, Seattle has 40,000. And that's not including trees in parks or on private property.

City Arborist Nolan Rundquist dropped by the Ballard District Council last night to chat about trees, a subject which curious residents had a barrel full of questions for.

Acting as Mediator

Mayoral candidate Peter Steinbreuck dropped by the BDC and asked a simple question of the Arborist: What do you do, exactly?

Rundquist explained that as City Arborist, he works as a mediator between the departments when it came to trees.

"Trees are one of the chunks of infrastructure that have to compete with a lot of different things," Rundquist said.

It's true: The Department of Transportation (street trees), the Department of Planning and Development (trees near pipes), City Light (trees near power lines) and Parks and Recreation (trees in a park or greenbelt) all have a stake when it comes to trees.

Often, residents are confused about who they should call when it comes to tree issues. Rundquist said that one of the big things the City Arborist does is run a central phone line, 206-684-TREE (8733). From there, residents will be redirected to the appropriate city department to deal with their particular problem.

Commenting on the tree massacre

When it came to BNSF Railway's clear-cutting by the Salmon Bay Natural Area (read our in-depth coverage), Rundquist was candid in his response.

"That's a classic case of federal government usurping us," he said. "... Excessive in my opinion, yeah, but they didn't ask for my opinion, and it's unfortunate the way it rolled down. We're hoping to work with them."

He said the Department of Planning and Development attempted to put a stop work order on them, saying they were violating city rules. But BNSF came back with legal counsel saying they had the right to cut the trees.

"Kind of really ham-handed on their part, but I guess that's how they rock and roll," Rundquist said.

Rundquist did submit that all the trees were on BNSF property and that, in the end, there was nothing the city could do to stop BNSF. Moreover, Rundquist himself has no jurisdiction as City Arborist over trees on private property.

Preserving exceptional trees

Preserving older and exceptional trees also came up in conversation. Through the heritage tree program, SDOT has helped save over 200 trees as of March, 2011.

SDOT has this to say about heritage trees:

"Heritage trees may be on either City or private property. Each candidate tree is assessed by a certified arborist and evaluated by a review committee. Trees can be nominated as an individual or a collection, but must have the owner's approval and meet criteria for health in addition to being selected according to one of the following categories:

  • Specimen: A tree of exceptional size, form, or rarity.
  • Historic: A tree recognized by virtue of its age, its association with or contribution to a historic structure or district, or its association with a noted person or historic event.
  • Landmark: Trees that are landmarks of a community.
  • Collection: Trees in a notable grove, avenue, or other planting."

Residents who want to nominate a tree may go to

Planting and removing trees

Of course, everyone wants to know how they can go about planting trees. You can find procedures on planting a street tree at

In addition, SDOT has an energetic free street tree planting program, planting over 800 trees a year. In order to qualify for it, there must be a five-foot-wide curbed planting strip. Rundquist said that the department will usually respond to areas with intense community interest, via a suggestion form. You can suggest a location at

Of course, there are times when a tree can simply stay no longer. You can request tree pruning or removal at

And of course there is much more. For all your tree questions, we suggest calling (206) 684-TREE or going to

Zachariah Bryan can be reached at

Follow Ballard News-Tribune on Facebook at

And Twitter at

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.