There is a tremendous amount of inaccurate information spreading concerning the recently removed Lions Park Sequoia tree, stemming from both the public and City management misinformation. As with all things in a shared society, trees often become the center of elaborate stories, pleasant or misguided as they may be. Interestingly, these conflicting stories often occur simultaneously.

This story of the Lions Park Sequoia tree is contradictory from the beginning. Contradictions arise between one arborist believing the tree to be a threat while half a dozen other arborists find the contrary. Corey Delikat, Port Angeles Parks Director has publicly stated during multiple city council meetings he’s invited the public to discuss the tree since 2017, while in reality, Corey drafted a contract to remove the tree before any participation from the public or other City departments. Elizabeth Dunne and myself were the two community members who asked Corey the simple question: What are you doing and what is your process?

You see, this tree isn’t really owned by the City of Port Angeles, it’s not owned by the homeowner nearest the tree who’s daughter enjoyed playing under it, or even Margi Normandin who requested the tree be cut down to improve the view from her nearby rental. The tree is owned by the community of Port Angeles; it is a shared asset; a green, living asset, that we all own through participation in this community. Healthy trees in public places, like the Lions Park Sequoia, provide respite on busy days, reduce human stress and increase feelings of calm, increase real estate values and rental values across entire streets, and reduce rates of crime given they’re properly managed.

It’s everyone’s loss in this story of public misinformation, tree failure hysteria, deficient City parks management, and overall poor City planning. I hope this is a learning process for the City and their elected officials, instead of simply a means to an end.

My company, Peninsula Environmental Group, Inc. (Peninsula Urban Forestry), and our team of natural resource scientists, work with cities across the state in the effective, equitable management of green assets and natural resources. Being a leading professional in the field of urban and community forestry and watching such poor management decisions unfold from the City of Port Angeles, the city my family and business call home, is troublesome. To set the record straight and dismiss rumors I recommend reading this article in length.

The Lion’s Park Sequoia tree in 2018.

Who requested the sequoia be cut down?

Margi Normandin, who owns a house roughly 60 feet from the Lion’s Park Sequoia, requested the tree be removed. Margi Normandin lives in Sequim and rents this home in Port Angeles. She does not own the house closest to the tree. Normandin complained to the City that the trees roots damaged the water pipes that run under the easement adjacent to Lions Park, though she never provided any evidence of this. Rather, when fixing a leak in the water pipes of concern, the plumber told the adjacent neighbor that the pipes were deteriorating past their useful life, not leaking due to the impact of tree roots. This is contrary to what Normandin and Delikat have publicly stated.

As reported in an article from the Peninsula Daily News in the winter of 2018, the family who rents the home immediately adjacent to the tree was unhappy with the City’s decision. Their young daughters played under the tree and it provided desirable shade and privacy. The owner of the home has never publicly vocalized any desire to have the tree removed.

The above information is contrary to what Corey Delikat wrote in his Nov. 20 Memo to City Council. In that Memo, Delikat inaccurately stated that “this tree is causing significant property damage, to the driveway, waterline, and foundation of a nearby house.” It is also important to note that describing the easement as a driveway is misleading. It is not the only, nor primary access to Normandin’s rental property.

At the same Nov. 20 City Council meeting, during public comment, Normandin described how fire trucks couldn’t access her rental by way of the easement. The easement is private and never has been an avenue for fire trucks, nor would the easement even be wide enough for one. Emergency vehicles access her rental property through the main driveway, not the easement. This is simply publicly stated misinformation spread by the sole person who wanted the tree removed.

When was the sequoia originally planned for removal?

At least as early as 2017, Margi Normandin asked Corey Delikat with the Port Angeles Department of Parks & Recreation to cut down the Lions Park Sequoia. Upon this request, Delikat began working with individuals at Port Angeles Public Works to draft a contract for its removal. At this point, Corey believed there was nothing he needed to do, that there was no city process or outreach required to remove a large, shared living asset from a public park.

Why did Margi Normandin request the removal of the sequoia if she did not live next to it?

Normandin requested the removal of the Lions Park Sequoia because the tree’s roots were damaging a chip seal driveway running along the west side of Lions park, which she considered to be a secondary access road for her rental property. As mentioned above, this chip seal driveway lays over an easement which is not meant to bare such a driveway. To clarify, the chip seal driveway somewhat damaged by the roots of the sequoia was not the primary access to Normandin’s rental.

Removal of the Lion’s Parks Sequoia tree has significantly improved the view of the Olympic Mountains from Margi Normandin’s rental property. Given the fact her property was in no way damaged by the tree, nor was her easement used for emergency vehicles, one reasonably concludes the mountain view was the real reason Margi requested the City remove this tree.

A very similar sequoia tree in a park in Bellingham. Notice the codominant tops, similar to the feature of the Lion’s Park sequoia.

Didn’t an arborist identify the tree as a hazard?

After Corey Delikat began drafting a contract for the tree’s removal without any public outreach or deliberation, the Port Angeles Parks, Recreation and Beautification Commission, Sissi Bruch, the City’s Mayor who was then a council member, and others became aware of this lack of process and formed a working group. I was brought into the conversation as the resident tree expert in our area. When the working group decided to have the tree assessed for risk, I was asked to recommend an arborist who could fulfill this task.

The three arborists I recommended were Katy Bigelow, Board-Certified Master Arborist; Scott Baker, Board-Certified Master Arborist; and Kevin McFarland, Certified Arborist. Instead of Katy Bigelow or Scott Baker, the two Board-Certified Master Arborists I recommended, Kevin McFarland was selected to evaluate the risk of the sequoia. Kevin provided a Level 2 Risk Assessment of the Lions Park Sequoia. The risk report returned from McFarland identified the tree as a “high-risk”. It should be noted that Kevin McFarland did not climb the tree to examine the part of the tree he considered a risk, the acute branch union and codominant leader, nor did he provide a time-line of failure as required by the Tree Risk Assessment Qualification standards.

Did any other arborists examine the tree?

Upon the release of the City’s request for bids to remove the tree in mid-December, four Certified-Arborists from Clallam, Kitsap, King and Thurston county called me about the Lions Park Sequoia. The poor quality of tree management had spread around the state’s tree professional community. They all found the tree’s risk rating from Kevin McFarland highly unsubstantiated, and generally factually inaccurate. As with every expert profession, Certified-Arborists can have different opinions and they can be wrong.  

There are 23 Board-Certified Master Arborists in Washington State, John Bornsworth (me) and Katy Bigelow are the only two consulting arborists who generally work in the surrounding 100 miles, outside of Seattle. In 2018, Katy Bigelow was contracted by Save Our Sequoia, through Port Angeles resident, Elizbeth Dunne, to evaluate the Lions Park Sequoia for risk. Katy was specifically asked to provide a Level 3 Risk Assessment, which in this scenario, meant climbing the tree and visually assessing the features Kevin felt were a high-risk.

Katy returned a recommendation to cable the codominant leaders, a tree technique used across the nation to reduce risk on tens of thousands of trees with the same features as the sequoia. Moreover, I found the tree to generally represent a low-risk, given the ability to cable the tree, and given the species growth rates in our region’s resource rich climate and soils, the species lack of pests and diseases within our region, and having grown its entire life in an open, park area in full exposure to strong winds.

To summarize: six different Certified Arborists, two of whom are Board-Certified Master Arborists, found the tree to be manageable and would not have recommended its removal. One Certified Arborist found the tree to be a high-risk and recommended removal.

Photo of the acute union feature of the Lions Park Sequoia from Katy Bigelow’s Level 3 Tree Risk Assessment Report.

Was the tree really a risk?

Two weeks prior to the removal of the Lions Park Sequoia, the City of Port Angeles and surrounding area witnessed the highest sustained wind speeds recorded in the last two decades. Thousands of trees fell across Clallam and Jefferson Counties, including nearly two dozen at the City’s Lincoln Park. The Lion’s Park Sequoia didn’t fall, nor did it shed a single limb during the windstorm. This was an extreme wind event, and yet the tree remained undamaged.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sequoia trees statewide with many codominant leaders. The Washington State Tree Failure Database contains not a single Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant sequoia) failure in 1,068 reported tree failures to date. The Western Tree Failure Database indicates a rate of failure for the giant sequoia as 2% over 6,122 tree failures across Oregon and California. This 2% doesn’t include the tens of thousands of sequoias planted in people’s homes, parks and green spaces across the state.

It’s worth mentioning that Lincoln Park is still in disrepair. From the actions of the City, it appears the inaccessibility, property damage and general mess at Lincoln Park is less of a priority than a healthy sequoia tree in Lions Park.

Do cities manage tree risk differently than other risks?

All actions, all events and all structures within cities pose some risk. It is not the normal Standard of Care of a city to eliminate risk entirely throughout itself; this is clearly an impossible feat. How do trees compare to other city risks? Let’s take a look at city sidewalks and potholes. If someone trips on a sidewalk or in an alley way, or  a vehicle frame becomes damaged from a pothole, does the city immediately correct that infrastructure? The answer is no. The alley ways of Port Angeles are in complete disrepair, with at times 3-4 inches of displacement due to stormwater and settling.

How many cross streets in Port Angeles lack all stop signs and yield signs? There are roughly three dozen I’ve encountered. Are vehicles driving into an intersection without stop signs or yield signs less of a risk than a healthy tree? According to normal Standard of Care tolerance of most cities, intersections are repaired or enhanced based on how many accidents occur annually on those intersections. Imagine if that were the case with trees.

Does Margi Normandin, who originally requested the tree be removed because of the chip seal driveway, have to fix the driveway she complained about?

The removal to the Sequoia tree doesn’t mitigate or change the fact the chip seal driveway is damaged. There is no requirement for the easement owner to replace or fix the chip seal driveway.

In many cities across the nation, this is reoccurring theme. Trees do damage hard infrastructure like chip seal, asphalt and cement usually found on roads and sidewalks. In most every city in Washington, these conflicts are managed by removal and replacement of the hardscape without damage to the nearby trees. Road professionals and arborists have developed many techniques to relay asphalt over roots in a way that allows trees to persist.

It should also be noted that the working life of a chip seal driveway is roughly 8 years. So, every 8 years the chip seal driveway should be replaced. The working life of roads and sidewalks is 15-20 years. Have you ever seen trees over 20 years old nearby roads and sidewalks? Of course, you have! They are everywhere across our state. That infrastructure has likely been replaced without significant damage to the tree.

Large trees can exist around asphalt. This asphalt has likely been re-laid a dozen times.

What is the City doing after the removal of the tree?

The City of Port Angeles Parks Commission and Corey Delikat developed a “tree removal” policy (PR-0407) to process and permit the removal of publicly owned trees in city parks. At this time, the sequoia has been cut down, but there is no plan in place for restoring  the lost ecosystem or human services of the removed tree. Lion’s Park remains a large grass field. The wood from the sequoia tree, thus far, has been donated as firewood to the Kiwanians.

In a letter emailed to the City Council and the City Manager, Nathan West, I offered to write a simple mitigation plan for the Park director to follow in his tree canopy reestablishment and ecosystem service mitigation for the removed tree. As mentioned by the City Manager, at multiple council meetings, the City has funds for tree installations and states that he cares deeply about the urban and community forest and tree canopy cover.

Corey Delikat has spent nearly $60,000 on watering trucks for annual flower beds in downtown Port Angeles. While watering annual flowers why not also water reinstalled trees in Lions Park? Watering trees once a week for a few years creates natural capital to be used and enjoyed for generations of Port Angeles residents; annual flowers must be watered daily and still die at the end of every season.

Peninsula Urban Forestry writes mitigation plans for people, businesses and municipalities across western and central Washington. In most cities, this is normal operating procedure for natural resources owned by the public, as the sequoia tree was.

How much did the sequoia cost to remove?

The City originally estimated removal costs to be between $10,000-12,000. Director Delikat now says that city staff cut down the tree. The actual costs are still to be determined.

Regardless, managing the tree through cabling and bracing methods would have been at a quantifiability lower cost than removing the tree, particularly when you account for lost ecosystem services. Plus, the tree would remain an asset for the city and community.