Jul 6, 2023 - News

An unusual battle to save oaks over conifers

A healthy oak tree on the left compared to one that's dying due to shade from taller conifers.

A healthy Garry oak tree on the left compared to one that's dying due to shading from taller conifers at Seward Park in Seattle. Photos: Courtesy of David Perasso

David Perasso of Seattle is accustomed to skepticism when he presents his proposal to cut down conifers at Seward Park, but there is a greater purpose behind his idea: to save oaks.

Driving the news: A conservationist since childhood who helped restore a grove of Garry oaks in Martha Washington Park, Perasso believes that cutting down a few healthy conifers at the south end of Seward would allow groves of heritage oaks there to thrive.

Why it matters: The conflict between Perasso’s concern for the oaks and the taller conifers that are shading and killing the oaks provides insight into the kind of competing but legitimate interests growing cities like Seattle face.

Catch up quick: As a forest steward for Martha Washington Park and a lifelong lover of the genus Quercus, Perasso led an effort to save nine historic oaks that were being smothered by blackberries and ivies, he said.

A screenshot of a map detailing all the oak trees in Seattle's Seward Park.
Screenshot from David Perasso's map of oaks in Seward Park. Courtesy of David Perasso
  • Unlike the oaks in Martha Washington Park, the Seward oaks are faltering primarily because they are being shaded out and crippled by larger conifers.

But, but, but: Rachel Schulkin of Seattle Parks and Recreation told Axios tree removal decisions "are solely based on the health of the tree and any risk it poses, not about the tree species."

  • Nevertheless, the department makes tree management choices based on ecological integrity, canopy needs and risk management that, broadly speaking, favor conifers over deciduous species.

What they're saying: "I understand no one would want to cut down four to five healthy trees to save one, but I'm not asking for that. I'm just asking that a serious evaluation be done on each of these oaks and their surrounding trees," Perasso said.

  • There is one "nice patch of oaks where the removal of two to three conifers would give room for six or seven oaks to thrive," he said. "I'd like that to be a serious consideration."

What's next: ​​Seattle parks did not respond to specific questions on the Seward Park oaks, but according to its website, has nine arborists that conduct ongoing assessments of disease, damage and recommended maintenance for more than 500,000 trees.


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