Jon Alldritt has been coming down to the bank of the Columbia River, where Southeast 164th Avenue dead ends, for decades. It’s a place where people come to fish and swim when the gloom of the Pacific Northwest winter gives way to the glory of summer.
Over the years, he’s seen $1 million homes sprout up in the East Old Evergreen Highway neighborhood while city-owned trees have come down. Between the homes and the river is a sliver of public right-of-way, part of an undeveloped park that slinks and snakes across the bank of the river.
Alldritt is speaking out on an issue the city of Vancouver has long grappled with: illegal tree clearing, which happens in neighborhoods throughout the city. In many cases, the city says, homeowners are simply confused about property lines. But that doesn’t make clearing trees any less illegal. Along the river, Alldritt grouses, some homeowners have cut away trees to provide a better view of the river.
“Whenever people have moved in, they have removed trees on what is actually a (park). It’s not an issue of property lines,” Alldritt said. There’s long been a promise by the city’s parks department of building an actual pathway
He points toward the narrow path near the river, where tall grass and weeds grow. “Below the watermark is part of what was deeded to the county for building a park. There’s an easement across the back of the property for the future pathway,” he said.
Charles Ray, Vancouver’s urban forester, said illegal tree cutting is a problem throughout the city. The city has received a number of complaints about trees being cleared near the river, and the city has issued warnings to the responsible parties.
Most of the removed trees, he said, were cottonwoods that weren’t tall enough to obscure views.
“There’s a trespass issue out there with neighbors trespassing and vandalizing trees,” Ray said. “They cut down a lot of saplings that were an inch in size.”
The city has declined to move forward with citations for trespassing, choosing instead to stick with a warning.
Alldritt contends that many of the cut-down trees were much larger than the cottonwoods the city says were removed. He points to stumps obscured by tall grass and chopped-up logs floating in the river.
Ray said the city looked into whether larger trees were cut down but failed to uncover any evidence linking neighbors to destroying them. He said the city went house to house to look into the matter.
The city has three ordinances related to illegally destroying trees. The first relates to trees on the street, and comes with a $250 fine for each tree along with restoration costs. The second is the tree conservation ordinance, with a steeper fine of between $500 and $1,000. The third ordinance regulates clearing shrubs and smaller trees and is administered by the city’s community development department.
The city has cited people in the past for illegally clearing trees.
In April, the county investigated a man, Bill Patterson, regarding the cutting down of 16 trees immediately south of Cedar Street, on the steep bank above East Fifth Street. In that case, the trees were allegedly removed for view enhancement. The case is still under investigation, and Patterson could face thousands of dollars in fines.
Alldritt said he wants people to know there are laws regulating the removal of trees. He said removing trees from public access is the same as uprooting them from any park in the city.
“It would be like if I went down to Wintler Park and just started cutting down trees,” Alldritt said.
To report illegal tree removal in a neighborhood, call urban forestry at 360-487-8308.