Trees are everywhere you look in Washington. From towering evergreens along the highway to pines in your neighborhood, trees are a big part of our state’s ecosystem. Because trees are so prevalent in our city, it is important to know the rules about removing them and tending to them in your area.

There are some circumstances in which trees cannot be removed, including if a tree is designated as “exceptional” by the city or county, as well as various specifications for developing properties and environmentally critical areas. Whether you are unsure if a tree in your area can be removed or you are simply interested in learning more about trees in your neighborhood, here is an introduction to exceptional trees.

Defining Exceptional Trees: Director’s Rule (dr) 16-2008

The Director’s Rule (dr) 16-2008 outlines the requirements for homeowners and the public when designating a tree as exceptional. The Seattle Department of Development and Planning defines an exceptional tree as the following:

“Exceptional tree” means a tree or group of trees that because of its unique historical, ecological, or aesthetic value constitutes an important community resource, and is determined as such by the Director according to standards and procedures promulgated by the Department of Planning and Development.

The city designates trees as exceptional according to its size, condition, species, and cultural or historic importance. Some trees that may be considered exceptional include:

  • Trees that are especially large for their species (see full chart of trees and their sizes on this document, page six)
  • Tree groves, or groups of at least eight trees wider than 12 feet that form a canopy.
  • Trees that have a larger than average diameter for their species

Exceptional Tree Risk Assessment

If trees in your area fit the above criteria, the government protects them from being removed unless they pose a risk to the community. For example, if an exceptional tree was at high risk for falling onto a house or electrical wiring, the city would then allow it to be removed. Some factors expert evaluators will take into account include a trees crown size, its structure, if it has some form of disease, risk mitigation options, how to protect trees during construction and more.

In order to do this type of tree evaluation, professionals must have at least three years of experience evaluating trees, and should have experience working with trees during construction. These individuals should also have one of the following certifications: Society of American Foresters Certified Arborist, American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA) Registered Consulting Arborist, Washington State Registered Landscape Architect, or International Society of Arborists (ISA) Certified Arborist with an Associate Degree and/or a minimum of 2 years of college-level credit and/or 120 Continuing Education Units.

Tree Removal Permit Seattle

There are a few steps for applying for a tree removal permit in Seattle. It is important to note the specific rules for your area, as some parts of the city are more protected than others. You can find your area’s zoning requirements and identify environmentally protected areas using the City of Seattle’s Interactive Map. You can also contact the Washington Tree Experts team with questions you may have about trees in your area!

Once you have a better understanding of your area’s requirements, you can start the approval process and submit your application. The applications can be submitted in person, online for via mail.

For more pro-tips from Washington Tree Experts, check out our guide to tree evaluation and FAQ’s for pruning deciduous plants. To keep up with our latest tips and promotions, stay in touch on social media.