Tree lovers hate the sound of buzz saws and falling timber. What is even more disturbing is when saws and axes are taken to relatively rare native trees, which is what one Echo Park resident claims happened on an Elysian Heights hillside. He snapped the above picture this weekend of what remained of the trees, which are believed to be California Black Walnut, a native tree that is protected – along with the Coast Live Oak, Valley Oak, California Sycamore and California Bay – under the city’s tree ordinance. Removing a protected tree of a certain size or perform “any act that will cause a protected tree to die” requires city permission – and it’s not easy to get. “You need a permit,” said Ron Lorenzen with the city’s Urban Forestry Division.
The issue might come up more often in places like Elysian Heights and Mount Washington and other neighborhoods located on the eastern edge of the Santa Monica Mountain range, where the topography and climate provide suitable growing conditions for the California Black Walnut, Lorenzen said.
To begin the process of legally removing a protected tree from public or private property, the property owner must first apply for a tree removal permit and conduct a protected tree report. That permit must be first reviewed during a hearing before the Board of Public Works. If granted a permit, the property owner might be required to relocate the tree on a different part of the property or to replace it with at least two trees for every one cut down.
In the case of the Elysian Heights trees pictured above, Lorenzen said the division would have to determine if the trees were indeed California Black Walnut and if a permit had been issued.
If protected trees are taken down with a permit, the city could seek criminal penalties but that would require an in-depth investigation, Lorenzen said.
It might be best to check the city’s guide on protected trees before pulling out the buzz saw or calling 311 to report the possible destruction of a protected tree.