Is that a California Black Walnut in your backyard? Why it may be worth finding out

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.

Related links:
Protected Native Trees in Los Angeles (PDF). City of L.A.
Protected tree ordinance and municipal code. City of L.A.


  1. Do you have the location? I’m an avid walnut watcher! I see them everywhere. It’s likely that these will resprout…the plant is pretty resilient.

  2. This happened on the lot that runs alongside the Baxter stairs and joins up with Kite Hill. From the road, it’s above the junction where (the most eastern portion of) Baxter Street ends and runs into Avon Street. If you climb the Baxter stairs, you will see the maimed trees.

  3. Someone needs to start a campaign against Trees of Heaven.

    They’ve got to be the most invasive species ever (except us humans, of course).

  4. Kevin— I totally agree with your comments about the Trees of Heaven. I want to do something too.

  5. I agree…glad this owner keeps removing the Ailanthus altissima–this tree is a blight. However, the trees that were cut along the Baxter Steps were mostly California Walnut. There were about 10 or 15 multi-trunk trees mutilated alongside the steps. They weren’t actually cut down, but rather chopped at about the 6-7 foot level. Weird. The group of lots comprising around 30,000+ sq. feet where the chopping took place are for sale at $340,000. The realtor said there is “wiggle room” in this market! The lots are practically unbuildable now. Do you suppose the owner wants to remove the walnuts so that their protected status won’t interfere with a deal? Sad and desperate.

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