Who’s killing the trees?

Don Heyer discusses the “girdling” of trees at the future Pritchard Park site. - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Don Heyer discusses the “girdling” of trees at the future Pritchard Park site.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

Neighbors are suspected of ‘girdling’ trees at the future Pritchard Park site.

Don Heyer shakes the tree’s branches as if to rouse if from sleep.

But he doesn’t hold much hope that the 24-inch circumference Douglas fir, or the three other trees crippled at the former Wyckoff property, will come around.

“She’s a goner,” Heyer says, as dry, brown needles drift down into the trunk’s sap-splattered wounds.

“It’s the wood that holds up the tree, but it’s the bark that serves as the arteries,” he says, pointing to deep cuts in the circumference of each tree. “This is like having your femoral artery cut.”

Heyer, project manager overseeing the environmental cleanup at the former creosote plant, recently noticed that a maple on the property’s south edge next to Eagle Harbor Drive had been “girdled,” its bark removed in a ring with hatchet-like cuts.

Those wounds were fresh, but other trees nearby also exhibited signs of poor health. So Heyer charged into the underbrush and found more trees in the small stand with similar damage.

“Some of those trees’ cuts have browned, so the important message is that this didn’t happen in one night,” he said. “This happened over time. It’s a concerted attack on these trees.”

Heyer reported the damage to Bainbridge police this week.

Dan Silver, who oversees the property for the Pacific Sound Resources environmental trust, said he suspects nearby residents have hacked into the trees to kill them and improve their own views of Eagle Harbor and the sound.

“I think the issue is better views,” said Silver, who says he was previously approached by neighbors who wanted the trees out of the way.

The 30-foot-wide stand blocks the views from some homes on the hillside above.

Silver allowed the removal of some smaller trees, but held firm on the stand of older, larger specimens. He had hoped to preserve the forested character of the hillside until the trust sells the property to the city to become Pritchard Park.

The city has already purchased the western portion of the property near Taylor Avenue, and the state Legislature last week approved over $2 million in state funds to boost purchase of the point and remaining uplands.

While that purchase is pending, the trust has allowed the public to use parts of the property for recreational uses.

“The community has already taken an ownership role here,” Heyer said. “People know that having trees here when this becomes a park is a real benefit.”

Silver estimates the financial loss of the trees at $35,000 and plans to offer a reward for more information on the damage.

But even if the culprits are caught, the damage is permanent, said city planner and registered forester Steve Morse.

“They’re done for,” Morse said. “There’s no way to save them.”

Cutting a continuous swath of bark staunches nutrients and water from flowing into the trees’ branches.

“These are significant trees, from the city’s perspective, because they are part of that winding road and the view,” Morse said, noting that the Comprehensive Plan calls for the preservation of roadside trees that help maintain the island’s rural character.

“This is very different from cutting trees on your own property,” said Janet Curry, a resident of nearby Mill Heights, as she paused while jogging on a trail through the property.

“This is going to be a special place as a park,” she said. “Every day that I come here I think how glorious it is. It’s just unbelievable and unethical for other owners to bring down trees here.”

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