Seattle Woman's Trees 'Poisoned for a View'

PHOTO Vandals poison trees in hopes of better
WATCH Timber Tears: Tree Poisoning Rocks Neighborhood

Trees in a hillside neighborhood in West Seattle, Wash., have apparently been poisoned to death, putting the neighborhood at risk for mudslides.

"I'm afraid we're not going to have a house to live in," Kaly Cook said. "That's my fear."

Cook has lived in her hillside home along Harbor Avenue since the 1960s. The neighborhood features multimillion-dollar homes with astonishing views of Seattle.

For 50 years, Cook's view included 17 alder trees. Now they're dying and Cook believes that someone in the neighborhood is killing the trees so he or she can get a better view from the window.

Cook said she hired arborists in the summer who told her someone sawed the bottom of the trees and poured poison in them. The arborists said that there is nothing that can be done to save the trees, Cook said. Two of the trees fell down two weeks ago.

"They are literally the only trees at the top of the hill and so they are utterly critical because their structure is really holding a lot," Cook said. "People need to understand the consequences of their actions are more important than getting a view."

The area is already unstable. Christy Watson, whose office is in the neighborhood, said a small landslide happened in the past two weeks, moving one house closer to the edge of a cliff.

Tim Griffith, an arborist for the city, said Seattle has suffered from several landslides in the past month and trees being removed from a hillside heighten the risk of slides.

"Roots hold soil," Griffith said. "So if you kill trees, you lose basically that sponge."

A neighbor first discovered the poisoned trees and alerted Cook and her husband.

"They just looked like they were dormant," Cook said. "I couldn't believe it."

John Hendrickson, a neighbor, has three pygmy goats living in the hillside. He told ABC affiliate KOMO that one of the dying trees fell within six inches of the small barn that houses his goats.

"If they eat the poison, they'll die. Second, the trees are all dying and falling over and it's going to cause the hillside to slide, already a slide-prone area," Hendrickson told KOMO.

The neighborhood was evacuated after a bad mudslide in 1986, Cook said.

"There was a lot of damage. We had to move out of the house for six months," she said.

The mudslide prompted Cook to consult with an arborist about how to stabilize the sensitive slope. She began having trees and other shrubs planted to help add stability. Now, all that work may be in vain.

Poisoned Trees Put Neighborhood at Risk of Landslides

This isn't the first time someone has tried to change the view. Two years ago, a West Seattle man illegally chopped down 10 maples for scenic reasons along Harbor Avenue, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported.

Those investigating the damaged trees don't know what poison is behind them and finding those responsible will be difficult.

Karen White of the Seattle Department of Planning and Development said destroying trees is taken seriously, especially if the trees are on environmentally sensitive land.

"If the person were able to be identified, then there would be fines of $500 a day [until officials deem the area environmentally stable] plus potentially any trees over 6 inches [tall] would add an additional civil penalty of $5,000," she said.

Along with fines for damaging the environment, there is the possibility of criminal charges for trespassing on private property.

There are no national numbers on how many trees get poisoned or cut to bolster someone's view but the International Society of Arbor Culture said that they often get calls regarding trees being cut down or killed for that reason.

Just two weeks ago in Oak Ridge, Tenn., police investigated three incidents of tree cutting involving hundreds of trees, the Oak Ridger reported.

Officials from the parks department believed the trees were cut down to give a better view of the community's golf course.

Back in Seattle, arborist Zsofia Pasztor said that as spring approaches and the trees continue to die, the neighborhood will be at even greater risk.

"Trees are natural water pipes. Nature uses vegetation to solve slope and water flow issues," she said. "These trees ... won't be able to do that."

Pasztor said that many of the poisoned trees are starting to break apart. When their roots die, the ground could collapse around them.

For now, Cook and her army of neighbors have only one weapon: a banner they've erected that says "Poisoned for a View."

"There is so much property in Seattle that is prone to earth movement. It's just so important people understand how important native life is," she said. "I feel totally helpless."

KOMO's Elisa Jaffe contributed to this report.