Vandal or Hero? Man Cuts Park Trees, Causing $5,000 Damage, But Eliminates Crime Hangout

Amputated conifer
Given the choice between environmental protection and crime prevention, a Northgate man chose the latter last month, cutting limbs from nearly 50 trees at a city park. His apparent intent was to expose a hidden area reputedly used as a hangout by local lawbreakers. But while his neighbors are raucously debating whether the cutter is a vandal or a godsend, the Parks Department has determined the "heavy pruning" did an estimated $5,000 damage, killing off some trees, and this week reported the cutting to police.

Some are outraged at the amputations, while others cheer the pruner on. "I realize that the parks department sees this at a loss," writes one neighbor on the Maple Leaf Life blog, "however this was a public safety issue that was being ignored by the city." Says another: "I don't think anybody is debating that this is technically a crime, but it is only fair to recognize that it was brought on by the criminal activity and unsafe area being left untreated."

Ruth Williams, vice president of the Thornton Creek Alliance and a city Tree Ambassador, calls it "a clash between urban forest restoration and neighborhood security gone awry." She says volunteers have worked for years restoring the grounds near the Beaver Pond Natural Area east of Northgate Mall.

"Their work was being rewarded as the area became beautiful and wildlife returned," Williams says in an e-mail. Then "one man was frustrated enough to take things into his own hands and destroy about 10 years' worth of work, probably without making his neighborhood much safer at all."

She says the man, a so-far-unidentified local resident, used a pair of loppers to cut branches off 47 conifer trees and saplings to a height of 10 feet. Some tall shrubs were also cut down. A Parks Department police report filed Monday says many of the trees were severely damaged by the December 19 pruning and are unlikely to grow back.

Williams concedes the area is a "handy hiding place for delinquent youth, criminals, and occasional homeless people," but says any problems they cause should be handled by police, not by a "lone vigilante" as she calls the pruner.

But dissenters complain about "creepy people" who hang in the treed area and suspect them of committing burglaries nearby. "I love nature," said a neighbor on the blog, "but stop acting like this is freaking the 'Tree of Souls' from Avatar. How about planting trees in areas that don't compromise the safety of an entire neighborhood?" Yet, as another wrote:

I find it hard to believe that nobody gives a damn about the tortured souls who frequent the park. You dismiss them as "hoodlums" whose value is less than a tree branch. What's next? Someone goes down to the bridge and exterminates them with a flame thrower?

Parks spokesperson Dewey Potter says the illegal cutting was among the topics discussed at a public meeting about Thornton Creek this week, and the department is working to resolve the issue. "As you could see from the comments on the Maple Leaf blog," Potter says, "there are plenty of opinions."

Tree limbs cut off to 10-foot height
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