The City often receives calls from residents concerned that the tree pruning or removal they see in their neighborhoods might be illegal. Not all trees in Seattle are regulated by the City, however, many are. Illegal cutting can be divided into the following categories:
PARKS: Trees growing within the boundaries of City of Seattle, Department of Parks and Recreation-owned parks and boulevards, as well as City-owned greenbelts may only be pruned after obtaining a permit from the Department of Parks and Recreation. Tree removal is not allowed for view improvement. Tree topping is prohibited on all Parks properties.
RIGHTS-OF-WAY: Trees growing within street or alley rights-of-way may only be pruned or removed after obtaining a permit from the Urban Forestry section of the Seattle Department of Transportation. Trees growing within unimproved rights-of-way are also included in these regulations. Tree topping is prohibited on all rights-of-way.
ENVIRONMENTALLY CRITICAL AREAS (ECAs): Removing, clearing or any action detrimental to habitat, vegetation or trees is prohibited within ECAs and regulated by the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI)- see Client Assistant Memo (CAM) 331. This includes areas characterized by steep slope, potential slide areas, known slide areas, wetlands, wetland buffers, riparian corridors, shoreline habitat and shoreline habitat buffers. Only non-native and hazardous trees ( CAM 331B) can be removed within some of these ECAs and only with a replanting plan reviewed and approved by SDCI ( SMC 25.09.320 and CAM 331A). General tree maintenance is allowed without permits, as long as the action is not harmful to the health of the tree, and meets accepted pruning standards. Tree topping is prohibited in ECAs.
UNDEVELOPED LOTS: On undeveloped lots, trees greater than 6 inches in diameter may not be removed unless they are hazardous or approved as part of a development permit. Learn more here.
OTHER PRIVATE PROPERTY: Interim regulations managed by SDCI also limit the removal of certain trees in lowrise, midrise, and commercial zones and on single-family lots greater than 5,000 sq ft. Within these areas, no trees considered exceptional may be removed and the removal of non-exceptional trees is limited to 3 trees per year. More information regarding trees on private property.
Tree companies working on regulated trees or in regulated areas should have a copy of any permit that has been issued by a City department in their possession on the job site. If they cannot produce a permit, they are subject to a stop-work order.
Reporting Illegal Cutting
- Illegal cutting on Seattle Parks Department property should be reported to (206) 684-4113 during regular business hours (8:00 am - 4:00 pm - Monday through Friday.)
- Illegal cutting on other public property should be reported to (206) 684-TREE (8733) during regular business hours ( 8:00 am – 4:00 pm – Monday through Friday).
- Illegal cutting on private property should be reported to SDCI at 615-0808 ( 8:00 am – 4:30pm – Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays & 10:00 am – 4:30 pm – Wednesdays).
- During non-business hours call the police non-emergency number 206-625-5011 to report illegal cutting.