Dead tree clearing angers tribe, public

POULSBO — If a tree falls in a the woods and into a salmon stream and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Who knows.

If it falls next to Poulsbo Village, it caused plenty of noise.

Residents and environmental officials from the Suquamish Tribe were in an uproar this week after a small-scale tree cutting operation felled several large timbers into Dogfish Creek. The stream, which has been declared a “critical habitat” for the threatened Puget Sound Chinook by the National Marine Fisheries Service, was adversely affected by the project and future salmon populations may have been harmed as a result, according to the tribe.

“It’s shocking that the city would allow this kind of activity literally right on top of this stream,” Suquamish Fisheries Director Rob Purser said, noting that heavy equipment was driven through the stream even though salmon are spawning there. Although there were no carcasses visible in the small segment of waterway at the south end of the shopping center, marks where the equipment crossed the stream were evident — despite the fact that they were covered with hay.

While representatives from Poulsbo Village refused to comment on the safety project, city officials said they were contacted about the proposal a few months ago and asked for guidance.

“The owner of the property called in and wanted some guidance,” parks and recreation director Mary McCluskey explained. “Our arborist took a look at it and apparently indicated that they had some hazardous trees.”

However, she pointed out, the city was not directly involved in the project other than lending out its arborist. In fact, no permit was required for the private work because stumps were not being cleared and soil wasn’t overly disturbed.

“Some of the trees were found to be dangerous and as a result the property owner decided to have them removed,” McCluskey said. “I know, trees are trees... and it’s hard to see them go, but sometimes it’s just like taking down a dilapidated building.”

The 10 trees that were felled were dead already and had may have posed a threat to local pedestrians and motorists. Arborist Kevin McFarland had identified the trees as problems even before the recent wind and snow storms further weakened them.

City planner Glenn Gross said he had been contacted by Poulsbo Village manager Bev Woods several months ago about the dead-tree problem but having “no jurisdiction” over the land in question, he was unable to get directly involved. McFarland, he added, was simply sent to offer some professional advice.

Senior planner Barry Berezowsky said he met with Suquamish Fisheries Biologist Tom Ostrom Thursday afternoon but the two did not see eye-to-eye on issues concerning Poulsbo’s legal powers over the privately-owned parcel.

“The city’s contention that this isn’t a critical area and subject to the city’s environmental ordinances is troubling,” Ostrom said. “By clearing this land, the land owners have spoiled one of the last good places for chum and coho inside of Poulsbo.”

But Berezowsky noted that, according to the city attorney, Poulsbo has no jurisdiction over the land. He also explained that should the owners of the village chose to further clear the land, the city may get involved.

“Tom (Ostrom) has a different opinion about our critical areas code than our city attorney,” Berezowsky remarked, adding that Poulsbo would try to work more closely with the Suquamish Tribe and keep it informed of such projects in the future. “We’re keeping a close eye on it so that if something goes on that requires city approval we’ll do that.”

Despite this and because of recent cooperative efforts between the two entities which garnered a $1.4 million grant to restore portions of Dogfish Creek, Purser was surprised by the city’s stance.

“We recognize the dedication of the city to salmon habitat restoration,” he said. “While that grant will be a huge boon for salmon, the best way to protect habitat is to ensure it isn’t hurt in the first place.”

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