Revised urban forestry plan could protect Tacoma's heritage trees

The City of Tacoma’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is expected to be briefed this week on a draft version of the revised Urban Forest Policy that could help protect many of the city’s oldest trees.

According to the document, which was included with the LPC’s meeting agenda, two categories specifically address the preservation of century-old trees.

One category, appropriately titled “Preservation,” would establish a Heritage Tree Program to recognize and protect historically and culturally significant trees in Tacoma. “[E]lements of our urban forest have significant cultural, historical or ecological meaning to residents, and as such deserve to be recognized and preserved for future generations to enjoy,” the policy reads in part.

A second category, titled “Urban Forest Records and Information,” would direct the city to collect preliminary data that would include a heritage tree inventory.

The categories are part of an overhaul to the Urban Forest Policy that will be developed and adopted in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan Amendment.

Last August, the Tacoma Daily Index was the first to report city staff, along with preservation advocate Marshall McClintock, were exploring the creation of a register of heritage trees (see “Saving Tacoma’s Urban Arbor” and “Preserving Tacoma’s Heritage Trees: An interview with Marshall McClintock”).

McClintock, chair of the North Slope Historic District’s board of directors, has combed through archives that document the city’s street beautification projects. He’s also consulted “Champion Trees of Washington State” by Robert Van Pelt to learn more about heritage trees. He has identified three trees in and around the North Slope that could be added to a heritage tree register if created:

  • A Cedar of Lebanon tree located near the historic Rust Mansion on North I Street. McClintock estimates it was part of the mansion’s original landscaping, and could date back as far as 1905-1910;
  • A large Spanish Chestnut tree located on a parking strip near North Sheridan Avenue and North Fifth Street. McClintock estimates it was planted between 1890 and 1910 as part of a street beautification project;
  • And a Catalpa tree located near Frisko Freeze. This, too, dates back between 1890 and 1910, according to McClintock.

“These trees are ones that are recognized and people sort of consider them to be iconic,” said McClintock. “People know, ‘Oh, the big Chestnut tree.’ They are aware of it. In fact, I think they would probably want to register more of them. I get a number of calls from people who are upset when large trees are taken down.”

Ramie Pierce, Tacoma’s Urban Forester, is expected to brief the LPC on the issue Weds., June 10 at 5:00 p.m. at Tacoma Municipal Building North, 728 St. Helens. For a copy of the agenda and meeting packet, visit For more information about the city’s Urban Forestry Department, visit

A Catalpa tree looms over Frisko Freeze. According to one historian, the tree dates back between 1890 and 1910. (PHOTO BY TODD MATTHEWS)

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengers; third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright; and second-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State. His work has also appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at