Friday, June 2, 2006

Ketchum trees stand at will of the owners

Express Staff Writer

A view from River Street looking north on First Avenue shows construction where trees used to be. The fate of the tall trees in front of the Sun Valley Athletic Club, like trees on any piece of private property in Ketchum, is in the hands of the owner. Photo by David N. Seelig

As the sound of a chainsaw still rings in the ears of Hailey residents—and the quiet of the tree-cutting moratorium buys them more time—Ketchum residents are enjoying their city's trees at the will of their owners.

Ketchum's tree ordinance doesn't place any restrictions on tree removal on private property, said city arborist Jen Smith.

"The only reason the city would talk about trees on private property is if they have a pest or if a hazard exists," she said, "like a limb in the right of way or blocking the line of sight."

Last week, the Hailey City Council enacted a 182-day emergency ordinance prohibiting the cutting of large trees. The action was largely in response to a private landowner's removal of five mature spruce trees on Main Street.

Ketchum city officials said ordinances are always subject to review and revision, depending on public need.

"We've always considered the tree ordinance as a dynamic document," Smith said. "It can be changed. There are multiple tree ordinances in the nation that provide for the protection of large trees on private property."

A city could theoretically deem a tree a public resource, she said, and therefore could have the authority to regulate what happens to it.

The public good that comes from trees could include oxygen they produce, character they add to a community and shade they provide, Smith said.

"An argument can be made that (a tree on private property) is part of the community forest," she said. "It's all up to the public."

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