City issues fine over the removal of more than 100 trees from a south Salem property

Whitney Woodworth
Salem Statesman Journal
Trees felled at a property on Marietta Street SE near 27th Avenue SE in South Salem in December.

Following an investigation, Salem has issued a fine of $138,187.50 for the removal of more than 100 trees at a 30-acre property in south Salem. According to the city, 48 of those trees were Oregon White Oaks, which are protected.

The fine was issued to the property owners, property manager and a local tree service connected to the vacant property at 2792 Marietta St. SE near 27th Avenue and Kuebler Boulevard SE. The owners will be required to plant new trees that are equal in value to the trees removed.

City ordinances require city approval prior to removing some trees on private property, depending on the number, size and type of tree. Officials told the Statesman Journal in December a permit application for the tree removal was neither submitted nor approved by Salem's planning department. 

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Following public concern and questions from the Statesman Journal, staff in December began investigating the felled trees.

The site is kitty-corner from the new Costco location on Kuebler Boulevard, which has been the subject of separate controversy involving the care of several large white oaks. 

Proposed new tree protections

There was some public speculation in December that the tree removal may have been fueled by proposed changes to Salem's tree laws, expands restrictions on tree removal and preservation during the development process. 

Salem City Council considered changes to the unified development code expand the definition of significant trees, which currently includes Oregon white oaks over 24 inches, to include all Oregon white oaks over 20 inches and any tree over 30 inches in diameter. 

The changes also increase the minimum tree preservation requirement for conservation plans by developers from 25% to 30%. 

City council approved the changes in January. The amendments are awaiting a second reading in February followed by a 30-day waiting period before the new rules become official. 

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Checking for compliance

Public Works spokesman Trevor Smith said in December a code compliance officer was sent to survey the property. While on site, the officer saw no active cutting taking place.

Smith said the city does allow property owners of large parcels to remove trees without a permit under certain circumstances.

Currently, city code allows for the removal of trees from large properties as long as the removal does not result in:

  • Removal of more than five trees or 15% of the trees, whichever is greater, within a single calendar year.
  • Removal of more than 50% of the trees within any five consecutive calendar years.
  • Removal of heritage trees, significant trees and trees in riparian corridors.

Smith said officials requested the city's urban forester visit the site at the time to determine the species and size of trees that have been removed.

Urban Forestry Division supervisor Milan Davis said staff in Demceber observed the property and found a lot of significant oak trees had been removed.

But because the cutting occurred on private property, city Development Services handled the response and enforcement and not Public Works.

Marion County property records list three individuals as owners. They appear to have owned the land for decades through a trust and are based out of Washington. 

They own several parcels of land on Marietta Street. The land where the trees were felled is zoned for commercial retail use after being rezoned from residential agricultural and developing residential in 2016. 

No applications for development have been submitted to the city in recent years. 

Concerns at neighboring Costco site

The area where the trees were removed is no stranger to controversy over trees.

For years, residents fought plans to build a Costco Wholesale store on Kuebler Road. One of the reasons cited was that construction could destroy an ancient grove of Oregon white oaks on the land. 

Developers promised to safely transplant the trees. Local environmental advocates argued the move would likely kill them.

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The trees struggled to thrive after being transplanted, officials said. In the summer, many leaves on the oaks were browned and others were bare.

At the time, advocates said by allowing the destruction of the white oaks and other trees for the sake of development, the city was destroying the area's natural air filters, as well as the wildlife that takes refuge within the groves.

For questions, comments and news tips, email reporter Whitney Woodworth at, call 503-910-6616 or follow on Twitter @wmwoodworth