© 2023 Aspen Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
The environment desk at Aspen Public Radio covers issues in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout the state of Colorado including water use and quality, impact of recreation, population growth and oil and gas development. APR’s Environment Reporter is Elizabeth Stewart-Severy.

Trees fall to save building

Barbara Platts/Aspen Public Radio News

As the City of Aspen works to maintain a healthy forest, developers face hefty fees to remove trees. Sometimes, though, city council is willing to let the trees fall in order to save a building.


When you take down an 85-foot-tall spruce tree in a residential neighborhood, you start with the top. That’s about 25 feet of spruce falling neatly into a cleared construction zone.

Dan Strange is the owner of Quality Tree Service, and he oversaw the removal of eight large spruces from a lot in the West End.

“Sort of like the concept of how you eat an elephant - one bite at a time,” Strange said.

The city takes a bite, too. Property owners who remove trees to build face some steep fees. The cost to mitigate reaches quickly into the thousands of dollars, up to over $50,000, based on the trunk diameter. The first step, though, is a permit from city forester Ben Carlsen.

Credit Barbara Platts/Aspen Public Radio News
The Berko studio, a registered Aspen Modern historic property, sits among tall spruces.

“Not all of the trees that are requested for these development permits for removal, a lot of times, they’re not permitted for removal because that development can occur without that happening,” Carlsen said.  

In those cases, most developers have to build around existing trees, but sometimes City Council gets involved, like it did with those eight big spruces. Those sat on the historic Berko property, which is being updated. It involves moving the original building to the other side of the lot, and the trees were in the way of making that happen. The noted photographer’s post-war, Bauhaus-style studio is protected under the Aspen Modern historic designation. So, approval to take out one of those evergreens came straight from City Council after Carlsen denied the request.

Even when Carlsen is disappointed to see trees cut down, he said the city’s forest is healthy, even overplanted in areas. That might be because property owners who remove trees to build have a choice: pay thousands in fees to the city, or invest that money into planting new trees. Many people choose the latter.

“There are a lot more trees planted than are being removed. Because we all know and understand the benefits of trees,” Carlsen said.  

The city does not keep records on how many trees are removed each year as a result of development, but Carlsen said he’s just starting to take inventory.

Credit Barbara Platts/Aspen Public Radio News

Perhaps no one knows trees better than the guys who do the work to trim and cut them, like Quality Tree Service’s Chad Strange, who has worked for his dad’s business since he was a kid. It’s hard work cutting down 85-foot-tall trees — both physically and emotionally.

“It shatters my heart. I weep for the trees because that’s a living organism, that produces oxygen for us, and it hurts me,” Strange said. “But, I’ll go home and I’ll plant trees.”


Aspen native Elizabeth Stewart-Severy is excited to be making a return to both the Red Brick, where she attended kindergarten, and the field of journalism. She has spent her entire life playing in the mountains and rivers around Aspen, and is thrilled to be reporting about all things environmental in this special place. She attended the University of Colorado with a Boettcher Scholarship, and graduated as the top student from the School of Journalism in 2006. Her lifelong love of hockey lead to a stint working for the Colorado Avalanche, and she still plays in local leagues and coaches the Aspen Junior Hockey U-19 girls.
Related Content