NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, August 9th, 2023

A victory for tree retention in Seattle: Luma the western red cedar won’t be cut down

The City of Seat­tle announced today that it has reached an agree­ment with the Sno­qulamie Tribe, lender Lega­cy Cap­i­tal, and Lega­cy’s part­ners to pre­serve a large, healthy west­ern red cedar locat­ed on a par­cel in the Wedg­wood neigh­bor­hood, in an impor­tant and hope­ful­ly prece­dent-set­ting vic­to­ry for tree retention.

The tree, affec­tion­ate­ly named Luma, has become glob­al­ly famous this sum­mer after cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion activists ral­lied to save it. Among those activists are sev­er­al who have coura­geous­ly act­ed to pro­tect Luma from chain­saws with their own bod­ies. Tak­ing the pseu­do­nym Droplet, they have staged a week­s­long sit-in, with the help of ground crews and a sup­port­ive neighbor.

A sign urging that Luma the western red cedar be saved

A sign affixed to a fence sur­round­ing Luma urg­ing that the tree be saved (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Though ini­tial­ly unco­op­er­a­tive and resis­tant to appeals to pro­tect the tree, Lega­cy, Rock House Builders (the prop­er­ty own­er), and Bad Boyz GC (the con­trac­tor) have now agreed to leave Luma stand­ing and mod­i­fy their plans for the parcel.

Tree pro­tec­tion activists scru­ti­niz­ing the behav­ior of Lega­cy and its part­ners have found that they often revise the site plans they sub­mit to the city so they can chop down trees that they do not actu­al­ly need to cut in order to con­struct new homes on those parcels, which is just deplorable. A pavil­ion set up near Luma has a print­ed copy of one of the site plans that shows the tree intact.

I pho­tographed this plan yes­ter­day when I vis­it­ed Luma. Here’s what it looks like:

One of the site plans for the parcel where Luma is located

This pho­to­graph depicts one of the site plans filed with the City of Seat­tle for the par­cel where Luma is locat­ed. Luma can be seen on the plan, shad­ed in green. The anno­tat­ed plan is avail­able for inspec­tion at the pavil­ion set up by tree pro­tec­tion activists near the prop­er­ty. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Luma is locat­ed on the edge of the par­cel that Lega­cy is rede­vel­op­ing. It is esti­mat­ed to be sev­er­al hun­dred years old and is con­sid­ered a cul­tur­al­ly mod­i­fied tree. That means it was altered by our indige­nous Coast Sal­ish peoples.

The Sno­qualmie Tribe has explained that ances­tors would shape the boughs of trees such as Luma to pro­vide direc­tions to impor­tant sites. Luma was appar­ent­ly used to denote the pres­ence of a trail sys­tem that pre­ced­ed Seat­tle’s founding.

The tribe has been active­ly work­ing to save Luma for sev­er­al weeks.

This can­not be empha­sized enough: Lega­cy does not need to remove Luma in order to build new homes on the prop­er­ty it pur­chased. Luma is not stand­ing in the way of the rede­vel­op­ment of the prop­er­ty. It is not an obsta­cle or bar­ri­er to the con­struc­tion of hous­ing. Rather, it is a neigh­bor­hood icon, a cli­mate action resource, a cul­tur­al trea­sure, and a con­nec­tion to our past.

A com­pa­ny named Lega­cy ought to have under­stood that from the get-go. It should­n’t have tak­en a com­mu­ni­ty out­cry, sit-in, and glob­al media cov­er­age to get Lega­cy and its part­ners to recon­sid­er and com­mit to doing the right thing.

“Trees and hous­ing are both crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant to Seattle’s future,” Seat­tle May­or Bruce Har­rell said in a state­ment. “Work­ing togeth­er, I’m grate­ful for the col­lab­o­ra­tive approach embraced by the own­er, builder, lender, and Sno­qualmie Tribe to reach a solu­tion pre­serv­ing this cul­tur­al­ly mod­i­fied tree and allow­ing for much need­ed hous­ing. We look for­ward to con­tin­ued part­ner­ship with Tribes and region­al Native lead­ers to iden­ti­fy and pro­tect cul­tur­al­ly mod­i­fied trees in our city.”

NPI’s research has repeat­ed­ly found that mas­sive majori­ties of Seat­tle vot­ers sup­port poli­cies to max­i­mize tree reten­tion and grow the Emer­ald City’s urban forests. Years of tree canopy decline have left Seat­tleites worried.

A super­ma­jor­i­ty of spe­cial elec­tion vot­ers told us in Jan­u­ary they are con­cerned about tree loss as rede­vel­op­ment takes place. What almost hap­pened to Luma shows why they have good rea­son to be concerned.

If you’d like to read our tree pro­tec­tion find­ings, nav­i­gate to these posts:

Our team would like to see tree pro­tec­tion embraced by more urban­ists in Seat­tle’s pro­gres­sive com­mu­ni­ty. Our urban forests are an essen­tial resource for mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate dam­age and cre­at­ing healthy neigh­bor­hoods that peo­ple want to live in. Trees pro­vide shade, pro­tec­tion from noise pol­lu­tion, and essen­tial habi­tat for birds and oth­er crea­tures. They enhance our spir­i­tu­al well-being and con­nec­tion to nature. There is no “tech­nol­o­gy” we can invent to address cli­mate dam­age that will ever be supe­ri­or to what nature has giv­en us.

Trees like Luma are not an imped­i­ment to attain­able hous­ing and denser com­mu­ni­ties. Rather, they are an asset — and that is how we need to treat them.

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