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News / Northwest

Activists want to save Seattle Western red cedar

Protesters urge city to change tree oversight code

By Lauren Girgis, The Seattle Times
Published: February 26, 2024, 7:01pm

SEATTLE — Residents in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood experienced an episode of déjà vu Saturday afternoon, when environmental activists and community members once more descended upon a property in the midst of development, where a large Western red cedar stands.

Tree Action Seattle, an urban forestry advocacy group, hosted a neighborhood gathering to preserve the tree nicknamed Astra at 3003 Northeast 88th St. — about four blocks west of another Western red cedar, nicknamed Luma, that was slated for removal for a development last summer, until protests sparked actions that saved the tree. Luma was found to be culturally modified by the Snoqualmie people over centuries, and the cedar was declared an archaeological site.

About one hundred people gathered in front of the site that’s currently Astra’s home on Saturday. They called the tree Luma’s “sister cedar,” as they’re the same species, in the same neighborhood and a similar size.

But activists say their protests are about more than saving a couple of trees, and they want to overhaul the city’s current tree oversight system that they argue is unduly influenced by developer interests.

“Trees are not coming down because we’re building new housing. Trees are coming down because we’re carelessly building new housing,” Sandy Shettler with Tree Action Seattle said at Saturday’s gathering. Activists argue that building new housing stock can happen while prioritizing climate justice.

Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss, who sits on the land use committee, previously defended the city’s new tree code, saying it was balanced, and that it protected trees without putting them at odds with housing. When the tree ordinance was up for a vote last year, he said he would support additional legislation to refine the bill, but that it is a good sign neither side is completely satisfied.

The development plans, filed last spring, are to demolish the single-family home in the lot and replace it with one family dwelling unit and a detached accessory structure. The site developer is Legacy Capital Group, the developer that planned to remove Luma last summer. According to the documents, the owner of the site is a corporation called Take 3003 LLC, formed in July 2023.

The group says it’s possible to carry through with the plans without cutting down Astra.

However, activists say someone took a chainsaw around the bottom of the tree’s trunk this month, irrevocably damaging it. On Saturday, a ring was marked about a foot above the roots of the tree. At its deepest point, the cut perforates about 3 inches into the tree’s trunk.

It’s unlikely the tree can survive the damage, Shettler said.