SEATTLE (AP) — Using ropes, a harness, a hammock and a bucket-pulley system, masked activists in Seattle have taken up residence in the branches of an old, thick cedar tree to prevent it from being cut down to make way for new housing.
The protest on a private lot is the latest episode highlighting the tensions behind Seattle’s tree policy as climate change raises temperatures and the city’s canopy shrinks.
The Western Red Cedar, called “Luma”, is about 80 feet (24.4 m) tall, with two trunks each about 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter.
Its age is unknown, but activists estimate it may be as old as 200 years. The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe seeks to preserve the tree for its archaeological significance, saying Native Americans formed its branches generations ago to distinguish it as a trail marker.
The protesters have declined to give their names, citing concerns about retaliation.
“We have to win this tree. We have to win because Luma sets the tone for every other tree under threat in Seattle,” said one of the trees. “We have to show that we mean business.”
The occupation began on July 14, with each activist working in the tree for several days.
Some local residents hope it will be preserved.
“We got the impression that this tree would be preserved,” says Andy Stewart, who lives down the street. “Then we were surprised to learn that the final permits had been approved when the tree was removed.”
The tree stands on a development site where a single-family home is being replaced by six residential units spread over two plots. After examining the site and proposal, the city decided that the tree needed to be removed to accommodate the new homes.
The initial plans cited by neighbors did not accurately reflect the extent of the tree’s roots, said Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the Department of Construction and Inspections.
“The tree is in the center of the lot, making it difficult to maintain while allowing development to reach the number of residential units allowed on the property,” Stevens said.
Stevens said the city cannot revoke the removal permit.
The project is funded by Legacy Group Capital, which did not respond to an email from The Associated Press asking for comment.
The Snoqualmie Tribe sent a letter to the city this week asking officials to halt the removal. The city suggested the tribe contact state authorities to further assess whether the tree is on an archaeological site.
It’s unclear if the tree will be removed because new coordination between the landowner and the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation is needed, Stevens said.
The department did not immediately respond to an email on Friday.
Cities across the country have pledged to plant more trees to combat climate change and its impacts. Trees not only absorb carbon dioxide, but also cool cities. Researchers also say that old trees in cities should be cared for because it can take 10 to 20 years for new plantings to yield environmental benefits.
“Our majestic trees are, for the most part, our largest native trees. And they are the most valuable when it comes to keeping the community healthy and preserving our ecosystem,” said Sandy Shettler of the Last 6000, a group dedicated to counting and protecting ancient trees.
Western red cedars can live up to 1,500 years in forests, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.