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Branching Out and Growing Support for Trees

October 30, 2018

One of the casualties of rapid regional development can be natural resources like wooded tracts of land throughout South King County. To call attention to this precious natural resource, SoCoCulture (the South King County Cultural Coalition), an organization of more than 70 heritage and arts organizations, presented The Engaging Trees lecture series to remind us of the cultural importance of trees in local communities.

Funded by an Airport Communities Ecology (ACE) grant from the Port of Seattle, the initiative draws attention to the significance of trees in our landscapes and in our lives. The final of three events in near-airport communities is 2 p.m. Sunday, November 18 at Burien Library, 400 SW 152nd Street and features Seattle Times environmental reporter Lynda Mapes, who will discuss her 2017 book, “Witness Tree,” and what people can learn from trees. 

The tale of a tree

Lynda Mapes
Photo credit: Bellamy Pailthorp of Radio KNKX

In “Witness Tree” Mapes wrote about the two years she spent studying the effects of climate change on a single 100-year-old red oak tree in the Harvard Forest in Massachusetts.

“I was looking for a different way to tell the climate change story,” she said. “People tend to tune out parts per million or dueling science. This is the story of a living thing that was affected by climate change and shows that you can see change around you each day.”

She said studying a single tree was away to understand climate change in concrete way and to take something that can seem distant and abstract and make it seem close to home. Mapes hopes to share with the audience how important it is to stand up for trees.

“I can’t think of a reason not to fight for trees and greenspace in our community,” Mapes said. “They bring comfort and beauty and we need beauty in our lives.”

The ecological impacts of trees also cannot be overstated. They provide shelter for animals and clean our air. Trees are able to stay in one place for hundreds of years and provide nutrients to their surrounding environments. 

“A tree is one of the most inspiring living things I know,” Mapes said.

Protecting an important resource

Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture said that by bringing speakers like Mapes out into the community she’s hoping to give people a sense of the importance of trees.

“We want to spread the belief that we can all do something about preserving, protecting, and planting trees,” McMichael said. There is so much development pressure and a lot of us sit back and complain, she said.

“I really do believe in the power of people to come together and have an impact on the way change happens,” she said. “I hope people come out of these sessions meeting other people and realizing they can advocate and be proactive and positive as we go forward.”

McMichael said the ACE grant played an important role in getting the series off the ground. “We are glad the Port recognizes that communities surrounding the airport really do have significant impacts and that they created the ACE fund to help address that. (The ACE fund promotes) all sorts of different ideas in the community and percolating dreams; this is the chance to realize some of those.”

Crowd-sourced story map

Another resource developed with the speaker series is a crowd-sourced story map of trees, called The Forest for the Trees created by artist Katherine Wimble Fox with a grant from 4Culture. Anybody can access the online map to upload a photo of a tree or grove that is special to them, and include a description about why it is important.

Barbara McMichael of SoCoCulture said there are currently around 100 posts on the map but she’s hoping to get more people to contribute.

“We want people to feel empowered and that they can do something; this is one place they can do it,” she said.

Learn more about Lynda Mapes and the Witness Tree Project.


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