A Red Cedar Named Luma

Activists climb an important and historic Western red cedar tree named Luma to prevent its loss to development.

Activists climb an important and historic Western red cedar tree named Luma to prevent its loss to development. Image Unsplash.

Activists climb an important and historic Western red cedar tree named Luma to prevent its loss to development.

Seattle activists have occupied a tree named Luma, highlighting increasing tensions between real estate developers, the Snoqualmie First Nation, suburban residents, and the government amidst reductions in the urban canopy and a heating planet.

Cities Everywhere Are Getting Hotter

As global warming continues to show its face as one of humanity’s most critical issues, we see rising temperatures everywhere, but most drastically in urban areas. 

Scientists have identified this phenomenon as the urban heat island effect, in which areas that lack significant foliage and tree canopies are subject to incredibly high temperatures. 

This is compounded by the large amount of heat-retaining materials used in everyday construction, mainly tarmac for parking lots and roads and concrete for buildings. These materials trap the heat in themselves and increase the overall temperature of cities. 

While air conditioners are used in many residential and commercial spaces to combat this problem, the issue remains to be addressed comprehensively. One of the ways that we can fight this without using air conditioners is by planting more trees in urban spaces and preserving the existing trees that stand. 

This and other reasons are behind the recent occupation of a western red cedar in Seattle, Washington State, USA. This is why and how activists have taken control of a single western red cedar named Luma to prevent its loss to development. 

Historical and Contemporary Reasons

Throughout our world, trees can be found in nearly every landscape in every country. To explain the importance of trees feels redundant, as it seems evident in the collective consciousness of humanity. 

Yet, despite this inherent understanding of how forests and trees are essential to us, we still cut down thousands of trees annually in our quest to develop and grow our society and cities. Understanding our inherent connection to nature in Western culture seems neglected and forgotten. 

However, indigenous people worldwide know and understand this fact intimately, and trees and forests remain incredibly valuable in the ground and growing. 

In the Pacific Northwest, this is especially true as forests cover a significant portion of the landscape. While the Seattle metropolitan area has been growing over the past 100 years, there are still many places in the city where trees can still be found. 

However, the urban canopy of Seattle has been declining over recent years, increasing the temperature of those within the city limits and decreasing the quality of life for many. 

While planting more trees is essential, keeping existing trees in the ground is even more important, as older trees are much more capable of capturing and storing carbon dioxide than younger trees. 

This is why activists have decided to occupy this single western red cedar in Seattle. Luma has existed for hundreds of years, and to the indigenous Snoqualmie people of Seattle, Luma is significant for historical and archaeological reasons. 

There is evidence of marking and shaping of its branches done by indigenous people years before serving as a waypoint or marker for those following the trail. 

The on which Luma sits is slated for development from a single-family home to six housing units. According to Bryan Stevens, the Department of Construction and Inspections spokesman, “The tree sits towards the middle of the parcel, making it difficult to preserve while also allowing for the development to achieve the number of housing units allowed on the property.” 

See also: Eight Eco-Startups to Help Reforestation.

The Climb for Urban Foliage

As a result of the plans to remove Luma, activists began climbing and occupying it, plastering signs around the tree highlighting the reasons for preservation. They began settling it on July 14 and have taken shifts occupying the tree. 

Direct action to preserve important sites is sometimes the only route left available to ensure preservation, and in this case, the necessity is obvious. 

The people occupied Luma to prevent the developer from removing her before the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation could coordinate with the landowner to preserve and maintain the tree’s existence. Thankfully, they won.

The developer, who also faces similar legal challenges with regard to a tree on another property, has agreed to alter the site plan to allow the tree to remain. Luma will be spared, and with luck, she will live to her lifespan of another thousand years or more. Children yet to be born will play in her shade and benefit from her continued existence.

We need big changes in how cities grow to keep city trees and green spaces thriving, and cities must prioritize trees for the future. This means city governments should spend more on planting and caring for trees in all neighborhoods. Leaders also need to update rules for construction and development projects. New laws should make developers save existing trees, plant trees, and add green areas when building.

Communities and environmental groups can also push for laws to protect healthy, mature trees. Every city is different, but they all depend on trees for shade, beauty, and cleaning the air. So people must come together and take action to save our trees and add more in the future. If we make room for trees as cities grow, we can keep cities livable, healthy, and green for all.

The fight for Luma represents the fight for a better quality of life amid escalating climate change effects, and the activists, successful in their goals, provide hope for battles yet to come.

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