Speaking for the trees

They give us the air that we breathe.

They shade us in the summer, offer breathtaking color during dark autumn days and, whether you consciously realize it or not, they comfort.

Street trees are the only connection to nature that many city-dwellers have. And they are in trouble.

"If we had to pay for what trees do, we wouldn't treat them so poorly," says Cass Turnbull, founder of Plant Amnesty. "We take them for granted because they are free."

Even the Emerald City is guilty. The 2005-06 biennial budget proposed by Mayor Greg Nickels and approved by the City Council has eliminated two of the five positions within the City Arborist's office.

Today, Nov. 17, Plant Amnesty members and all tree lovers are invited to gather in front of the mayor's office building to oppose this budget cut and offer support to our urban forest.

"We are already so far below minimum maintenance for our trees that to cut more is abso- lutely absurd," states Turnbull. "We have insufficient laws and enforcement as it is."

Before the budget cuts the arborist office had a part-time receptionist, two arboriculturists, a tree crew supervisor and the City Arborist who managed the unit. Now, the supervisor position and one of the arboriculturists have been cut.

"Arborists are not putting up Christmas lights," says Turnbull. "They are pruning trees for our safety and for the tree's survival." She offers the analogy of putting oil in your car - everything, including trees, must be maintained.

"It is a false savings to cut a maintenance budget," says Turnbull, who along with other Plant Amnesty members will don tree costumes and carry picket signs for Wednesday's event. "It is cheaper to maintain something than it is to replace it."

One picket sign reads: Water a tree $15, Replace a tree $350

"We are tired of always taking the brunt of budget cuts," says Turnbull. "Urban forest is a utility - it is not just pretty. It cleans our air, shades our city and stops the overflow of storm sewer systems [by slowing] runoff."

In a letter to Michael Oxman, a certified arborist and passionate tree advocate, Councilmember Richard Conlin agreed that axing the arbori-culturists is a shortsighted cut proposed by the mayor, and that the positions need to be restored. Conlin noted that council members are looking to put together a package whereby one arboriculturist position is restored in 2005 and the other in 2006.

According to the Center for Urban Forest Research at Davis, Calif., every 1,000 urban trees we plant in the Northwest today will save our region more than a million dollars in stormwater management, pollution abatement, and energy costs.

"People think that trees are incidental: nice but not necessary," says Turnbull. "They think they care for themselves. Trees in an urban environment need to be taken care of."

Turnbull quotes Don Wilikie, a fellow tree advocate: "We would need trees if they were ugly and smelled bad."

Lucky for us, they aren't and they don't. Yet many worry that trees are not getting the economic attention that they deserve.

"You just can't keep cutting and cutting and cutting," says Turnbull. "One out of seven new trees in the city die due to insufficient care. We have minimum legal protection for trees."

Michael Oxman believes that the public is being shortchanged.

"Trees are the only property in-vestment that actually increase as time goes on," he says. "They are worth more later."

Trees reduce city noise, offer habitat to our birds and wildlife, produce oxygen and drink up toxic carbon dioxide, but they are, unfortunately mute. Aside from rustling leaves and clicking branches, trees do not speak.

"It is always the green things that get cut first," agrees Turnbull. Wednesday, those who are reverent of the green will take to the streets and speak for the trees.

"We are going to make a fuss," says Oxman. "We are going to call attention to what the city has done."[[In-content Ad]]