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Seattle activists occupy old cedar tree to stop it being cut down for housing

Protest on private lot the latest episode highlighting tensions as climate crisis diminishes Seattle’s urban canopy

With ropes, a harness, a hammock and a bucket pulley system, masked activists in Seattle have taken residence in the branches of an old, thick cedar tree to prevent it from being cut down to make way for new homes.

The protest on a private lot is the latest episode highlighting tensions behind tree policy in Seattle as the climate crisis increases temperatures and urban canopy decreases.

The western red cedar, dubbed “Luma” is about 80ft (24.4m) tall, with two trunks that are each about 4ft (1.2m) in diameter.

Its age is not known, but activists have estimated it could be as many as 200 years old. The Snoqualmie Indian Tribe is seeking to have the tree preserved for its archaeological significance, saying that Native Americans shaped 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 is setting the tone for every other tree that’s under threat in Seattle,” one said from the tree. “We have to show that we mean business.”

The occupation began on 14 July, with each activist taking shifts of several days in the tree.

Some local residents hope to see it preserved.

“We were led to believe that this tree was was going to be kept,” said Andy Stewart, who lives down the block. “Then we got surprised to learn that the final permits were approved with the tree being removed.”

The tree is on a development site where a single family home is being replaced with six housing units split between two parcels. After the city surveyed the site and proposal, it decided that the tree needed to be removed to accommodate the new housing,

The initial plans neighbors cited didn’t accurately show the extent of the tree’s roots, said Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the department of construction and inspections.

“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,” Stevens said.

Stevens said the city can’t revoke the removal permit. The project is funded by Legacy Group Capital, which did not reply to an email from the Associated Press seeking comment.

The Snoqualmie Tribe this week sent a letter to the city asking officials to halt the removal. The city suggested the tribe reach out to state authorities to further assess if the tree is on an archeological site.

It’s unclear if the tree will be removed because new coordination between the landowner and the Washington department of archaeology and historic preservation is needed, Stevens said.

The department did not immediately respond to an email Friday. Cities across the country have pledged to plant more trees to combat climate crisis and its impact. Trees not only absorb carbon dioxide but also cool cities. Researchers also say old trees need to be tended in cities because new plantings can take 10 to 20 years to start providing environmental benefits.

“Our majestic trees, for the most part, are our very largest native trees. And they are the most valuable in terms of keeping the community healthy and preserving our ecosystem,” said Sandy Shettler of the Last 6000, a group that aims to count and protect old trees. Western red cedars can live up to 1,500 years in forests, according to the Washington department of natural resources.

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