TREES — SHADE-DAPPLING, food-bearing, wildlife-protecting, property-enhancing, view-threatening, energy-saving, hammock-holding, sidewalk-buckling, sewer-busting trees. I get it; it’s complicated: Stop by, and I’ll show you my shiny new sewer line. And yet it’s also profoundly simple.
The world needs trees.
The Last 6,000, an initiative created in memory of PlantAmnesty founder Cass Turnbull, is a collaborative citizen-led effort to locate, identify and map Seattle’s remaining majestic trees. The name of the campaign comes from a 2016 report on Seattle’s tree canopy, which stated that only around 6,000 trees with a trunk diameter of 30 inches or greater remain in our city.
“Trees bring out the best in people,” says Diana Gardiner, one of five steering committee members leading the all-volunteer effort. In addition to gathering data on Seattle’s trees, the organization is engaging the community and collecting personal stories and history related to individual trees. “One of our goals is to grow tree awareness,” she says. Officially, the six-month campaign launched on April 1, 2019, with a goal to add 1,000 trees to The Last 6,000 Action Database, followed by a public report of the findings.
Jim Davis, another steering committee member, says, “Trees inspire awe.” In return for all they do for us, our trees need tending. Davis describes majestic trees in Seattle as endangered.
It’s not easy being a tree in the city. As a growing population and increased density consume planting space, soil compaction from roads and sidewalks, building and development negatively impact the roots of existing trees. We’re losing our precious trees and, as a result, our city is heating up and becoming more polluted. In a word: diminished.
Trees absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. A mature canopy provides energy-free cooling shade, while tree roots soak up water during storms and stabilize our hillsides. In addition to gathering data on individual trees, The Last 6,000 is setting up a network of “branch managers” to serve as neighborhood resources on tree stewardship.
What makes a tree majestic? According to The Last 6,000 website, “The ecological benefit of a tree is directly reflected by the measure of a tree’s trunk diameter.” The group is focusing on trees with a trunk diameter at breast height, or 4½ feet high, of 30 inches or greater.
When I spoke with Davis and Gardiner in late summer, their organization was 500 majestic trees closer to its goal. We can all help grow The Last 6,000 database. It’s easy. After our conversation, I ventured into my neighbors’ back garden with my sights on a truly impressive Western red cedar.
Following simple instructions found on The Last 6,000 website, with a thumbtack, some string, a measuring tape and a little math, I was able to determine that “my” tree had a diameter, or cross section, measuring 70 inches — definitely majestic. I submitted the data on the website’s input form and christened my entry “Gordon’s Tree,” in honor of the previous owner of the property. Gordon, an old-school nurseryman and my earliest garden mentor, planted and tended the landscape for more than 50 years. It felt good to honor him and the awesome tree he left for us.