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Where We Live: Growing Trees

New opportunity for our urban forests

You’ve heard of oxymorons- “Jumbo Shrimp”, “Pretty Ugly”, “Head Butt”, “Urban Forest”… What was that? Yes, it’s real, and it speaks to our past, present, and future. Shoreline has three trees on its logo and of course it’s Lake Forest Park, and both our towns were almost all forest up ‘til a century ago.

LFP’s street grid, maddeningly incomplete as it is, is a direct result of logging. All those ‘main’ roads which wander up stream valleys radiating from the head of Lake Washington started out as logging roads for dragging trees down to the Rowe & Waddel shingle mill or to the lake to float off to the sawmills, then later were loosely, partially connected with either rectilinear or random grid. Only a few trees, a few scraps of Old Growth remained on steep slopes, yet the community was founded so, in the 1909 words of Ole Hanson, founding land speculator, "Here the laughing waters will forever make gladsome the hearts of the sylvan dwellers…"

Back then, you couldn’t buy a lot if you wanted to put up a saloon, roadhouse, or store. All commerce was presumably to take place in the Big City (Seattle’s northern border was then at NE 85th St), and you could get there by car. No one realized just what a hairball that assumption would become decades hence. By the 1920s they’d relented just enough to allow a few stores and gas stations and whatnot. Now there’s the Lake Forest Park Town Center, planning for which materially drove the incorporation of LFP as a city in 1961. They were afraid of “a loss of freedom from urban sprawl” per HistoryLink, never quite recognizing they were urban sprawl!

Shoreline was logged off completely. There was a shingle mill at Echo Lake and quickly growing Seattle would buy everything local forests could produce.

Fast forward: 2012. Now, instead of cutting down trees as fast as we can we are discussing ways to increase our tree canopy! Lake Forest Park has been a Tree City USA for nine years and Shoreline has applied for the status. As I wrote in “A Tree’s Place”  our landscape is tree-heaven. Almost all our native species can make good yard and park trees, and all of them are necessary for our healthy environment. So, Urban Forestry.

The US Forest Service (yeah, Smokey the Bear and his crew) is very much into city trees and the Society of Municipal Arborists and the International Society of Arboriculture are the major professional organizations in the field. Essentially, it’s exactly what it sounds like. “Urban forestry is the careful care and management of urban forests, i.e., tree populations in urban settings for the purpose of improving the urban environment.”, as Wikipedia puts it. Is that what we do? You bet, but I’m a bit leery of one thing. I hope we don’t forget that “improving the urban environment” is best served by restoration of the natural environment! Trees are never mere decorations to be changed as casually as a dress.

Now it looks like we might have more options for the transformations we’re looking for. On September 28 the state announced The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is providing assistance to local governments starting in Clark, King, and Pierce counties that want to improve the health of their urban forests. Other cities or counties may apply for the same type of projects.

The Urban Forestry Restoration Project is an exciting opportunity to increase the health of urban forests in the Puget Sound Basin and southwest Washington areas. The project will help to enhance effectiveness of urban forests in managing stormwater and improving water quality.

DNR’s Urban and Community Forestry Program will provide crews from Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) and Puget SoundCorps to assist city and county governments with urban forestry activities that help restore urban forests. Projects will be developed collaboratively with Puget Sound Basin communities and will be ranked according to measurable benefits provided to water quality and Puget Sound restoration.”

The city also has its own program to help neighborhoods. As Shoreline’s website says “The Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program provides matching grants up to $5,000 to neighborhood associations formally recognized by the City of Shoreline. The Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program supports neighborhood improvements, promotes neighborhood associations and funds activities and events that bring neighbors together. Neighborhood associations can use a combination volunteer hours, in-kind donations or money for their portion of the matching grant.

Among past Mini-Grants you’ll find “Tree plantings and replacement of tree frogs in neighborhood park” and “Park restoration projects”, so any recognized Neighborhood Association could in principle fund small-scale improvements like eliminating invasives, daylighting stream sections, or other useful things themselves, and if properly coordinated the two programs could synergize, with the DNR funding doing some big thing and neighborhood grants taking care of smaller details toward the same goal.

We’re sure to get resistance from some quarters but that shouldn’t discourage strong efforts, and may yet nurture cooperation among the various factions. For instance, what if we got a DNR grant to reopen all of upstream Storm Creek, with Mini-Grants to convert local driveways to pervious paving or the like? That would act directly on an acknowledged daylighting target and urban trees restoration while simultaneously- immediately- reducing runoff into the creek which generates the greatest amount of vitriol from Innis Arden. Win-win!

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