care for trees & each other
Care for Urban Trees & Each Other
Humans have the uncanny ability to remember the past (with varying degrees of accuracy) and think forward into the future…sometimes at the cost of stillness in the present….
In advance of posting the episode, I am recording my voice on the International Day of Forests. The Day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of all types of forests. On each International Day of Forests, countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organize activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns. This is a lesson looking back from our current year of 2025, because 5 years ago we weren’t exactly able to organize in close proximity to each other.
This month we are commemorating 5 years since the coronavirus rose to pandemic proportions threatening to destabilize livelihoods, economies and cultural norms. And our treehugger lifestyle. Its also hard to believe we are still podcasting in our late 40s and haven’t turned to some other technological medium to convey our message about importance of ecological restoration.
Some say the Earth told us to go to our rooms and think about it for awhile back in the early days of 2020. Unfortunately, people died, people lost jobs, and some people did nothing. Some people panicked the f out. Some people got lonely and others connected in other ways. Literally, many many people were forced to do nothing in order to protect the old, the weak and the vulnerable when SARS2 spread around the world. It was a human crisis that called for solidarity.
The optimist in me (or the optimistic amnesia) remembers our mental health and well being were secure because trees kept doing their job like they had for eons. The coronavirus pandemic actually correlated with a tree cutting decline worldwide because people had more important things to worry about for awhile. The urban forest canopy sighed a big puff of oxygen with relief. We drove less, so for a bit of time the excess CO2 in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuel was captured by organic soil bacteria and millions of newly planted trees. We refer to this temporal anomaly as the COVID sequestration.
We cultivated a new sense of stillness while sheltering in place – amazingly Parks and trails were acknowledged as essential services, so we were able to get outside as winter became spring. Gratefully, we moved our bodies. We spent more time with family, we Listened to each other empathetically because we were bombarded with the message “We are here for you AND we are in this together.” We created new schedules and habits, and engaged in forms of creativity even though public health guidelines dictated we shouldn’t meet in groups of 250 then lowered to 50 and then 10 and to keep our safe distance from each other. Traditionally, I was a 2 foot person. And then I soon grew to accept the 6 foot rule as people politely shuffled away.
6 long months of the virus spreading lead to - political decrees, self-quarantine, forced introversion, existential crises, and pleas from the likes of Karen on Twitter who said “Americans need to know the certain date when this will end. The uncertainty for business, parents and kids is just not sustainable.” So true, Karen. So the manager of the coronavirus let up on the gas pedal. The number of cases stabilized as temperatures warmed and people’s immunity fought back fortified by healthy diets, photons of sunshine, and forest aerosols inhaled via long walks in the woods, etc. By the time flu season rolled around again, the vaccine was added to the customary flu shot that most people would have normally skipped. When people got vaccinated, they took a few moments to remember the social distancing that gripped the culture for months in the wake of the global pandemic. Once the virus left, people came out of their homes, hugged and kissed and then everything went back to the new normal. While we were grateful for the viral threat to subside, we were reminded by some aspects of our life that was less stressful, healthier, and more satisfying while sheltering in place.
Right now, we are going to look back on this conversation with my guest Sarah Low of Director of Tacoma Tree Foundation. Sarah is the founding Executive Director of the organization, an urban ecologist, and an ISA certified arborist. This interview was recorded in the early parts of 2020, just as the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day was just getting started. Even though a whole Earth Year of activities were being planned, the coronavirus put a small dent in the schedule of events. A live in-person Guiness Book of World Record attempt at treehugging in Tacoma’s Wright Park was substituted for an at-home treehugging challenge broadcast on social media. Officially 4,756 people participated! Check out the hashtag #treehugger to see the results.
The Tacoma Tree Foundation sees greening as a gateway to civic engagement and an opportunity to cultivate social cohesion. They focus efforts on educating, empowering, and supporting community members in greening activities. They also know that communities need more than trees to be healthy, so accordingly community events include access to other resources, depending on the interest and needs of the neighborhood. Tacoma Tree Foundation sees greening as a gateway to civic engagement and social cohesion.
Over the years, Sarah Low has planned for, studied, and managed urban trees and natural areas in multiple cities. Through experience, she has learned the critical importance that people play in stewarding land and trees. She now focuses on building community capacity around tree planting and tree care and on implementing community greening projects. Sarah is proud to be a part of the team at Tacoma Tree Foundation which educates, empowers, and supports community members in neighborhood-based greening.
Now in the year 2025, Tacoma Tree Foundation’s birth to toddler non-profit status is buoyed by incredible public support for their vision of regreening Tacoma. Leafy green neighborhoods are being born every year and those neighborhood blocks and school grounds planted in the past 6 years of the organization’s existence continue to grow healthy with cultural and economic value for the benefit of people who live near them. Tacoma Tree Foundation has agents of urban greening embedded within every neighborhood in the City of Destiny. Even though each summer gets hotter, tree planting and tree care is focused in areas where street-level heat data projects human health risks. Beyond the focused priority neighborhoods, more people than ever before are requesting trees and the resources to care for them. The love for trees in our lives cuts across lines of race, economic privilege, and even former divisions created by redlining.
The government is even taking notice. The City has hired additional urban forestry staff after hearing from a growing number of urban forest advocates and the rising demand for neighborhood greening. This staff carries out conservation of and enforcement against loss of the City’s existing tree canopy.
We are just about halfway now through the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which we jumpstarted back in 2020 and continue to celebrate every restorative activity in our city. Over ¼ of a million live in my city and over 1 million in the county. One of the fastest growing regions in the United States, the Puget Sound population is moving towards 5 million.
More than 4 billion people – over half the world’s population - live in urban areas globally. By 2050 it’s projected that more than two-thirds of the world population will live in urban areas. It is local efforts like ours that are examples of urban ecosystem recovery. We did this by listening to, including the voices of women, youth, elderly, and indigenous peoples while also elevating them into positions of leadership. This is the vision for the future of urban greening – inclusion, backed by community-powered governance, reproducible and adaptable to other cities, scaled to potentially reach two-thirds of the world’s population in the next 25 years.
It starts right here. Enjoy this kind of old, but still relevant conversation about the beginnings of the Tacoma Tree Foundation with Sarah Low.
Forests can and do play an essential role in urban life in many places - 4 bil people live in cities around world! Join my conversation with Sarah Low, Executive Director of the Tacoma Tree Foundation - an organization dedicated to community-powered urban greening in the South Puget Sound of Washington State. They provide a great template for community engagement around tree planting, tree care and integration of urban greening into the fabric of our lives. They are helping to shape our urban ecosystem.
Some say the Earth told us to go to our rooms and think about it for awhile back in the early days of 2020. Many many people were forced to do nothing in order to protect the old, the weak and the vulnerable when SARS2 spread around the world. It has been a human crisis that called for solidarity. This interview was recorded in the early parts of 2020, just as the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day was just getting started. Even though a whole Earth Year of activities were being planned, the coronavirus put a small dent in the "normal" schedule of events.
Tacoma Tree Foundation website https://www.tacomatreefoundation.org/
How racism kept black Tacomans from buying houses for decades by Kate Martin in Tacoma News Tribune from 2018 - Compare the historic redlining maps against the City’s urban forestry canopy data
City of Tacoma Urban Forest Management Plan https://www.tacomatreeplan.org/
Special Issue “The Science and Practice of Managing Forests in Cities” in the journal Cities and the Environment (CATE)
Thanks for the Seattle band Dumb Thumbs for providing the theme song. You can find all of their tunes at dumbthumbs.bandcamp.com.
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