House Finch in a Maple tree | Canva

by Joshua Morris, Urban Conservation Manager

When the Ellenbert Apartments’ paint is fresh, it is white with blue trim. The paint was not fresh when I lived there. The hardwood floors were just as worn. One spot in front of the bathroom was worn so smooth from 100 years of marching feet, it was as slippery as ice. 

The floorboards were almost certainly split from the giant trees that once covered Western Washington. Sadly, what remains of Seattle’s old-growth forests are mostly in the floors and walls of old homes. While it’s not my favorite way to experience ancient trees, I appreciated the connection the floor created between the home I lived in and the land I lived on. 

Home and land are on my mind a lot lately. More and more folks are putting down roots in Seattle, but the city is tightly space constrained. A 2021 analysis found that housing supply is not keeping up with demand and housing costs are rising faster than incomes. If current trends continue, Seattle will become increasingly exclusive to higherincome households, according to the study. 

I feel that personally. Increasing housing costs could quickly make Seattle unaffordable to my partner and me; both of us work for nonprofits. People with lower incomes should also be able to call Seattle home. We need more housing for all types of earners. 

At the same time, I hold the loss of Seattle’s original forest in my mind. As the city grows, it may come once again at a cost to our trees. I believe we can become both denser and greener, but it won’t happen by chance. We need a plan.  

Alaska Way in Downtown Seattle lined with trees planted in the last twenty years. Photo: L. Freytag.

The city has demonstrated a willingness to work on this issue. The Seattle City Council passed a bill to reduce illegal tree removal. The Department of Construction and Inspections released a draft update to the tree code. And the Office of Sustainability and Environment recognizes the important role our urban forest plays in climate change resilience. 

We’re also having important conversations with housing affordability groups like Share the Cities and Community Roots Housing. We’re learning how flexibility in building design standards might help preserve more trees during development, and we’re hearing creative ideas to enhance canopy cover. 

There’s a lot of work ahead to meld city policies and community ideas into a holistic plan to grow our urban forest and affordably house more people. We see an opportunity through the 2024 Seattle Comprehensive Plan update. It’s a chance to be in conversation with developers, urban planners, and other stakeholders to find creative solutions to the multiple challenges we face. 

The hardwood floors in my new apartment are actually plastic, but there’s an old maple tree outside my window. Finches sing from inside its canopy. Living trees, and the birds they attract, provide a more immediate connection to home and place than old floors can, anyway. Fostering those connections is core to Seattle Audubon’s mission. We’re committed to building a future with more homes, more trees, and stronger connections between Seattleites and the land upon which we live. 

Joshua Morris

Joshua Morris

Urban Conservation Manager

Josh’s work focuses on reducing urban hazards to birds, protecting and enhancing urban habitat, and engaging communities in conservation right in their own neighborhoods. He has been involved in leading Capitol Hill Connections, a collaborative project to restrict pesticide use, engage the community in stewardship, and develop a vegetation plan for birds and pollinators.

Take Action for Trees!

Join Seattle Audubon in urging Seattle city leaders to improve urban forest protections today.

Explore other articles in this issue of EarthCare Northwest | Summer 2022