There is a certain kind of Seattleite that is driven to give plants some love and/or restoration of their community is a unifying force in their life. Collectively, we refer to them as the Forest Stewards. They are part of an ever-growing community in which forest restoration adds sustenance to their lives. In conversations with two relatively new Forest Stewards, they get real about what it means to live and restore native forests in the city.
Day job: Environmental social scientist
Forest Steward at St. Mark’s Greenbelt
My main priority for becoming a steward was gaining the practical and in-depth knowledge offered through the Washington Native Plant Society native plant steward course.
I also had fallen deeply for the native plants in the Pacific Northwest. Moving here from the east coast and the south, the plants here seemed otherworldly.
There is a complex set of reasons why we undertake restoration – ecological, economic, social and individual. The greenbelt buffers a lot of the traffic noise from I-5 and provides habitat for some fairly large birds of prey. Several of us at St. Marks also carry our restoration skills into our business lives, and all of us receive personal health benefits from using our bodies and minds in the outdoors.
I lead steward-centered trainings for GSP. I’ve made a few friends and have learned so much from people who’ve been at this a long time. It is really cool to learn why people are motivated to volunteer and what kinds of challenges or accomplishments they have at their own site.
We have the typical problems – ivy, blackberry, trees nearing their end, and encampments. Some people describe the greenbelt as hidden, spooky or don’t know how to find the trail entrances. I personally like the intimacy of the space, but want to contribute in the next ten years to making it a more welcoming and identifiable green space.
These are equalizing spaces. Open, public green spaces provide opportunities for anyone of any demographic to gather outside of the marketplace and connect to the living world.
Day job: Writer at Bellevue tech startup, called Mylio
Forest Steward at East Duwamish Greenbelt: Beacon Ave S (Bayview)
My first priority for becoming a steward was to join a community of like-minded local citizens who care about their neighborhood green spaces, and are willing to put in sweat equity to work with the City in restoring them. My second priority was to gain access to contacts, resources, and training to help take direct action in restoring urban forests. I live next to one of them, and can see its distress every day.
Our neighborhood has been the victim of neglect for some time; unfortunately, in an urban environment, a green space is often viewed as an anything-goes zone – a place to dump your old fridge, hang out and drink/shoot up, etc. The knock-on, secondary effects of engaging in the restoration work itself is to show community members that the neighborhood matters, this is not a place to be abused, and that the more we engage, the better off we all are. Stewardship, I think, creates a virtuous cycle of further stewardship, and community involvement.
The coolest part of forest stewarding so far was discovering (and liberating) flowering, fruit-bearing trees among the thickets of invasives.
My two models for success are Seward Park and Lewis Park. And if the cherries are any indication, a stretch goal would be to plan restoration such that the new flora would also be food-producing. (Cherry pie anyone? Huckleberry?)
We tend to think this thing called an ‘ecosystem’ or ‘habitat’ is a concept separate from ourselves – for birds and fish. But we’re as intimately linked to our ecosystem as they are; we just think we know better. Restoring and managing our forested park lands, in that view, is an exercise in self-preservation, and an investment in the preservation of our descendants. (Just ask the Pope!)
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Featured image provided by Whittaker Outdoors
Plant Ecologist, Seattle Parks and Recreation
Michael joined the Green Seattle Partnership team (GSP) in 2011. He is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Bolivia ’02-’04) and former AmeriCorps volunteer. He also worked with several land trusts before returning home to Seattle. Michael currently coordinates professional crews for the steep slope and wetland restorations. He is jumpstarting the Madrone Recovery Project. Professional tree-hugging during the week, you can also find Michael running in the local mountains and frequenting park playgrounds with his 7-yr old son.