As the year ends, many of us speculate what the new year will bring.
Personal goals and nation-wide shifts are on our collective minds. A long-term perspective on population and environmental guides our actions today as Green Seattle Partnership continues its 12th year of forest stewardship in 2017.
At the 2015 Annual Green Seattle Partnership Shareholders Meeting, a live roundtable activity asked attendees to forecast stewardship in 2030. Attendees included Forest Stewards, Seattle Parks Staff, and Local Organizational Partners. We present a summary of responses:
Who are the Forest Stewards of 2030, what do they do, and how have they changed?
Many answers predicted future Stewards would act in similar ways to Forest Stewards today, but with expectations of improvement and adaptation.
Future Stewards will practice restoration, educate, recruit, and reach out to the community, and monitor their restoration sites. Stewards in 2030 will build on today’s restoration practices by connecting habitat fragments, plant for diversity and adaptability in the face of climate change, and bring new public and private areas into restoration. Future Stewards could focus their energy on mentoring and recruiting new Stewards, and collect monitoring data on healthy “Phase 4” sites.
Future Stewards are more diverse across ethnic, racial and economic indicators. They are younger, more environmentally conscious, and more informed in science and technology.
Survey respondents speculated that future Stewards are the children and teens who planted trees at 2016 Green Seattle Day. They may be students at University of Washington’s environmental programs who become leaders in their field. They could be young professionals attracted to Seattle opportunities or early retirees from high paying positions in the tech industry. They are potentially Latino families concerned about the environment and skilled in environmental restoration practices.
Seattle has a history of environmental awareness and action. Stewards today hope to build and improve on this history but know that education and engagement is necessary to address the unfamiliarity first-generation immigrants or urbanites may have about the nearby urban forest. Community engagement and fostering a sense of responsibility for nearby nature will be necessary.
Although ecosystem education may be needed, future Stewards will provide new skills and competencies. Stewards today express confidence and hope in the ability of future generations to speak multiple languages and have a greater appreciation for ecosystem dynamics and systems. The general population in 2030 will use technology in ways we likely haven’t comprehended. A lingering question remained among today’s Stewards: will future Stewards use technology for citizen science and monitoring?
An initiative on the table today, that may answer the call for financial compensation, is better compensation for those in the green jobs industry. Seattle’s Equity and Environment Agenda includes programs to encourage diversity in entry and mid-level environmental careers. Seattle hopes to provide more paid internships and opportunities for young people to gain experience in the green job sector.
With an increasing recognition of climate change, how can Green Seattle adapt to drought conditions?
Stewards responded to a set of questions asking what they have observed and done in the hot summer of 2015 about drought conditions.
Stewards noticed high plant mortality and some species fared better than others. They had to water more frequently, shift timing of plantings, and think more strategically about shading and mulching. In the future, Stewards will plant more drought tolerant species, and act more strategically across a variety of restoration practices. Stewards need a better city-wide strategy for watering new plantings and more attention to documenting plant health. A blog post from earlier this year discusses Seattle’s response to drought.
In a separate climate change survey from a Got Green/Puget Sound Sage community-led research project, community members identified and prioritized issues currently impacting their neighborhoods.
The ‘Our People, Our Planet, Our Power’ research facilitators asked people to identify the issues that impact their neighborhoods. The facilitators knew climate change will worsen existing vulnerabilities, so their approach began with understanding community vulnerabilities. The Got Green report provides several recommendations of how to link environmental concern, education and action with the most pressing economic and health needs of future Stewards. For example, many Seattleites are concerned about displacement due to rapidly rising housing costs. Simultaneously, Seattle natural areas are increasingly at risk for tree removal in favor of new developments. Linking these concerns through education and citizen advocacy is possible now and in the future.
Answers to the climate change survey indicated that community members are over-burned with health hazards, with each issue affecting at least half of the community members surveyed. Of these issues, survey respondents identified lack of affordable housing and lack of affordable food as the two issues they are most concerned about. Disparities in health outcomes already exist in King County communities according to geographic and social demographics. In King County, asthma prevalence among Asian, Black and multiracial youth is higher than white and Hispanic youth.
The report makes a strong connection between health concerns and ecological restoration:
“…Seattle’s low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are disproportionately vulnerable to heat waves, which will become more frequent as the climate changes. Further, because of our historically cool weather, much of our housing stock does not have air conditioning—creating more risk for low-income people who don’t have access to effective cooling systems. One of the best known natural mitigation strategies for urban heat islands is more trees, yet Seattle currently has an existing tree cover disparity, with high-income neighborhoods having 29% tree cover compared to 18% in low-income neighborhoods. Areas of the city that have been redeveloped lost 35% of their tree cover from 2003–2007. With increased development planned for the Rainier Valley and, in particular, the culturally rich and racially diverse Rainier Beach neighborhood, these communities will be at great risk for continued tree cover loss and increased temperatures.”
Across the Green Seattle Partnership’s Shareholders Meeting and Got Green/Puget Sound Sage report, forecasts predict the future of stewardship to be youth-led, diverse, and challenged with large-scale environmental and economic shifts.
Finding a way to link and address these needs simultaneously and meaningfully will be a challenge for 2030 stewardship.
As always, taking cues from the environment provides life lessons. Native conifers like the Western red cedar are known for their longevity, partly because of their ability to retain moisture and nutrients in their bodies. Living a long, healthy life by adapting and conserving provides a lesson on thinking and acting for the long haul. Stewards now and in the future must continue to practice restoration, educate others, and advocate for healthy environments for all.
Steward Education Collaborator, Washington Native Plant Society/GSP
Elizabeth supports the Green Seattle Partnership through her consulting firm Our Future Environment and as a St. Mark’s Greenbelt Forest Steward. She provides services to integrate the benefits of natural, restorative, digital, and open spaces in urban environments.