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KEEN Connects: The Trees in Our Lives

Trees are always on my mind. As a kid, I climbed a lot of them. I suppose the love affair began with that. Most of us know the forests of the world provide the oxygen we breathe. Many know trees prevent soil erosion and landslides, absorb solar energy, carbon dioxide and pollutants, and release water vapor that becomes rain. When Euro-Americans came to settle the West, they were looking for trees. They used the wood for fuel and to build their houses and corrals. The game they hunted loved trees.

These days in Ellensburg, trees still help us decide where to settle. A good friend of mine told me she might not have bought her home when it was on the market if the huge honey locust tree in the front yard hadn’t been part of the deal. A neighbor told me the thing he loves about the home he rents is the giant fir that shares the lot with the little house. Realtors and landlords love trees.

Fresh snow and icicles on branches beckon the photographers in all of us. Leaves coming on in spring make us happy. We love their colors in fall. Trees give us a break from the wind, something all of us in Ellensburg appreciate. Now — in the heat and solar glare of summer — may be the time we are most grateful for trees, especially those that shade our homes. Our air conditioner comes on less often these days, since the maple outside our west-facing family room window has grown big enough to block the afternoon sun. In hot asphalt parking lots, we look for trees to park under. Trees along our streets and sidewalks make our town pleasant and attractive. There are more than 5,000 street trees in Ellensburg. The city of Ellensburg has planted and maintains about 500, most in the downtown area. Certainly, tourists appreciate the character they lend to our town. Business owners love trees.

So, you see, you may love the trees in your life, even if you haven’t realized it.

I’m worried about the trees in our lives. It seems to me too many in Ellensburg are sick, dying or dead. From my porch, for the past several months, I’ve watched one of a pair of old elms on the other side of the neighborhood die. The other is left still standing with its side looking like a jigsaw puzzle waiting for pieces. A big spruce on the next street over is dead, and another great evergreen across from it is dying. Dozens I pass every day on the way to work have enough dead branches to make me uneasy. Many dead trees have been felled in the past few years.

I’m concerned about more than just the trees. If they are suffering, something is amiss. An urban ecosystem is made up of plants and animals, people, their surroundings and the relations among them, developed over years since settlement. Our lives are influenced in ways we may not recognize by our relations with other components of the Ellensburg ecosystem. We are dependent on its functions for health and wealth.

Last fall KEEN hosted an Urban Stream Walk, guided by neighbors who study and care for city streams in our part of the Yakima River watershed. It was fun to stroll through town and learn more about our Ellensburg ecosystem, stopping for food and drink at local establishments along the way. The event was part of an initiative to educate our community about the urban ecosystem we occupy. Soon we’ll host an Urban Tree Walk. We hope you will join us. Meanwhile, be good to the trees in your life — and plant some more.

Stefanie Wickstrom is a KEEN Board member and treasurer.

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