Luma lives: 80-foot tree in Seattle saved by developers, Snoqualmie Tribe

Aug 9, 2023, 6:50 PM

Wedgwood tree...

Activist 'Droplet' stays in tree to prevent it from being cut down as neighbors rally behind effort. (Kate Stone/KIRO Newsradio)

(Kate Stone/KIRO Newsradio)

It started as a fight to save a favorite tree facing demolition by a housing development planned in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood.

Weeks later, amid community outcry, it looks as if the tree will be saved.

The Snoqualmie Tribe called the tree “Luma,” a “Culturally Modified” cedar. The 80-foot tree had fans who were willing to stand against the developers.

On Wednesday, Legacy Group Capital, Rock House Builders, and Bad Boyz GC agreed to preserve Luma and said the plan for six housing units is now being downsized to allow for the cedar to live a long life.

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Activists were willing to fight for the tree even before it was known as “culturally important.” People who named themselves “Droplets” would take turns sitting in the tree to prevent it from being destroyed.

The arguments to save Luma were never about whether all parties involved had the right permits. The builder and owner had complied with all the required paperwork and notices.

It was all about saving a tree that takes decades to grow and has “cultural meaning” to the Snoqualmie Tribe.

Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) are part of an ancient indigenous trail system that connects the Puget Sound to Lake Washington. The Snoqualmie Tribe used to shape the boughs of trees to mark important locations along the trail. They were often called “living signposts.”

Developers said they were only informed that the cedar was a CMT on July 21, according to a media release distributed Wednesday. CMTs have special protections under Washington law.

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“It is critical that Culturally Modified Trees like Luma are respected and preserved,” executive director of governmental affairs & special projects for the Snoqualmie Tribe Jaime Martin said in a press release. “We are excited Legacy Group Capital is making this commitment to cultural preservation.”

When the permits were issued, the Seattle City Council said it did not know that Luma was a protected tree.

In a statement, Councilmember Dan Strauss said all parties “wanted to do the right thing.”

While many are thrilled about the tree being saved, some don’t see the development as a complete victory.

“A true victory would have been a project that incorporated all of the housing that could have been provided with the trees, because we know that’s entirely possible,” Sandy Shettler of Tree Action Seattle said Wednesday.”

One of the protesters who sat in the tree last month, and declined to give her name, told The Associated Press she hoped the city would find a way to keep the tree and create housing.

“It seems like there’s an easy solution to have the houses that they want on this lot if they would just take a small creative step,” she said.

Contributing: Steve Coogan

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Luma lives: 80-foot tree in Seattle saved by developers, Snoqualmie Tribe