WWU - Western - Dislikes Trees

By On
10:25am —

​In a classic case of “cut down the trees to put up a parking lot,” Western Washington University (WWU) has for decades removed mature trees from its campus very quietly. The tree removals are usually to make room for more parking spaces.

This week, they are mowing down a grove of mature evergreen trees that stand on a beautiful knoll in the middle of campus in order to build a new building. They will cut down and remove 48 trees - most or all of the trees on the knoll. Last week, WWU refused to answer emails or questions by phone made to several departments as well as the president’s office. Would not even tell me the date of removal.

6 pm, Sunday, May 3 - last sunset for these trees.
6 pm, Sunday, May 3 - last sunset for these trees.

That date is today - Monday, May 4, 2020. It is going on right now.

This tree removal is unnecessary for the new building. WWU wants to use the old athletic field as a parking lot and this building will only intrude on about 20% of the old field, with the rest of the building taking out the knoll and grove of mature fir, hemlock, and cedar trees.

Western security has chased our videographer off the campus (See Drue’s comment below. She clarifies this.) with the excuse that she might get hurt. Yet the photo at top shows the Western van parked right next to the trees they are cutting down - because there is no danger. Western is illegally keeping news media away, because they do not want public attention.

This article will continue to grow during today.

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About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Wynne Lee

May 04, 2020

Forget covid19, WE are the planet’s worst virus. Pave paradise, put up ANOTHER parking lot…

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John Servais

May 04, 2020

Yes, and in this case literally true at Western.  They have just finished creating a new parking lot on the old athletic field where they easily could have put this building with parking under the building.  Now they are ripping down - literally - the mature grove of Douglas Fir trees to put the new building next to the new parking lot.  So, these trees are only being removed in order to enable the parking lot.  Joni Mitchell’s song is still spot on and it applies to our state university that claims to be sensitive to the environment.  

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Jamie K. Donaldson

May 04, 2020

While I’m no scientist, I suspect that the removal of 48 mature conifer trees constitutes a sizeable loss to our community (and the planet) in terms of carbon sequestration, oxygen production, temperature regulation, erosion control, groundwater retention, shade, wildlife habitat and other crucial environmental benefits.  Are we to believe that smaller replacement trees at whatever ratio after the fact will make up for this tremendous loss? No, this is green-washing.

This unfortunate and unneccesary destruction also makes me question the awarding of a LEED gold rating for this project. It would seem that the multiple harmful environmental impacts listed above, which are part of making the foundation of the new building, aren’t factored into the LEED rating, only those benefits that accrue afterwards like diverting waste construction material from the landfill, reducing light pollution, electric vehicle charging stations, and access to public transportation. Methinks there’s more green-washing going on.  My query awhile back about this matter to the university’s Office of Sustainability has gone unanswered.

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Konrad Lau

May 04, 2020

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

This from an organization that indoctrinates thousands who claim to be morally superior in their environmental decisions and ethically bound to point out others’ supposed crimes against Mother Earth and they are the ones destroying the planet!

I hate to sound like a cynic, but I am not surprised.

 Technically, this is a profit motivated action on the behalf of the school in the belief they will be able to attract more tuition fees. Of course, the university’s carbon footprint will multiply exponentially when those additional students arrive with their automobiles, flatulence and George Foreman grills.

Have mitigation fees been paid to Bellingham for the additional infrastructure that will be required?

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Drue Robinson

May 04, 2020

John, to be accurate, I was not chased off by the forman overseeing the removal of these 100+ year old trees. I was told by him to stand on the other side of the road from where the cyclone fence had been set up so I’d not get hurt (also, mind you, at a distance that would not capture such close up footage).

When I asked the foreman who had come to warn me to stand back, why they were ripping out the trees, he replied, “We are clearing this land for a new interdisciplinary science building.” He then told me to go look up ISB on WWU’s facilities development website to learn more. 

I said, “Isn’t that a little ironic to tear down trees for an interdisciplinary science building?” He replied, “It is, isn’t it?” and then explained further, “This is one of the last large groves of trees within the entire campus.” ... and when he realized that I was filming him say this, he walked away. 

It IS ironic. Wouldn’t it have been truly interdisciplinary to design the architecture of this new science building to actually have large glass doors that opened to a courtyard where students could go and take core-sample studies of those very trees, learn how their root systems talk to one another, study how they release chemicals to warn one another of invading pests? THAT would be serving an interdisciplinary science student. THAT would be education in action. 

I encourage everyone to watch Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs documentary, Planet of the Humans. I encourage everyone to walk and ride their bikes more. I encourage everyone who is thinking of having children to seriously consider loving the children who already exist on this planet rather than adding to extreme overpolulation on planet earth. I encourage everyone who is missing hugs from humans to go hug a tree. I encourage everyone to stop eating meat and dairy - this is a huge contributor to deforestation. I encourage everyone to start strategizing ways to put millions of more brilliant female leaders like Vandana Shiva in the forefront of this vital climate change discussion. 

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Drue Robinson

May 04, 2020

This is copied from WWU’s Facilities Development website, where the proposed interdisciplinary science building is detailed. 

NOTE: the extreme irony of: “Shifts in form relate to the tiered levels of the campus and create unique experiences at each level of the building, allowing the structure to harmonize with the plaza and surrounding natural landscape.” and “Site development requires the removal of 48 trees, which will be replaced by 56 new trees when landscape work is completed. The types and species of replacement trees will include Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Shore Pine, Vine Maple, Autumn Blazing Maple, and Garry Oak to provide a diverse range of habitat as well as a seasonal aesthetic….The removed trees will be reused in a variety of ways. Branches and foliage will be chipped and utilized for mulch on campus, and trunks of select trees will be used to create custom benches for the project. Rootwads and lower trunk sections will be used for wetland, creek, marsh, and estuarine species habitat creation, salmon habitat restoration, and bank stabilization in local and regional projects. Tree removal is scheduled for spring break to minimize disruptions to campus.”

Here is the building description as found on the website:

The Interdisciplinary Science Building (ISB) will add essential teaching labs and active learning classrooms to the meet the growing need for degree programs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. The building will feature two teaching labs for Biology, three teaching labs for Chemistry, and five flex lab spaces, along with three active learning classrooms. Flexible spaces will allow for shared use and greater interaction and collaboration among STEM and non-STEM disciplines, support the Washington state goal of increasing STEM graduates,  increase opportunities across the STEM fields, and reduce barriers to fulfilling completion requirements.

The ISB will be located south of the Biology building and provide a sky bridge connection to Biology. Site preparation work is scheduled to begin March 2020. Construction of the approximately 55,000 square-foot building is slated to begin May 2020 and be completed in January 2022. The total budget for the project, including design, construction, furniture, and equipment, is anticipated to be approximately $66.5 million, with the funding coming from Washington state appropriations.

The building is designed to serve as a campus gateway, following campus geometries and shifting dramatically in plan from the lower to upper levels. Shifts in form relate to the tiered levels of the campus and create unique experiences at each level of the building, allowing the structure to harmonize with the plaza and surrounding natural landscape. Natural daylight will enhance the learning environment and be regulated on the southern façade with horizontal shading to provide comfort and energy efficiency while allowing great views out to the campus.

Site development requires the removal of 48 trees, which will be replaced by 56 new trees when landscape work is completed. The types and species of replacement trees will include Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Shore Pine, Vine Maple, Autumn Blazing Maple, and Garry Oak to provide a diverse range of habitat as well as a seasonal aesthetic.

The removed trees will be reused in a variety of ways. Branches and foliage will be chipped and utilized for mulch on campus, and trunks of select trees will be used to create custom benches for the project. Rootwads and lower trunk sections will be used for wetland, creek, marsh, and estuarine species habitat creation, salmon habitat restoration, and bank stabilization in local and regional projects. Tree removal is scheduled for spring break to minimize disruptions to campus.

The project is pursuing a LEED Gold rating by targeting sustainable approaches such as optimizing energy and water usage; reusing materials; managing rainwater; reducing light pollution with dark night and low footcandle lighting; encouraging alternative transportation with electric vehicle charging stations, bicycle facilities, and access to public transportation; and diverting 85% of construction waste from landfills. The University has contracted Perkins & Will of Seattle and BN Builders of Seattle to design and construct the building.

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Larry Horowitz

May 04, 2020

Drue, I love your comment:

Wouldn’t it have been truly interdisciplinary to design the architecture of this new science building to actually have large glass doors that opened to a courtyard where students could go and take core-sample studies of those very trees, learn how their root systems talk to one another, study how they release chemicals to warn one another of invading pests? 

It reminds me of one of my wife’s favorite books THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES, which I presume you must have read.

Thanks for your insights.

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Drue Robinson

May 04, 2020

Yes, Larry, I have read it, and am a big fan. Also, Richard Powers’ pulitzer prize-winning novel, The Overstory, is also extremely relavent. Thank you for your comment. Thank you for caring about trees ... something we must all begin to do — with a fervor!

 

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Liz Marshall

May 05, 2020

I agree with John Servais and previous commenters. I too listened to The Hidden Life of Trees on Audible and loved it. So, will they “chip and utilize” birds and their fledglings who were/are living there??? 

By the way, the so-called replacement trees for the irreplacable 48 may never happen. Planning originally said the Statesideliving.com project for 500 students on North State Street would have an open courtyard and trees. The original promise was to provide some required trees and landscaping (per March 6, 2018 email from Lindsay Kershner Planner II City of Bellingham, excerpt which is: “To respond to some of your comments, there will be a requirement to plant street trees, and at this point the applicant is proposing some landscaping within the project. Most of the open spaces will be between the buildings and on the roof. They are proposing an open court yard abutting the trail and the alley between the trail and N. State St.”).   As I only learned yesterday May 4, 2020 from a subject matter expert, in the end, the buildings will (surprisingly) butt right up against the South Bay Trail with nary a shrub or tree in sight - reason given was supposedly budget-related. 

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