The Tree of Life

By Zoey Kapusinski, VHR Summer Intern

Returning home after my freshman year at Whitman College has been fantastic for many reasons, but one of the best is my summer internship with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed. Eastern Washington is beautiful in its own right, but nothing beats the sprawling green of this side of the Evergreen State. Thanks to The Friends, I have the perfect opportunity to spend my Saturdays outdoors at different locations throughout the Lake Washington/Cedar River/Sammamish Watershed. The fresh air, gorgeous weather, and amazing volunteers provide a brilliant start to my weekend. Beyond the actual restoration work we do, I love learning about the various flora around my neck of the woods, and today I thought I might share my favorite tree with all of you.


Cedar PicCalled the “tree of life” because of its innumerable uses, the western redcedar (Thuja plicata) is an invaluable conifer that flourishes from Alaska to northern California and as far inland as Montana. Though they thrive in mixed forests of moist habitats, they can also be found on dry or rocky slopes. The western redredar is actually a “false” cedar, an arborvitae, indicated by its one-word spelling. In fact, true cedars grow only in the Mediterranean.


Western redcedar trees are the kings of the Pacific Northwest. They are tall, easily reaching heights of 150-200 feet. They have a conical to irregular crown and many leaders. The dense branches have flattened frond-like, fanning branchlets which provide protection from the elements. One Native American word for the tree means “dry underneath.” The western redcedar is also the broadest tree in the northwest, with a base ranging from two to eight feet in diameter, and 15-20 feet for the ancient specimens. If left undisturbed, these trees can grow for more than one thousand years, stately sentinels observing the passage of time.


The foliage of the western redcedar is aromatic, with a spicy tinge. Its sharply-pointed, scale-like needles are glossy green above and white-striped below, opposing in alternatiCedar pic 2ng pairs in four rows. The bark is perhaps the best part of all. Ranging from gray to reddish brown, western redcedar bark is deeply furrowed and separated into flat, connected ridges. Its fibrous nature allows it to peel and shred easily, a fact of which humans have taken great advantage during their relatively short time.


Western redcedar aids wildlife and humans in a myriad of ways. Elk, deer, and rodents find the foliage an important food source. Black bears slumber away in hollowed-out trunks. Spotted owls and other bird species find valuable habitat among the trees found in the old growth forests.


The tree is especially vital to the tribes of the Pacific Northwest, some of whom call themselves “People of the Cedar.” Groves of ancient cedars were symbols of power and gathering places for ceremonies. The Native peoples used all parts of the tree for shelter, clothing, weapons, tools, medicines, art, and transportation.


Oftentimes, tribespeople stripped only the outerbark, leaving the tree itself alive and standing. I was incredibly honored to observe and participate in a modern day occurrence of this practice when I was invited to join my father, then Tribal Coordinator at the Cedar River Watershed, and a local tribe endeavoring to continue long-held traditions. Many specific criteria had to be met in order for a tree to be deemed healthy and strong enough to have some of its barked stripped, and even then bark was only taken from one side. The reverence the tribe had for the tree was evident in their ceremony, and it was an unforgettable experience.


Dugout CanoeIn other cases, whole trees were felled in order to make totem poles or dugout cedar canoes. The cedar canoes were so impressive that some intrepid adventurers strove to circumnavigate the world in one of them. An important cultural event today, the Canoe Journey gathers several Pacific Northwest coast tribes together for a sea journey in traditional cedar ocean-going dugout canoes, culminating in a huge celebration filled with traditional food, art, dance, and more.


Modern uses take advantage of the beautiful and fragrant soft wood. Shingles and siding are particularly popular uses, but the wood is seen in fences, decks, outdoor furniture, and much more. When properly sealed, western redcedar wood may retain its odor for more than a century, repelling moths and other pests.


Growing up in the greater Seattle area, I have been surrounded by western redcedar in some form or another, and I never cease to be amazed by this beautifully majestic and sweet-smelling tree. These trees have been around for centuries, and I would sorely hate to lose them, as would millions of others who appreciate their existence, whether human, animal, or plant. The next time you see a cedar, feel free to take a moment and reflect on its importance and send a happy thought its way. I know I will.


By Sean Fox – TIPS Field & Outreach Intern What are noxious weeds? Heracleum mantegazzianum, brachypodium sylvaticum, myriophyllum heterophyllum, and geranium lucidum or more commonly known as Giant hogweed, False brome Variable-leaf watermill foil, and Shining cranesbill are classified as the highest class of noxious weed, Class A, in King County. To be classified as a Class A noxious weed, these weeds have not spread widely throughout Washington and are a top priority to be contained, there are two other classifications for weeds, Class B and C noxious weeds.

Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed

To be classified as a Class B noxious weed in King County it has spread somewhat throughout Washington and counties will attempt to contain it to prevent it from spreading, some examples of Class B noxious weeds are Scotch, plumless, and musk thistle, as well as common reed and garden loosestrife

Scotch Thistle

Scotch Thistle

Class C noxious weeds are widespread throughout the state and each county is given a choice, either enforce control of these plants or educate the residence of the county on how to control these plants. Class C weeds you may see every day such as Himalayan blackberry, English ivy, and fragrant water lily.

Common Reeds

Common Reeds

Now that the classifications are clear, it is at this time that a list of all invasive weeds in Washington State and photos of them be provided, unfortunately formatting that into this one blog post would be rather clunky and overwhelming so if you are interested in this information please check out the list compiled by King County. Now let’s say you’re walking your dog through your favorite park and you see one of the invasive plant species listed above. Simply contact King County. Finally if you’re wondering what has already been reported and what still needs to be called in check out this map of the invasive plant infestations throughout King County. This map provides fascinating details such as classification, cover class, and more information about the plant.



You might think, “Well this is all great information but why does it matter if some plants begin growing over here but not there?” Actually, they can be incredibly harmful to other plant life; for example, English ivy can affect the airflow to trees, engulf the trees branches, and over time will weaken the tree making it far more susceptible to collapse in a harsh weather.

Poison Hemlock

Poison Hemlock

Another plant that you might not suspect of being invasive and deadly is poison hemlock, which if not handled appropriately can cause slowed heartbeat, central nervous system and muscle paralysis, and in sever cases even death. And don’t think that poison hemlock only effects humans, it has the same effects on grazing animals.   These are two examples of the many reasons why noxious weeds need to be controlled, contained, or eradicated from our state.



If you would like to get involved with the hands-on removal of some of these invasive plant species, come out to a volunteer event with us through Volunteer Habitat Restoration. As you can see in the before and after pictures posted here, there is incredible work being done by volunteers to improve habitat for people, fish, and wildlife. Come out to an event and see how many hands can make light work!

By Amy Kaeser, Program Manager – Volunteer Habitat Restoration

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on
the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” —Jane Goodall

1. Get your hands dirty.
Spend a day outside improving your local watershed through hands-on habitat restoration! You can make a positive impact by taking an active role in improving your environment: join a work party with your fellow community members and see that many hands can make light work. As an added bonus, volunteerism is good for your health, boosts your self-esteem, and is a great way to meet new people!

2. Have a pint.
That’s right: raise a glass for Mother Nature. We’re celebrating Earth
Day with World of Beer
at their Renton and Capitol Hill locations. Bring your friends out to celebrate and take your shot at a raffle including trees, beer swag, and more! Proceeds benefit The Friends.

Keep the celebration going all year and join us at a Drink Local event to support local water! The Drink Local campaign highlights local business that craft with the local waters we work to protect and restore. Cheers!


3. Go for a run/walk.
We’ll accept any activity, but you’ll receive bonus points for running or walking at the Fishy 5K this Saturday at Landsburg Park! Tahoma High School student, Melissa McCandless, is putting on the Fishy 5K for her senior project to raise awareness of the salmon that call the Cedar River home. Proceeds will be donated to The Friends to help preserve the river and support salmon habitat.

Save the date to see salmon passing through the Chittenden (Ballard) Locks as they travel from the ocean to Lake Washington this summer with Salmon Journey naturalists: June 28, July 5 & 26.

4. Find your footprint.
Calculate your carbon footprint and your water footprint (or both). The internet is full of cool things, including many different footprint calculators. The choices we make every day influence our impact. Once you know and understand your footprint, you can alter your actions to improve your results!

5. Green up your home.
The second half of the EPA carbon footprint calculator includes ways to reduce your CO2 emissions. What actions will you take?

Need some ideas of where to start? Take the time to properly recycle and compost your waste (and of course start with reduce, reuse, and then recycle). Give the heater/air conditioner a break and turn the thermostat down in cold weather and up in hot weather. Install water- and energy-efficient fixtures and appliances to reduce use and also save money. Skip the hassle and pollution – take your car to a carwash that drains wastewater into sewer systems where it can be treated. Plant native vegetation in your yard that requires little or no watering. Clean green and don’t buy cleaners that are potentially toxic to you, your family, and the environment.

6. Switch up your commute.
Ditch the stress of traffic, and take the bus to work! Feeling energetic? How about walking or biking to the grocery store or office? (By the way, May is Bike Month.) Leaving the car at home can save a lot of money and pollution. Make a commitment today to take alternative transportation, whether it’s every day or once a week: it’s a start in the right direction!

7. Take a breath of fresh air.
Get outside and take a deep breath of fresh air. Quality time outside reduces stress and can be restorative, like the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (check out “Your Brain on Nature” while you’re at it). If you live in a city, urban parks are especially important in providing environmental, financial, and health benefits. In our watershed, we’re superbly fortunate to have a wealth of public outdoor space for our enjoyment. Discover or rediscover your appreciation for nature and all that it offers. So get away from the screen and go outside!

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” —John Muir


Keri PravitzI came to The Friends thirteen months ago, and have spent these last months deeply inspired by the dedication and hard work of our friends, volunteers, and supporters – people just like you. Thank you. As I am closing up my time at The Friends to pursue a new professional opportunity, I find myself reflecting on what an amazing year 2013 was and how excited I am for where The Friends is headed in 2014 and beyond. In 2013, my role was to build the board, diversify funding, and shore up operations. The board has grown to eight members (pending a vote at April 2 board meeting), new grants and fee for service contracts were established, and operationally and programmatically, The Friends has made great strides and is impacting watershed health and salmon recovery efforts every day.

And while The Friends has lots to celebrate in terms of what has already been done, I find myself focusing on the how and who in the equation. As an organization, we have intentionally focused on how we worked and in doing so, became a better partner, expanded our presence and collaborations, engaged more of the general public, and became a better “friend” to the conservation community, which has had tremendous impact on our goals. In terms of the who, our board members, staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to shape this organization as it moves forward – and what an amazing crew they are. I have been constantly in awe of the wonderful people I’ve had the opportunity to work with and feel that it is through this team that The Friends is actualizing our mission of “engaging people to enhance and sustain watersheds through restoration, education, and stewardship” on a daily basis. So while I’m leaving the team as a staff, I look forward to staying involved as a volunteer board member and continuing to support the organization and mission, simply from a different seat.

A continued friend of The Friends,

Keri Pravitz
Executive Director

P.S. The Friends’ board of directors is committed to hiring our next executive director in the near future. For more information on the job posting, please visit our website. Feel free to share this posting.

Erin with ShovelBy Erin Martin, Volunteer Habitat Restoration Intern

I am studying Environment and Community at Antioch University Seattle, and believe that creating strong and resilient communities will lead us to better environmental stewardship. I am so grateful for the time I spent with Friends of the Cedar River Watershed, because I saw the construction of these communities before my very eyes.

My favorite moment in a restoration event is a couple hours in: all the introductions and presentations are made, the work has begun, and people are starting to relax and really have fun. As I make my rounds, checking how well trees are planted, I mostly enjoy hearing the conversations amongst volunteers. Often, there are strangers that are sharing how they got into environmental restoration. Others are already friends but they’re sharing something new together. People discover things they have in common, make plans to volunteer together again, and become friends. Connections are being made, and that’s where the change lies.

Living in a densely populated area, like around Seattle, it’s easy to see that we have lost many of our connections to each other and the Earth. It’s rare to know your neighbors, and few of us know how to identify the plants and animals in our yards. This lack of connection leads to isolation and environmental degradation. As we stop caring for each other, we stop caring for the earth, and we stop caring for ourselves.

IntroductionsYet interning with The Friends and helping lead volunteer events gave me hope that we can change this vicious cycle. Communities are coming together around common causes, removing invasive weeds and replacing them with natives. We are restoring native habitats as well as restoring human connection. These connections make us more resilient and better able to handle the change that the future will bring.

Collaborating with diverse groups of people allows us to be more creative and solve more problems. I have seen volunteers stand around a difficult weed, discussing options for successfully removing it. Rather than intrude with my experience, it brings me more joy to see them generate ideas. Sometimes people develop solutions that I never would have thought of!

Two Volunteer Leads: Michelle and ErinThe community building that occurs at restoration events is usually transitory, with micro-communities forming for a few hours and then breaking up. This is still incredibly important, because lots of ideas can be exchanged during those hours. But some neighborhoods are hosting regular events, allowing them to continually explore and build on what community means to them. Environmental restoration has become a vehicle for neighbors to know each other and learn the plants in their yards.

We are in an exciting time of transition. Communities are becoming empowered by environmental stewardship, and it’s opening the door for further exploration into the exciting world of community-based life. We can move away from an obsession with fancy stuff and technology that is harmful to the environment, and focus on healthy, happy relationships that actually benefit the Earth.

Thank you to all the volunteers that came out to events and gave me hope for the future, you’re doing beautiful work.

Rebecca’s Farewell

Four years ago I joined the staff of The Friends as their first dedicated Outreach Manager because after many years working as an environmental advocate I had lost touch with the elemental reasons I did the work. The experience has forever altered my sense of community and grounded me in my home watershed.

left to right: Keri Pravitz, Rebecca Sayre, Amy Kaeser

The Friends manages to accomplish the tangible and the transformative at the same time. By working with community partners we were able to grow the annual number of restoration events and expand our geographic area, increasing our tangible impact but, most importantly to my mind, the breadth of people who understand the power they have in their own hands to care for our local environment.

When a person is given the chance to experience the joy of planting a tree or to see wildlife thrive, it changes you. I’ll never forget the conversations that took place along the river banks, streamsides, and lakesides with landowners and neighbors thankful for our help removing invasive plants that they had been battling for years.

Last July I moved back into the advocacy realm with hopes that I laid a good foundation for my successor to take the organization to the next level. There is much to do and I have no doubt there are many ready to roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Thanks to each of you who participate in The Friends’s programs. I look forward to hearing of your continued impact for years to come. Don’t be surprised if I join you from time to time!

Cheers, Rebecca

By Tyson Greer, Board vice president, Friends of the Cedar River Watershed

Some things are predictable, like taxes and tides.

Like the tides, the salmon are cyclical: each October, the Sockeye, Chinook, and Coho salmon finish their long journey home—from the ocean, through the Chittenden Locks, through Lake Washington—and plunge up the Cedar River to spawn; so their offspring can begin the cycle again. Each October, I look forward to returning to the Cedar to see the salmon again.

Salmon at the Renton Library


I like all five stations where our Salmon Journey Volunteer Naturalists set up their weekend stations, but last Saturday, my husband and I took our friends Bill & Lois to the Renton Library site. (Find directions to all Salmon Journey’s Volunteer Naturalist sites here.)





Kids captivated by river


Visitors to bridge at the Renton Library leaned over the rail like spectators at a horse race. Below, the bright red sockeyes were jockeying for position next to the females ready to spawn.



They jostled in the shade on the left side of the bank, where the current was a little slower. Occasionally, one would break the surface with a splash and a swack of a shiny tail.

Naturalist points out fishSockeye jumping

Our highly trained Volunteer Naturalists were on hand to chat about salmon and the Cedar River. We talked with Melanie and Nola, both of whom were veterans of the program. (You can tell how long the naturalists have been with the Salmon Journey program by the number of fish pins on their hats—one pin for each year of service.) Nola and Melanie were Naturalist talking to visitorsincredibly knowledgeable about the history of the waterways, of the uniquely protected watershed owned by citizens that supplies our drinking water, and the cycles of and challenges to our salmon populations—we learn something new every year.

One of the things I love—besides seeing the crowds of returning salmon—are the crowds of people, many sporting the pink polarized “sunglasses” that the Volunteer Naturalists loan to visitors so they can really see the salmon through the (unexpectedly) sparkling sun-lit water. It’s great to see parents bring their kids, and I hope they return every year.

Learning what lives in thr riverLearning about the watershed

As of June and July this year, only 178,422 sockeye had made their way through the Locks—that’s about half of the 350,000 needed to open the sockeye sports fishing season for this year (source: WDFD). Cedar River Chinook and Puget Sound Steelhead are listed as threatened species.

It is my hope that with the good work our Volunteer Naturalists do in helping people understand more about the beauty of the cycle and what each of us can do as individuals to ensure the clean water so vital to the return and survival of the salmon; we can turn the tide.

Naturalist talking to visitorsSockeye in the water

Special thanks to those who make this Salmon Journey program possible: our Volunteer Naturalists;  our sponsors (King County Flood Control District, City of Renton, Lake Washington Cedar Sammamish Watershed, Seattle Aquarium, Seattle Public Utilities, and the US Army Corps of Engineers); and the people who come out on the river to welcome the salmon home.

“It’s hard when the alarm goes off at 7:30am to get up and prepare to go outside, but I’ve become a volunteer addict. When you do something good, where the people are friendly, it just makes you feel so good to be a part of that story.”

Join Us at an Upcoming Event!

Confessions of a Volunteer Addict

I had the opportunity to chat with one of our fantastic volunteers a few weeks ago while winding our way up to a reforestation site on Taylor Mountain.  Pedro Checkos explained how he feels he is making a difference by planting trees.  How do you plan to make a difference this year? Can we count on you to make a difference by volunteering or donating to support FCRW today?

For the Love of Planting

For the Love of Planting

Thanks to 1,580 volunteers and supporters like Pedro, we planted 10,340 native plants in the ground and nearly 30 acres were restored in 2012. Pedro explains what brings him back to this restoration work time and again.  “I volunteer with FCRW to connect to nature, to feel useful. I find that planting trees is peaceful”.   Upon further reflection, he added, “It’s hard when the alarm goes off at 7:30am to get up and prepare to go outside, but I’ve become a volunteer addict. When you do something good, where the people are friendly, it just makes you feel so good to be a part of that story”.

Pedro believes that a good volunteer experience can spur societal change one person at a time. Volunteering at FCRW Habitat Restoration events every Saturday for the last few months has provided him the opportunity to put his values into action. Working 60+ hours per week at a local start-up, he struggled with perpetual cabin fever and was looking for an opportunity to both get outside and care for the environment. The right opportunity arose when he met our own, Amy Kaeser, who suggested he join us to plant trees one Saturday in mid-October.

Victorious Volunteers on the Cedar River!

Victorious Volunteers on the Cedar River!

Pedro will soon be leaving us, heading back to his native France.  We will miss his energy, kindness, and enthusiasm for our work and the community that it builds.  He hopes to continue working on environmental issues when settled back in Europe and is certain that no matter where he ends up, he wants to find that balance of real fun and good deed that he has experienced working with FCRW throughout the Cedar River / Lake Washington watershed.

Thanks for all you have done for the watershed, Pedro!

Rebecca, Amy, Keri and the rest of the FCRW team

Help us continue the momentum Pedro and his fellow volunteers have started. Be a part of the story, volunteer or donate to FCRW today!


Join board members and other community members for a breakfast potluck, sharing of research findings,and then a caravan to tour the Tacoma Food Co-Op.

Saturday, April 6th at 9:30am. Sustainable Renton offices at 970 Harrington Ave NE.

You can RSVP at the Facebook event page:

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As part of my outreach surrounding Friends of the Cedar River Watershed’s (FCRW) new partnership with Seattle Parks and Recreation, I recently got the opportunity to talk with one of  the Green Seattle Partnership‘s volunteer Forest Stewards, David Sohlstrom.   I learned about the great work that David, and Forest Stewards like him, are doing to restore Seattle’s urban green spaces. ~Rebecca Sayre, Outreach Manager, FCRW


“We need density and green spaces especially where there are opportunities to provide access for both the public and residents. This effort is gaining momentum.”


David and some helpers

David Sohlstrom loves the outdoors. He is happiest on a bike, mountain, trail, or in as kayak.  In 2010, this appreciation for the natural world took a turn towards his own backyard; specifically a 1.6 acre swath of previously overgrown land located between the backside of his condominium complex, Othello Station North, and Seattle’s John C. Little Park, in south Seattle’s New Holly neighborhood.  The condo complex was constructed in 2006 with plans to put in ornamental landscaping for the residents.  Instead, due to reasons not quite clear to David, this planting was never started and the disturbed area was soon overcome with blackberry and ivy, providing neither a place for people or any sense of habitat. In short, the site became a tangled and prickly jungle of invasive plants.  It was mess.


It takes a team to make this vision a reality

David, however, saw opportunity. Here was potential for native plants, pathways, butterfly and hummingbird gardens; a place where neighborhood children could explore.  But, how was he going to get this work done? At first he started to tackle the challenge on his own; dedicating many full weekends to pulling enormous clumps of ivy off trees and attempting to unearth mammoth blackberry roots.  He soon realized that, although there was an appeal to being a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, working to revegetate an area in need of help, that this task required  a broader community investment.  Also, he needed to be able to commit to the project and still have a life–his wife, although supportive of his dedication, was beginning to miss him.


Michael arrives with more plants

Help came in 2011 when David connected with Vinh Nguyen, a Forest Steward with the Green Seattle Partnership at nearby Lewis Park.  With the guidance of Vinh and support of Forterra’s  Joanna Nelson, David began to shape the project. He was able to acquire a small Neighborhood Community Building Grant through collaborating with the New Holly community.  Additionally, the Green Seattle Partnership was able to provide tools–complete with a secure tool box, plants, and guidance from City of Seattle Ecologist, Michael Yadrick.

As we wrapped up our interview, I asked David what had been accomplished to-date and what his vision is for the overall project. It’s an impressive achievement and goal.  David estimates that people have given over 1100 volunteer hours and over 850 native plants have been planted.  As for the big picture, it is all about continuity.  “I want this site to be part of a contiguous green space that stretches from NE to SW Seattle. I am primarily interested in restoring what little undeveloped land is left in our city in order for these urban forests to become self-sustaining, and provide habitat for birds, insects, and other critters native to the Pacific Northwest.” I thought that sounded pretty good, but David had more to say. ” There is an adjacent section of green belt that I hope will also be restored and one day become a continuation of the urban forest at John C. Little Park.”

Volunteers working on a small part of a larger city

Volunteers working on a small part of a larger city

David sees this restoration as “staking claim,” on a critical piece of green space in an area that is dealing with increasing density.“We need density and green spaces especially where there are opportunities to provide access for both the public and residents. This effort is gaining momentum.”  This project was recently chosen to be a part of Green Seattle Days and interest in the effort continues to grow.

Restorations take place every other Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 1 pm from March to November Contact David at to learn how you can get involved.

It seems that David’s love of the greater outdoors has translated well to a viable vision of nature in the core of our city. We are inspired by the work accomplished at John C. Little Park.  and look forward to collaborating  with Seattle’s Forest Stewards.

**Through January 31st, donate to Friends of the Cedar River Watershed and 100% of your gift will go towards planting trees!**