7th-grader advocates for greater tree code protections in Bellevue

Laeth English is a seventh grader at Odle Middle School who is advocating for greater tree code protections in the city of Bellevue alongside the nonprofit, Trees4Livability. After speaking in front of the Bellevue city council about the importance of instilling stronger tree code protections on March 21, English has brought the activism to his school.

“I got permission from the principal to hang up posters around the school, and also I gave some to my classmates and shared information about the movement,” said English.

The posters are half-page posters that say “Save Bellevue’s Large Trees” at the top, with a small description of what the movement is, and a QR code with a link to the Trees4Livability petition. English brought up how when he gave some of the posters to his peers, that they were unaware of lenient tree codes in Bellevue.

“In my opinion, it’s just not really a topic on many people’s minds,” said English. “Before I learned about the tree codes, it wasn’t even a topic on the radar for me—I didn’t really pay attention to it.”

English became involved with Trees4Livability when his mother, Khaiersta English, started the organization. When his mother was learning about Bellevue’s tree codes, he found interest in learning about the lack of protections.

The student brought up how there have been several new construction projects close to his house that led to the removal of many trees. English described how one lot had been completely scraped of trees, grass, and bushes to build a new house.

“It’s just kind of sad to see all the trees that used to be here going away,” said English.

English mentioned how trees are great to have around in general and talked about his goal of informing students at school about the Trees4Livability movement.

“People my age are the people that are going to feel the decisions of the city leaders today, so it’s very helpful to have them understand if you take action now, it’s more likely you’re going to have more trees in the future,” said English. “It’s also more convincing to the city leaders to have people my age representing the movement and acting on the movement.”

In addition to the posters, English was invited by Odle Middle School’s Associated Student Body to construct a one-and-a-half-minute long video that will be placed into a larger episode, called ‘This Week at Odle.’

“I haven’t started on the video yet, but I’m thinking I can talk about what the movement is, what the tree codes are today, and how you can help,” said English.

English plans to show before and after photographs in the video that highlight the sheer volume of trees that are being cut down, with the overarching goal being to highlight Bellevue’s lack of tree code protections. The video will premiere at Odle Middle School on May 3, according to English.

Looking into the future, Trees4Livability will keep the petition up all spring, and they will be expanding the project by introducing a program called ‘Teen Tree Team.’

“It’s a goal to educate people about trees and planting trees around the area,” said English. “It’s basically targeted to involve people my age more beyond a signature.”

If the Bellevue city council were to pass greater tree code protections in the future, English said it would be a sign of success, and that less trees would be taken down which would expand livability.

English mentioned how Amazon will be opening a new location in Bellevue in 2025, which will increase the demand for housing. With an increased demand in housing, developers will clear more lots to build more houses, and more trees will be removed, according to English.

“We are still in support of building more houses, and we aren’t trying to be anti-development,” said English. “We want to sustain development in Bellevue because we don’t want to stop that from happening, we just want to make sure that development happens while also keeping tree canopy in mind.”

English relayed how the trees that are currently being cut down for development will not come back for hundreds of years.

“Bellevue is the only city that has these rules, and if Bellevue doesn’t change these rules now, it’ll be a while before they’ll be able to change the rules,” said English. “The longer we wait, the worse the problem will get.”

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Source: Bellevue Reporter