“Don’t cut me down! Go around.”

I’m one of seven women measuring, cutting, and writing on green cloth ribbons.  We gather around a picnic table by Drake Park on a Saturday afternoon in February. In the spirit of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, we “speak for the trees.”

With heads bent to the task, we give voice to threatened trees of Drake Park. We write in black permanent markers in all caps on each of 12 ribbons:  DON’T CUT ME DOWN! GO AROUND. HELP ME! SAVE ME!

Drake Park tree marking
This is the biggest ponderosa pine at risk–46″ DBH. Respect our elder trees! Here, Nancy Boever gently taps in a small tack to hold the cloth ribbon in place. Mirror Pond is in the background.

We are women who care and are not willing to take no for an answer. But would the ribbons alone be enough? Like putting a label on a ribbon-tied gift, we add small take action notes. Each label (printed on paper and then covered with clear package tape) reads:

“Parks and Rec plans to build a paved 10-foot-wide trail by Mirror Pond, cutting down trees in the way. We CAN have a new trail and save iconic trees. Go around large valuable trees. Honor them. Get creative. Speak out, let Mayor Sally Russell know: srussell@bendoregon.gov”

We’re ready. With map in hand to double check the trees slated for likely removal, we get to work.

The big trees that need our help include both native ponderosas and some non-native shade trees like this European larch (that will grow green needles in spring).

People stop and ask what we are doing. When we tell them that the citizens of Bend deserve to see what’s in store for their park, rather than reading some plan or news report, they are stunned. No one agrees the trees should die for a new trail. That’s part of our point. Park users need to visualize what it means when 36 trees are listed as in the way, with a dozen of them over 20″ in diameter. One man takes a photo and posts to his Instagram page.

The first ribbon we tie circles the grandest of all the trees, a a 46″ diameter ponderosa with a circumference of about 12 feet. The native pine is the same size and stature as the 300+ year old ponderosas only yards away that were officially recognized in 2017 as Oregon Heritage Trees. 

Within minutes of wrapping the ancient pine, two young women stop and read the ribbons and get out their phones to take a photo. Success!

We could have stopped there, but we knew that bringing in the press would amplify our action. On Sunday, we decided to send a press release to news outlets. In our release, we praised the Parks Department for all that was right with their plan (like restoring riparian areas and connecting pedestrian pathways). We focused on our objection to cutting big trees instead of going around them in Drake Park.

First,  I headed to the park to check the ribbons. The winds gusted sideways lifting stinging sand from the roadways. Three of our ribbons had come down. I called my friend Gail (who came up with the ribbons and the terrific wording) for reinforcements, and she soon arrived with tacks and a small hammer. Done!

It was time to send the press release. Within minutes,  Barney, the digital content director at KTVZ News Channel 21, responded. He would run the story right away. He first called the Parks Department director for comment. Soon after, I checked our ribbons and they were gone–all of them. On Monday, the Parks Department confirmed they had taken them down. It turns out that tying cloth ribbons on the trees is not allowed. (We only wish they could have given them back to us for reuse!)

Yet, we’d made our point and we were on the local news. On the Facebook page for KTVZ, our post received hundreds of views and comments, about 95 percent supportive. A few days later, when another news article appeared about a plan to cut down “hazard” trees by a road in Sunriver, a person commented, “Time for a Green Ribbon Protest.”

I think we’ve started a movement! For that reason, I’ve gone into some detail on how we went about our activism. Some readers may want to take their own peaceful action to save trees on a schoolyard, playground, along a street, a public park, on federal land, or wherever you see a threatened tree or grove that needs you to be The Lorax.

Our engagement continues. The Parks Department may have dug in their heels on their plan, but they will meet with us. We also hope to raise awareness of the larger issue in our home community, and show our appreciation for all those who have worked long and hard on behalf of our dwindling big trees that define Bend as a livable city. Thank you!

Our elder trees are irreplaceable and more critical than ever in this era of accelerating climate change. They store the most carbon, give us shade, filter our air, support wildlife, and nurture our souls.

For a guide to citizen activism, I highly recommend conservation champion Brock Evans book, Fight and Win, Strategies for the New Eco-Warrier.  For an outstanding read online from Oregon Wild that explains the significance of our mature forests for storing carbon, see: Forest Defense is Climate Defense.

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Drake Park tree ribbons 1