Plant Amnesty founder Cass Turnbull, author and lover of open spaces, dies

Cass Turnbull, founder of Plant Amnesty and protector of Seattle’s trees and green spaces, died from a heart attack Jan. 26 while on vacation in Hawaii. She was 65.

A real-life Lorax, Cass Turnbull spoke for the trees.

A staunch defender of trees and open space, she used humor as her secret weapon, starting with the name of her signature achievement, the founding of Plant Amnesty 30 years ago. The nonprofit’s aim was “to stop the senseless torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs.”

Plant Amnesty, which now has nearly 1,200 members in 32 states and three countries, offers inexpensive pruning classes and workshops, as well as a referral service for arborists, gardeners and pruners.

Mrs. Turnbull authored two books, including Cass Turnbull’s Guide to Pruning (Sasquatch, 2012), now in its third edition.

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She also created a political-action group to bring her fight for trees into the public sphere. TreePac took on the task of toughening the city’s tree ordinance, and digging into the minutiae of land-use laws to defend trees and green spaces.

Mrs. Turnbull died Jan. 26 while on vacation in Hawaii, from a heart attack after a swim. She was 65.

Mrs. Turnbull began her career as a laborer at the Seattle Parks Department.

“That was her introduction to the importance of the value of natural spaces, and where she became more interested in the plant world,” said her sister, Ghaska Cleland Branch, of Seattle. “It wasn’t just pruning; it was the whole importance of nature. Not just the health benefits but the civic benefits.”

Mrs. Turnbull, born Katherine Fauntelle Cleland in 1951, grew up in Magnolia and attended Fairhaven College in Bellingham. She met her husband, John, while working together building a boardwalk trail at Discovery Park. The couple married in 1987.

It was not only her vision but her ability to articulate issues that made Mrs. Turnbull…

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