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Garry Oak Project

Article by Laura Renninger originally published in Oak News & Notes, Vol. 19, No. 2


Garry oak along the waterfront of Oak Harbor -Photo: Laura Renninger

Quercus garryana (Garry oak) is an oak of distinctive merit. The newly founded Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society in Oak Harbor, Washington is committed to the stewardship of Garry oak trees through outreach, education and preservation. The existence of Garry oaks in our town is one of the things that make Oak Harbor special and unique amongst the other Whidbey Island communities.

Garry oaks are historically important because they likely represent village locations for Native People and encampments of northern raiding parties. It is believed acorns were brought from the abundant supply of Garry oaks on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, effectively reseeding the oaks on Whidbey for hundreds of years. Garry oaks became the natural symbol of our Community in 1851, when Dr. Richard Lansdale named the small bay bordered by oak trees Oak Harbor. Unique conditions required for its existence make this tree significant. The oak is drought tolerant, which means the semi-arid conditions that exist in the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula are favorable for its survival as a deciduous in a region known for conifers. Additionally, the Garry oak is the only native oak species in British Columbia, and Washington State.

According to a 2008 publication by the USDA entitled Pacific Northwest Oak Communities, as much as 99 percent of the oak communities in some areas have already been lost. Over the last 150 years man has felled the Garry

Juvenile Garry oak frames the harbor - Photo: L. Renninger

oak in Oak Harbor in great numbers. How-ever, since 1990 there has been a City ordinance that offers a measure of protection for the Garry oak. Invasive plants are also a problem for our oaks. Many private homeowners and several churches have beautiful, mature Garry oak trees. In general, the trees are well cared for, but there are places where persistent English Ivy has crept up clear to the canopy of some trees, which has proven to be fatal. The Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society focused preservation work last summer to help remove ivy on one prominent city street and thus spared the trees.

The need to educate our school-age children on just how vulnerable the Garry oaks are and how conservation and care can promote their growth is imperative. We plan to partner with educators to develop science curriculum that supports this idea. For Arbor Day 2015, we partnered with the Whidbey Conservation District, Oak Harbor Schools, and the City to help plant Garry oaks at a local elementary school.

Additional outreach efforts this year yielded the Oak Harbor Garry Oak Tree Tour. This self-guided walking tour was developed in collaboration with City of Oak Harbor staff and the Chamber of Commerce. Twenty-one Garry oaks were included in the tour. We are excited about future plans, which include a Heritage Tree Program and an Adopt-a-Tree Program, both of which will promote replanting in the city.

The Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society is committed to the future of Oak Harbor’s legacy Garry oak trees. Interested parties may contact Laura Renninger via the website, www.ohgarryoaksociety.org.

Laura Renninger