Oak Harbor Post Office Garry Oak Tree has been removed by the City

The Garry Oak Tree at the Oak Harbor Post Office was cut down this Sunday morning.

The City gave very little notice that it was to be cut down but the condition of the tree is what is caused the expedited action on the cities part.

Last May a 100 pound branch broke off in a windstorm and last June another 300 pound branch fell on the sidewalk. This spring and summer when the tree is in full leaf and the sap is running would have more than likely caused more limbs to fail.

It is certainly sad to see a tree of this age cut down but the years were not been to kind to it. This tree was more than likely planted alongside a wagon trail some 400 years ago and the since then that wagon trail has turned into the city we know as Oak Harbor. Once you pave over a trees roots the tree suffers and eventually the tree needs to be removed. (Pictures below the fold)

The city had a duty to cut this tree down, as sad as it was they still have a duty to protect the public from harm. If the tree is deemed a high risk or hazard tree the city would have been 100% liable for any damage done by the tree.

From what I understand the wood from the Garry Oak will go to the Public Works Department and I am sure we will see the wood from the tree put to good use and will continue to serve the city of Oak Harbor.

Here is the memorandum from the City Attorney and Press Release the City of Oak Harbor released the morning the tree was removed.

City of Oak Harbor Press Release

Memorandum from the City Attorney





  1. Yes … truly a sad day for Oak Harbor.

    BUT: a OHPD sergeant … female … overweight … sweaty … short of breath … could hardly get out of her taxpayer supported police cruiser … told me that it was “to protect the citizenry … ”

    O.K. … but did it REALLY take 12-14 people to down the majestic tree?

    She answered: “Well … it’s a big project”.

    REALLY?? My Grandpa worked on a Peninsula railroad/logging camp 100 years ago … they would have gone out of business in ONE DAY if they needed 14 bodies to drop each “big” tree …

    My eyes glaze over …

    1. I love the reply of the OHDP sergeant…female…overweight…sweaty..ect. Describes the OHDP and the city wasting a bunch of money. Could have been one lil crew and no OHDP sitting around in there car running watching, when they could be out in the city taking the drug crime down.

  2. Uh, wagons were not on the island some 400 years ago. Coupeville was founded in 1853 and Oak Harbor will celebrate its centennial next May

    1. You are right I probably should have said travois trail..:)

      I also doubt that the age of the tree is 400 years. I would suspect closer to 250. I heard they are counting the rings to find out so hopefully in the next few days we will have an age for the tree.

    2. OK, that makes sense, you’re more than likely right.
      What they should have done (here again, the city missed a good opportunity) is left a 9 foot stump in the ground and enlisted a chainsaw artist to carve a statue of a Swinomish Indian looking toward the water. No digging required and it could have been done for a third of the price of the giant squid holding a submarine. I’m just sayin’.

  3. I beg to differ with the rational to cut down this tree based on the “history” of limb failure. Looking at a green weight log chart 300 lbs is the equivalent of 1 foot x 30 inches or 10 foot x 10″. If that were the criteria of risk all oak trees with a limb greater than 12″ should be cut down if grown in a public space. This was a specimen tree of the species. Below is a dated list of Garry oak champions of Washington State.

    Cir. Height. Crown spread Date Measured Location
    20’11” 93′ 106′ 1993 Woodland Wa
    19’10” 89′ 111′ 1995 Toledo Wa
    19’1″ 98′ 76′ 1990 Woodland Wa

    These trees had a diameter of approximately 6′ though at 4′ high. Look at the picture below in relation to the man in the bucket. While not the largest in the state pretty significant.

    1. The facts are that this tree did have a history of limb failure. The post office even cordoned off part of it’s parking lot to avoid having a wayward limb fall on a person or a car.

      In a perfect world this tree would not have had it’s roots paved over and it would have received the oxygen and nutrients necessary to keep it healthy. You can quote limb sizes and length all you want. One limb that fell would have been adequate to put someone in the hospital or kill them. No one likes to see trees cut unnecessarily but in some cases common sense has to prevail.

      According to the below log calculator a White Oak limb with a small end of 10″ and a large end of 12″ and 10 feet long weighs 182 lbs which is enough to cause severe damage to a car or a person.


  4. Yes the roots were paved over, that will contribute to crown decline, and root loss. I used a different log calculator, but these are guesses any way variances among specific species and time of year. All it would take to damage a car, or kill a person is 10 pounds falling from no more than 20 feet. Yes this was a mature tree, however there are other actions that could have be taken to mitigate hazards, and liability. I would suggest looking into re-trenchment, it’s a European practice in veteran tree management that is gaining popularity here in the states. I’ve stared at this tree many times, and there were many options to mitigate limb failure. I didn’t see ANY sign of decay in the photo of the stump, which is detectable. There are options to create a more suitable growing area underneath the surface of pavement. The argument that there was no other option is not valid. If needed I will cite my sources if you’d like.

    Thank you for taking the time to look up the log calculator, in my experience I have found them to be incredibly variable. I provided that information to offer scale, not as a definitive example. I feel that there is a dramatic lack of knowledge, and education about hazard tree’s and risk management.

  5. I’d also like to add that in generic terms fine adsorbing roots are found in the upper 10″ of soil or so, and the highest density of them start at the outer edge of the crown.. I have no doubt that the tree’s roots found their way to other soils beyond the pavement. These roots are shed regularly and can transport nutrients, O2, and water to other areas of soil that may be deprived.

    1. You are certainly entitled to your own opinion. But the facts are the tree had approx. 30′- 40′ of pavement in only 2 directions and well over 200’+++ in the other to go before the roots could be free of pavement. Trees generally grow roots out to the extent of their branches but in this case there was no place for the tree to ever grow healthy roots. It is sad but a fact.

      Like I stated before it is always sad to see a tree taken down, I only remove my trees as a last resort or never but under the circumstances it was the most common sense approach. The city could have spent a ton of money on this tree and still not be freed of the liability involved and that is the major point to consider. As you seem to be knowledgeable about trees you do know that once a tree has been determined to be a hazardous tree the damages that result can be trebled. THIS is the major concern to me, a taxpayer in Oak Harbor.

  6. Yes I’m aware of that, however if appropriate mitigation (under Anzii standards) has been taken place it could absolve some if not all liability. I do beg to differ about your assumption of root growth (can cite my Data). Garry Oaks do not do well with compacted soil, but other than stating that there is pavement I do not see any viable reason to assume that it’s causation for removal. There are also ways to create viable space under the pavement surface such as previous pavements, skeletal soils, trenches, and much more. When talking about tree valuation, one must consider the historic importance of the tree, and other benefits. Once valued one can consider preservation costs vs removal. My intention is not to get into a argument, but to raise awareness. Once I tree is considered Hazardous it should be fenced off until mitigated which includes removal. I would also look into Julian Dunster, he has complied a huge amount of data relating to tree incidents. This knee jerk reaction “Night of the killer trees” needs to be reassessed. I have never said that removal was inappropriate, but there is much more to consider before coming to that conclusion.
    As I’ve stated I can and will back myself up with data since I work within this field. Doesn’t Oak Harbor have some sort of Tree ordnance specifically targeting Garry Oaks?

    1. Thanks for all the good information. Maybe you should have talked to the city in the previous reviews of this tree. This tree has been studied and discussed several times over the years and several mitigation methods were discussed but all of them were deemed to expensive or to risky (liability wise). In our litigious society we don’t have the leisure to do nothing when faced with potential liabilities especially if you are considered one of those deep pocket entities like a city. The city certainly has a code pertaining to Oak Trees, they are not to be damaged, trimmed or cut without a permit. In this case a permit was applied for and granted, of course it was the city that requested it and the city that granted it…

      I know what I would do if faced with a potentially hazardous tree on my property (and I also have an old Oak) and I was notified by my neighbors that it was hazardous. I would hire a specialist to look at it and determine what to do. If he told me it needed to be removed I would pi** and moan and remove the tree. This is exactly what the city did but I certainly would not expect them to go above and beyond that and spend my tax dollars on expensive, questionable mitigation and still have the liability. I certainly cannot expect the city to use a higher standard than I would.

      Oak Harbor does have a tree ordinance and cutting these old trees or any Oak down is not a done very often. I would suggest you go to the next city council meeting when this issue will be being discussed and give your input and maybe next time there will be more options for them to look at.

      1. @ Mike, yes I’m ISA certified arborist, and a ISA Member. I’ve worked in Arboriculture for the past 7 years.

  7. If I would have know I would have been there, trust me on that. The final decision was made behind closed doors, and I haven’t been on island all that long. I would advise if you have a “hazardous” old oak, not only get a specialist (ISA qualified tree risk assessor) get a second opinion. These trees are valuable. I do take offense to your use of “questionable mitigation” these are tried and true practices with verifiable results. If you like I will show you the Data if you care to read it. I would like to see any hard data stating that this tree had to go, and have yet to read or hear and valid reason other than “what if”. 10% reduction of a limb can increase it’s stability by 60%. Also regarding cost, I would venture to guess that the total cost of removal to be close to $20. A crane that size generally runs about $200-$250 an hour, I heard it was a tree crew of 12(?) at the going base rate of $100 per man hour.

    1. I’ve never paid $100 per man hour for tree crews … where did you get that figure? This is Whidbey Island. Wages aren’t high here.

      1. I heard that it was a crew of 12, + a crane. In this region I’ve SEEN bids based between $60-150 per man hour. These prices are not reflecting joe blow tree guy. *If* crew size was true that’s 1200 per hour + the crane at lets guess conservatively at $200 hrly + fuel + travel time (from where?) we are approaching 1500-1600 hrly. Was there any bump in cost for a Sunday 7 am start? How long did it take? Are we going to include the police wages or any of the other hidden costs?

        It was a guess, and yes I at the time I did not sit down with a calculator. It may have been a high cost, but are we going to include the Consulting Arborists time at the counsel meeting? I may have high balled it, but I wouldn’t suspect by too much. Maybe 15K total cost?

  8. Sorry didn’t finish my thought.

    While doing an over all end weight reduction of a tree that size would require I crew of 2-3 a bucket truck (or good climber) and a day. Supplemental support systems, have come down dramatically in price (time of installation) with the adoption of dynamic cabling systems, where worst case is often if the limb/lead in question does fail it is caught and suspended. Best case, 15 year life span, and the trees crown architecture is retained. All this for less than 10-15% the cost of removal.. Like I said tired and true, with scientific data to back it up. It’s a bummer that I wasn’t informed of the removal, sounds like no one was.

    1. It has ben discussed and studied for several years now. I don’t know where you are from and it is really none of my business. What I do know is we do not need histrionics over a tree. We don’t need to be spending many thousands more than we already have on a tree that was obviously a problem. You say you are new here? You obviously missed the previous discussions concerning this tree and the many studies surrounding it. Look around, there are many more large oak trees in the city, it is not like this was the only one. It was not any more special than many other large Oak Trees in the city that will live to a full life before they also will need to be removed at about the same cost that it cost to remove this one. Trees do not last forever. Trees that have their roots covered by impervious asphalt for many years do not live as long as trees in a healthy environment. I am sure that spending a lot of money could have extended this trees lifespan but it could have never removed the liability to the city. Plain and simple facts. We don’t really need experts to make a huge issue out of an issue that only require a common sense decision. And we certainly do not need experts making an issue where there really isn’t one…

      1. Be nice to see a Garry Oak planted in a wide open space in one of the Oak Harbor parks. Or several of them, they are beautiful.

        Perhaps a group of arborists/ISA people would volunteer to buy the small trees and plant them. Donations could be asked for too.

        1. I’d be more than happy to help plant, I’m not going to buy the tree though. Perhaps Arbor day next year or in the late fall?

  9. You say that it’s been studied and discussed, where are the arborist reports? Who was involved? I’ve been transparent with my information. Yes tree care and preservation can be costly, but spending a few thousand every few years perhaps every 5-10 for managing an asset (it’s called Oak Harbor after all) vs spending easily over 20-30k now for removal. That’s bad politics and short sighted, it’s the play it safe position. I see that your mind is made up, I’m wanting to express the other side of the story, and present a viable, affordable options from some one in the arboricultual field. In your last reply I clearly see that your position is rock solid and that your not open to conversation, or exploring alternatives. I’ve continually offered to show you any scientific data and studies to back up what I’ve said. One last free fyi, the nutrient gathering root (ie feeder roots) start at the drip line (outer edge of the canopy), Oak roots commonly grow over 7 times laterally of the crown spread. Say that this oak had a canopy spread of 100′ it is not out of the realm of possibility to have these roots cross the street into the neighboring soils. You have stated over and over again about pavement being a contributing factor of removal. Trees live on a different scale, and root problems can take a decade or more before symptoms develop in the crown. How long has the post office parking lot been there? How long has the road been in that location. This was a very hearty tree. Honestly I’m blown away by the shear lack of decay or discoloration (incipient decay) in the stump cut. Has there been any assessment of root health? Was there crown decline? One thing that intrigued me was how massive the tree was with out any canopy symptoms, and it appeared to have a good growth rate (ie vigor). It may be wise to fact check your statements of plant physiology before you try to educate others. You have repeated the same argument in different words. Liability can never disappear, I’ve already stated that, we as a people, city, neighborhood association, need to review and look at acceptable risk. The US is light years behind in it’s management of veteran mature urban forest. If you can’t see a growing problem with a lack of mature trees in the urban landscape, I’d venture to guess you have a second house in the desert.

    1. “You say that it’s been studied and discussed, where are the arborist reports? Who was involved?”

      Ask the city not me. Do your own research. Start with the recent press release linked in this article…

      “In your last reply I clearly see that your position is rock solid and that your not open to conversation, or exploring alternatives.”

      I am not open to conversation? Really? Because I don’t agree with you?

      “If you can’t see a growing problem with a lack of mature trees in the urban landscape, I’d venture to guess you have a second house in the desert.”

      “growing problem with a lack of mature trees in the urban landscape”

      Get a grip dude. This is Oak Harbor, we have plenty of oak trees and also many other varieties. There is no shortage or “lack of mature trees” Like I stated earlier, leave the histrionics at home…we don’t need so called experts making issue where there is none.

    2. $20,000 to $30,000 for removal is extremely doubtful the cost that the city paid. You’re just trying to stir the pot in a negative way.

      The tree came down. It needed to come down, as that location was too populated, and risk was too high. Had someone been killed or injured by a tree branch falling on them, my bet is that both the City and the Post Office would have been liable.

  10. The tree was extensively studied and following the removal many of the issues were confirmed. The stump actually has extensive decay visible. Go find wall 4. A tomography test and resistograph test confirmed all of this prior and removal and confirmed after.

    Retrenchment pruning would not have worked. All the foliage was at the ends of the branches due to past pruning and maintenance. Removing 10% would have removed significant foliage and would not alleviate issues with the cracking major leads and the spreading basal decay.

    Come to the Town Hall meeting if you want to know more.

    1. Sean, great job at the counsel meeting. It sounded like you had your bases covered, and were very thorough. In your power point one of the final slides of the tomograph next to the cross section of the butt log was the tomograph a mirror image? Just for conversation sake I’d like to communicate with you via email or buy you a beer next time your on island.

  11. Sean THANK you! Yes I’ve been doing some of my own research. I looked at the butt log closer, and I do have to admit that on closer inspection it appears to be incipient decay (My mistake). I honestly took more time staring at the the photo of the stump, which looks dirty (saw dust), and didn’t focus on the butt log. I do plan to go to the meeting on Tuesday at 6pm (right?), and to visit the stump if it’s still there. I have found that Tree Solutions did a report ( the one that condemned the tree? ) and look forward to seeing it and learning more.
    It seems like this is a dual issue between the tree’s health, and how the mayor handled it. I’d also like to add that I’ve NEVER proclaimed to be TREE EXPERT, and that I also never mentioned that the tree shouldn’t come out. I was offering other options, and I do FEEL that the tree dropping a 100 or 300 limb with out any injury is not a viable justification to remove.

    1. For further clarification to quote myself.

      “I do FEEL that the tree dropping a 100 or 300 limb with out any injury is not a viable justification to remove”

      These are my personal feelings, and do not represent professional opinion.

      1. My wife and my daughter visit the post office at least every other day. I may go once a week. I certainly feel there was viable justification to remove this tree, a 300lb limb dropped on a human will end with great bodily injury or death. Fortunately our city leaders now use professional judgment to protect the public. This tree was scheduled for removal some years ago and the city council, against the judgment of professionals, voted to attempt to save it based on public opinion…sometimes the public doesn’t know what is good for them and the users of our city and of course, like the council meeting the majority of the people commenting don’t even live in the city.
        I have a very large never trimmed Oak Tree in my lower field. In the summer it drops limbs, wind or not, some are just small, 2 or 3 lbs but occasionally we lose a fairly large one. They engorge themselves with water during the heat of the summer and marginal limbs will fail. This is not a professional opinion but one made from living with an Oak tree for the last 59 years. Oak trees are also very bad in regards to dropping sap during the heat of the summer in fact they almost rain at times. If you have ever parked your nice new car, or in my case an old classic, under an Oak during the heat of the summer you will soon learn to avoid them at all costs. They are not very nice neighbors in an urban street environment. They are great if left with enough room to grow, be an Oak tree and do what Oak trees do naturally, unfortunately that was not the case with the post office oak.

        1. Cliff, if your having dripping sap issues in the summer months, with out seeing your tree, I’d guess it’s aphids. They excrete “honey dew,” ants love this sweet sticky sappy stuff and will actively farm the aphids. One way to mitigate the amount is to release beneficial predator insects (lady bugs, or lace wings), getting rit of the ants can help too since they protect the aphids from predation.

          I know that I’m not expressing myself very well regarding my personal risk threshold, and I’m not disagreeing with any decisions or view points. Seeing photos of the hidden cracks in those limbs is sure intimidating.

          I know what I would do if I had a tree of this stature on my property. I too would CONSIDER removal if it were in a high traffic area. Which I will discuss if any one cares to hear it. I now have no doubt in reviewing the data, and especially the post mortem photos that in a high traffic area that this was a good call.

          1. It may be aphids, I am certainly not a tree expert I just thought it was natural with all of the Oak Trees as they all seem to do it . I learned that you did not want to park under the post office oak in the summer and my oak does the same so I thought they all had the same problem. Are you sure it is aphids? It seems like I read somewhere that this was just the nature of the oak trees but you would probably know better than I. I do know it seems more than aphids could ever do, it pretty much rains on hot days in the summer so if it is aphids it must be billions of them. Will this eventually hurt the tree if it is? Aphid poop…sounds so…so…well…poopy! Now I will always think of that…Thanks :)

            And there is no way my oak is going anywhere, I would not consider ever cutting it down. It has plenty of space, it is away from the road and people and has plenty of nice green pasture grass growing around it unlike the post office oak.

  12. I’d nearly bet that it’s aphids, or some sort of piercing sucking bug. I’d have to see your tree to be sure. If you can reach pick a few leaves off this summer and look at the undersides. I’ve commonly found walking on sidewalks underneath “aphid trees” to be like walking down a movie theater isle where some one spilled their soda. As for tree health it is a stress, and with an extreme infestation the tree may drop all of it’s leaves (to grow new foliage). For the most part even this isn’t a huge deal unless it’s repeated year after year.

    Here is a great free resource. They have a hand book on tree pathogens too.


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