Future of doomed oak pondered

A whole lot of ideas are being kicked around about what to do with the fungus-infested, granddaddy oak tree at the post office once it has been chopped down.

City officials are considering hiring a woodcarver to create a giant sculpture; having benches or other furniture made from the wood; selling some or all of it; or even leaving the de-limbed trunk of the tree and putting a tunnel-like walkway straight through it.

City Parks Director Hank Nydam said he’s planning in the first week of March to discuss the possibilities of what to do with the lumber from the Garry oak tree. No date has been set, so far, for the felling of the tree.

“We’ve heard from a lot of people,” he said. “We’re gotten phone calls from guys who make furniture and all kinds of things like that.”

The 150-year-old tree was condemned to death last month by the Oak Harbor City Council after the city’s consulting arborist found that decay was killing the tree from the roots up. Several members of the city council and some residents have been very critical of the city for laying blacktop around the tree years ago, perhaps causing the decay problem.

Robert Williams, the arborist, warned that the tree could become a safety hazard within the next decade if it’s not axed down.

Nydam said the city hopes to create a pocket park in the area where the tree stands. The original plan was to buy a 20-foot, $1,100 Garry oak tree from a Oregon nursery for the puny park, but Nydam said local residents have offered to donate four trees from their property.

The biggest of the four donated trees will be located at the post office, according to Nydam, while the others will likely be planted in another pocket park near Office Max. The tree donations will save the city money, but Nydam said digging up the teenaged-trees will still be a big, time-consuming project for city crews.

City officials need to make a decision about what to do with the wood before it can be chopped down. There’s actually a lot of things to consider. Garry oak, also called Oregon white oak, is an extremely dense wood that can be used to make fine furniture, though it’s not as attractive as red oak, the U.S. Forest Service Web site states.

The chief problem with the wood is that it has a high tendency to warp or collapse during drying, so it needs to be milled and slowly dried in a controlled environment, according to John Shelly, author of “Native Hardwood Utilization Opportunities.”

The main use of Garry oak is as fuelwood. The Forest Service reports that the wood is highly prized for this purpose since it has a very high heat output and is moderately easy to split.

Nydam said he’s been talking with Pat McVay, a South Whidbey wood sculptor, about the possibility of creating a giant carving from the tree. One idea, Nydam said, was to stick some of the limbs in the ground and perch a carved eagle on one.

In the meantime, Williams — the tree guy — is supposed to start the $5,800 Heritage Tree Program in early March. Nydam said Williams will map and evaluate Garry oak trees on city right-of-ways and in a few parks. He said residents with “dominate trees” on their property also may be able to get their oaks on the registry.

“We’re hoping that this will be a good promotion tool,” he said, “to get people interested in Garry oaks.”

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