Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Stand of Querus garryana (Gary oak) in Skagit County is Lost

Chuckanut Drive (State Highway 11) winds along the mountainous shoreline south of Bellingham. It is a very scenic route with views across Samish bay to the San Juan Islands and Olympic Mountains. There are several pullouts to take in the views. One pullout is just north of a nice outcrop of fossil palm fronds in the Eocene Chuckanut Formation. The slope just below the scenic overlook was until very recently the site of one of the northernmost stands of Querus garryana (Gary oak) in Washington State. However, most of the trees were recently cut down. 

The removal may have been to maintain the view as the trees that were cut have been left on the ground. However, other trees remain and I have yet to have been discover the purpose of the cutting.

Regardless of the purpose, it was disappointing to loose a stand of trees that were growing at the fringe of their range. The map below from Wiki is a fairly accurate portrayal of the range of this oak.

Quercus garryana range map 1.png

There are stands to the north along the warm/dry side of lower Vancouver Island and a couple of isolated patches in the Fraser Valley. Those Canadian stands are considered one of the rarest ecosystems in Canada, and there has been significant effort to protect the oak habitat in Canada for that reason. In Washington State, Pierce County and Thurston County have some ecosystem protection for oak. There was a case in Pierce County where a developer had their permits revoked after violating the conditions on the permit that protected oaks on the site.

In Washington State, the map just shows where the trees may be found. Around the Salish Sea/Puget Sound most of the oaks are pretty patchy and are only found is isolated stands. Areas where oaks are common are only in the southern part of the state and oak forest stands are present in areas of the Columbia Gorge and a few east of the Cascade Mountains in areas where the local climate transitions from wet to dry. 

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