Thurston County judge issues temporary order preventing city from cutting down 400-year-old tree


Thurston County Superior Court Judge Sharonda Amamilo issued a temporary restraining order Friday that prevents the city of Tumwater from chopping down a 400-year-old Garry oak that is listed on the Tumwater Register of Historic Places, a group opposed to the tree's removal says.

An attorney for the group Save the Davis Meeker Garry Oak obtained the order to prevent what the group calls "a needless and improperly applied use of city power to destroy the historic tree."

"Tumwater's mayor spearheaded the misuse of a city code designed to protect historic structures and essentially turned the code on its head to claim it allows the cutting down of this historic tree without a permit," said attorney Ronda Larson Kramer in a statement. "The city has now filed a motion to vacate the judge's protection, ignoring the wishes of the citizens and the earlier decision by their own Historic Preservation Commission to retain the tree."

Members of the Save the Davis Meeker Garry Oak planned to gather at 4 p.m. Saturday at the tree for a celebration to pay tribute to the tree and to honor its role as an important route marker along the historic Cowlitz Trail. The tree is located near the intersection of Capitol Boulevard and Almar Lane Southeast. There will be music, information, food and a community rally. People are invited to bring instruments and food to share.

The tree's historical name reflects its status as a landmark on the Cowlitz section of the Oregon Trail. The Cowlitz Trail was a north-south trail used for millennia by tribal nations. Later, the tree was a landmark used by white settlers heading to what is now Washington.

The Garry or white oak is a state-protected species, and the Davis Meeker tree was listed on the Tumwater Register of Historic Places in 1995. It is the only living thing on the register as the rest of the listings are area historic buildings.

"This tree is still a landmark today, reminding us of our many cultural roots and of those who have passed this way for thousands of years," said Michelle Peterson, group spokesperson. "At 400 years old, it is a middle-aged tree and we intend to protect it for the generations who follow us."

The Olympian is seeking comment from Tumwater Mayor Debbie Sullivan, who made the decision to remove the tree, citing its poor health and high risk for causing accidents, injury or death. Its huge branches hang over the two-lane road that carries an average of 20,000 cars a day.

Her decision was based on a 2023 incident in which an 18-inch-diameter branch fell from 50 feet high in the tree and landed partially in the southbound lane of the road.

"I do not want to face a family that has either lost a loved one, a family member, or had one significantly injured from this tree impacting them on a major route," she said.

But Sullivan's decision has faced backlash from Tumwater City Council members.

"This was not anything I had any input into. And none of us did," council member Joan Cathey said at council meeting earlier this month. "We expressed an opinion at the very beginning, and it was given hope that maybe we were being heard. But I just think this is wrong. I think this is not right. I think this damages our relationship with this community."


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