Tumwater’s arborist contradicted himself on Davis-Meeker Oak


A group advocating for the protection of the Davis-Meeker Gary Oak tree released a statement alleging that an early email from Tumwater’s arborist, Kevin McFarland of South Urban Forestry, contradicted his eventual report about the historic tree.

Tumwater Mayor Debbie Sullivan has decided to remove the tree, which is believed to be around 400 years old, due to safety concerns. Plans are put on hold as the city waits for another arborist to assess the tree’s condition.

Sullivan had made the decision to remove the tree, backed by a full risk analysis by McFarland, which found that the tree poses a high risk, a conclusion that other arborists disagree with.

According to the press release, the group called “Save the Davis-Meeker Garry Oak” discovered through a public record request that McFarland wrote to city staff earlier in June 2023 that the tree did not pose a high risk, contradicting what the arborist later wrote in his risk analysis.

This is a copy of the June 2023 report from Tumwater's arborist.
This is a copy of the June 2023 report from Tumwater's arborist.
The public record request (P008574-042624) was made by arborist Beowulf Brower; The JOLT obtained a copy. 

In an email dated June 28, 2023 addressed to Operations Supervisor Mark LaVack from the transportation and engineering department, McFarland wrote, “The risk assessment is not complete, but it is my opinion that the tree does not pose an extreme or high risk at the moment.”

Before June 28, McFarland had already produced a basic tree risk assessment of the tree, which was conducted on June 14, according to the date written on the form McFarland used.

It is unclear why McFarland wrote to city staff that the tree did not pose an “extreme or high risk” when his basic risk assessment already rated the risk of the tree as high.

McFarland also wrote to LaVack that there was a need for further assessment to provide a complete risk assessment.

A complete risk analysis was not completed until October 10, but also concluded that the tree’s risk was still high.

McFarland was asked to evaluate the tree after an 18-inch-diameter branch fell from it in June 2023. According to McFarland's findings, the branch had failed due to decay inside the tree.

However, in the June 28 email, McFarland also wrote, “The existence of a decay column or cavity within the base up through the main stem may not be a total reason to condemn the tree.”

McFarland wrote that the tree species could remain structurally sound or not prone to failure even if the main stem were compromised.

As McFarland recommended to city staff, an aerial assessment and seismic tomography test were also conducted between June and October 2023.

Amanda Hancock of Waxwing Tree Specialists performed the aerial assessment on June 29. The assessment found the extent of the decay, which extended from the main stem into one of the co-dominant stems and the scaffold branches.

Tyler Bunton of Tree Solutions Inc. conducted the seismic tomography test on August 24. The test helped visualize the extent of the decay inside the tree. Bunton found that the tree had more sound wood to support itself and recommended retrenchment pruning to lower the chance of tree failure.

McFarland told The JOLT that he had no comment about the issue.


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  • mathisje

    What is the controversy the author found? MacFarland said in the first report that the assessment was not complete and maybe the tree could be saved. Later inspection showed that it could not be saved. No arborist is going to write off a tree, 400 y.o. or not, without hard data that it was an unreasonable risk. What the heck is seismic tomography with regard to trees? I found acoustic tomography for testing trees. Can work but depends on equipment and I assume the operator (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6201721/). Exactly how does an aerial assessment determine extent of rot throughout the tree. Release all three reports detailing findings and the basis of the finding. Per most (all) arborist sources I found, core samples are the definitive test for internal tree rot. Not seismic, acoustic or drones. Stop trying to discredit an outstanding arborist to sidestep reality. The City will be getting a second opinion. If the conclusion significantly disagrees with MacFarlan then the game is back on. If not, then please stop maligning MacFarland. Buy a piece of the Meeker Oak and plant it some place.

    Saturday, June 22 Report this

  • PamelaJHanson

    Obviously, looking at the email within this news report, the email indicates two core samples that reached decay - but did not detail how long the samples were after the decay. Back in middle school, in Tumwater, our teacher had us plot and document our own square foot or so of land and we watched a core sample be performed in person. Does the City of Tumwater staff, that may or may not live, work, and play within Tumwater almost every day, understand that we do not pay them to plan our lives and take our tax dollars out of town to where they live and play. The roundabout is reportedly $1.7 Million over budget. How much is being wasted on this tree already? This tree is not dead, this tree is not an eminent hazard, traffic did not and does not need to be rerouted, and this "native american sacred ground" that this honored mother oak tree represents, memorializes and protects should never be disturbed. Just my opinion.

    Saturday, June 22 Report this

  • FirstOtter

    IT sounds as if Sullivan et al is of the opinion that one part of the tree is decayed, thus it should be completely destroyed. This is like saying, you have an infected toenail, so let's cut off the foot.

    Prune the tree. Cut out the dead parts and let the rest of the tree live. You see it all the time, especially in big leafed maples. The tree can lose a good portion of it's trunk and still produce seeds, leaves and live a long life.

    The Meeker oak at this moment is healthy and in full leaf. Go take a look at it. You'll see it as a living tree.

    There is no need to take down the tree when judicious pruning can eliminate the risk. I really don't understand Sullivan's antipathy towards a tree, the excuse of 'safety' doesn't hold water.

    And the diameter of that 'fallen branch' keeps getting bigger.

    Come on, Mayor, compromise. All you're doing is making your reputation that much lower. Prune the tree if it's necessary and let it stand to live another fifty or hundred years.

    Saturday, June 22 Report this

  • 2theroots

    seems highly suspicious to me that this employee of the city changed his opinion given how badly the Mayor obviously wants this tree gone.

    Saturday, June 22 Report this

  • jwiley

    The trust in the Mayor, her administrator and all associated facts and their self reporting rhetoric is in question. Notification of citizens was delayed, facts appear to be skewed, and it was not until the citizens and council members brought all of it to the light of day that the mayor backed down off of her proclaimed destruction date deadline. Something is really rotten to the core, and it is not the tree.

    Saturday, June 22 Report this

  • RondaLarsonKramer

    @mathisje, it appears you misread the article. You stated, “Later inspection showed that it could not be saved.” The opposite is true. The follow up inspection also said that the tree can be retained.

    Saturday, June 22 Report this

  • HappyOlympian

    Boooo, leave that tree alone.

    Sunday, June 23 Report this