Tumwater mayor pauses plan to cut down Davis-Meeker Oak, agrees to a new risk assessment


Tumwater's plan to cut down the Davis-Meeker Oak got delayed further after the public and Tumwater City Council successfully convinced the mayor to take another look at the historic 400-year-old tree. 

A temporary restraining order (TRO) against the tree’s removal expired today at 5 p.m., so yesterday’s city council meeting was an important avenue for the public to voice their grievances about the city’s ongoing direction. 

As it was nearing 11 p.m., and after two hours of public comments in which 39 people spoke against the tree’s removal, Tumwater Mayor Debbie Sullivan agreed to hire a third-party arborist to conduct another risk assessment of the Davis-Meeker Oak. 

“If I was to entertain this, I would not want any of the arborists or anything has been involved in this in any way, shape, or form, but somebody totally outside the scope of this … totally, totally independent from all of the rhetoric and all the other things and all of the preconceived notions that we've already had,” Sullivan said three and a half hours into the council meeting. 

Sullivan’s decision came after Councilmember Leatta Dahlhoff asked what the council’s options were to address the issue. Dahlhoff had prepared three ordinances to, as an effect, delay or prevent the removal, but City Attorney Karen Kirkpatrick said that the council member’s proposals did not meet the minimum qualifications of an ordinance. 

Though the ordinances were not discussed in length as they were only included in the agenda at the start of the meeting, Dahlhoff mentioned that her proposals involve the protection of historical trees, like what the Bellingham City Council just passed two weeks ago and make the municipal code clearer by adding trees to the city’s historic register. City staff previously said the Davis-Meeker Oak was a unique situation as the city’s historic register is coded to deal only with structures. 

Dahlhoff also talked about amending Tumwater Municipal Code 16.08, which deals with protection of trees and vegetation, so that they could require a third-party independent assessment to validate and reproduce questionable documentation before any decision is made. 

The council member proposed a new evaluation of the tree as other arborists questioned the risk assessment conducted by Kevin McFarland, the city's consultant arborist. The city has depended on McFarland’s evaluation to justify the tree’s removal.

“I'm asking us to follow the scientific method of when data is called into question that is not about the person, it is about the data… What does it look like for council to amend the municipal code to say if data is called into question that it automatically goes to an independent third-party assessment for validation and reproducibility,” Dahlhoff said. 

Dahlhoff inquired about the requirements for passing her proposal as an emergency ordinance. Kirkpatrick answered that the ordinance would need to be approved unanimously. 

Dahlhoff then commented that if the council members all voted to approve her ordinance, the mayor may veto the ordinance.  

Dahlhoff later asked again what the council’s options were if they can’t pass the ordinance. She mentioned that McFarland only billed the city six hours of work for assessing the tree, so she requested if another assessment could take place as soon as today. 

Other council members also commented on the issue in support of having another risk assessment. Council members mentioned that the new leadership of the Nisqually Indian Tribe even requested the council to delay the tree’s removal until the tribe completes its consultation with the state and tribal historic preservation officers. 

City staff, council to work together on safety measures 

When the mayor finally approved the hiring of an additional arborist, she said that they would have to determine how to reroute the traffic as a temporary safety measure if the city pursues this option. 

So, with this change, I also want council to understand that you are also absorbing the risk of this thing that we would be doing,” Sullivan said adding, “We need to reroute traffic. We need to have traffic away from that tree. What does that look like?”  

City Administrator Lisa Parks mentioned that they have already been considering several safety measures in preparation for the possibility that the legal proceedings would be extended. 

Parks said that rerouting the traffic means closing the section of Old Highway 99 where the Davis-Meeker Oak is located and requiring 20,000 vehicles, which is the average daily traffic within the area, to take a detour at another road. 

Parks said that they can also add a temporary lane to the east of the road outside of the tree’s drip line. The city administrator added that they cannot close the road for more than 12 hours without the council’s approval. 

“I also put it on council that we need to keep the public safe. We need to do what we need to do to mitigate the danger of individuals being exposed to this tree [who] could be injured or killed. And I'm putting that on the council to work with me to make sure that happens,” Sullivan said before the discussion concluded. 


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  • 52237123abc

    I liked one of the speakers suggestion last night that if the mayor is nervous about letting the tree stand that she could step down from her position. And PLEASE take Lisa with her….cutting out the port!

    Wednesday, June 5 Report this

  • JHermes

    I don't understand people who dislike trees.

    Wednesday, June 5 Report this

  • DeeperThoughts

    Mayor Sullivan and Lisa Parks are determined to make this process as painful a process as possible. Now they want to punish the public by detouring traffic. TBH, if it weren't for the tribes stepping in, they would have bulldozed the tree already. I am so hopeful the tribes will step in and stop this madness! Mayor Sullivan and her cronie Lisa Parks need new jobs where they can go bully people elsewhere. I am so disgusted with both of them and their unethical behavior.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • Treehugger1

    Hello fellow tree savers, tree huggers, and plain old life lovers. Thank you to the 38 people who came and spoke

    about the Davis-Meeker Garry Oak Tree. We have only just "begun to fight", for the preservation of another of nature's great creations....the MIGHTY OAK. And we are a mighty FORCE for good.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • mathisje

    If the 2nd report comes in close to McFarland's, the tree is gone. That's rationale decision making based on facts and expert opinion. You could have a dodo nesting in the tree, and it would not make any difference. to removal. Trashing officials based on your private beliefs is a waste of effort. Belief based arguments do not cut it in court. I'm not a huge fan of City management, but most the negative comments written on this subject are meaningless to the decision making.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • BevBassett

    Here's a link to a Youtube video of the testimony Tuesday evening at the Tumwater City Council meeting of the dozens of people speaking out to save The Historic Davis Meeker Garry Oak. You won't be bored:


    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    There's certainly nothing wrong with a second opinion. However, if that second opinion is the same as the first, will we be able to move on and accept the science? These oaks live to about 500 years old. This one is nearing the end of it's lifespan. It is highly likely that disease has taken hold and the tree is in worse shape than some think. Older trees are more prone to disease and infestation. It would be sad to lose such a tree, but so goes life. The positive side is it is likely the ancestor of many trees in the region. Acorns can be carried by birds for great distances and establish themselves as a new tree miles away. The worst part of this whole thing is how people treat each other. Accusing the Mayor and staff of some nefarious mission and hurling insults and accusations at them. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I happen to know someone who lost their family to a falling branch from a tree. To them, it's not an insignificant thing.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • ejpoleii

    The arborist for the "second opinion" should perform a sonic tomography analysis to determine the presence or absence of internal rot. If the first arborist did not perform one, the analysis was inadequate.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • 52237123abc

    I recently walked through Wright Park in downtown Tacoma. I would encourage anyone who thinks the Meeker tree should be destroyed to go and experience this beautiful park.

    Huge, old maples, oaks, birch etc. throughout the park….all with huge limbs hanging over pathways, sidewalks and roads. It is stunning there!

    This entire park, if it was in Tumwater, would be destroyed if it were up to Parks….to make way for the Port and real estate plans.

    Go take a look at Wright Park!

    Friday, June 7 Report this

  • FirstOtter

    This entire argument has it's roots in the Port's insistence on expanding the airport. We have told them over and over that the airport is a nuisance, a playground for the wealthy few who can afford private aircraft. We do NOT want it expanded. Not wanting to hear that, the Port merely tossed their ugly baby into Sullivan's lap, who wholeheartedly took up the attempt.

    Sullivan and her cronies have never had any problems ''re routing traffic' when it suits them. Look at how long it's taking to finish the three ring circus at Trosper and Capitol. That has caused detours and taking side roads for at least a year if not longer. Did she think twice about the businesses that would be affected by the chaos this massive project has caused? Nope. Nor did she care. Several businesses have gone broke because of the construction. If she'd had half a heart, she would have given the businesses a moratorium on their business taxes. She didn't do that. Either. Did she care that people attempting to use Capitol or Trosper were held up with "long delays". Nope. So suddenly, she's worried about the people who use Capitol being inconvenienced by a rerouting? What the hey? We've been inconvenienced by her construction projects for years.

    This is all gaslighting. We see it, we call her on it, she reacts and counter attacks. IShe's responding out of ego.

    ""Hurling insults and accusations'' at Sullivan were deserved. She and her cronies tried to sneak taking down the tree in February. Then she said, we'll take it down over the Memorial Day weekend when traffic is light. What country is she living in? Memorial Day weekend was a traffic NIGHTMARE, with people new to the area were trying to negotiate the three ring roundabout circus. She doubled down on the TRO. This is not 'accusations', it's reporting the truth. Had she been willing to accept that the we want to save the tree..thos os us who pay her salary...none of this would have happened. She has taken this thing to be a personal insult, a challenge to her mighty position, acting precisely as if she knows better than anyone. Even now, she's not saying, okay, you win. She wants an 'outside expert' to redo the study. What will she do when this person finds that the tree is okay, can be saved with some judicious pruning, and should be left alive?

    LEave the tree alone. It is over 400 years old and doesn't that mean SOMETHING? How many of you would put a dog down for being old, even if it's still active and bright eyed? HOw many of you think, well, my lovely house is old, let's tear it down and up a new one. How many of us can afford to replace a car every year because it's last year's model? (Not me, I can assure you.) You reading this right now have some sort of illness inside you, one that will eventually crop out. Cancer. Parkinson's Alzheimer's. Shall you be put to death because of it?

    Trees die.The Meeker oak doesn't need us to speed up the process. We've already destroyed thousands of trees in the name of 'progress'. Let the Meeker oak stand as a testiment to resiliance, superior genes and maybe, Mayor Sullivan, empathy and respect. The Oak currently looks vibrantly healthy. Last year it produced thousands of acorns...dying oaks don't do that. If the Oak has a few rotten parts inside, welllllllllll, so do all of us. The fearful amongst us, scared of having a limb fall off and hurt them..you have a better chance of being killed by a drunk driver. The limbs might fall off? If the road is re routed, no one will care.

    I would suggest to Ms. Sullivan that she was voted into her position and can be voted out. If she wants a legacy of cutting down a beautiful oak against the majority of people in Tumwater saying Don't....she will be remembered for THAT.

    Sunday, June 9 Report this