Carol Johnston has watched this Pacific madrone grow for the past 14 years. It is slated to be removed during McDonald’s upcoming renovation in early February. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)

Carol Johnston has watched this Pacific madrone grow for the past 14 years. It is slated to be removed during McDonald’s upcoming renovation in early February. (Emily Gilbert / Whidbey News-Times)

Madrone tree to make way for bigger McDonald’s in Oak Harbor

Despite being named a Tree City USA, the city has no special protection in place for the native tree.

An Oak Harbor woman had hoped to save a large Pacific madrone tree that is slated be cut down to accommodate planned demolition and expansion of the city’s McDonald’s restaurant.

Despite being named a Tree City USA by The Arbor Foundation for the 17th year in a row, the City of Oak Harbor has no special protection in place for the native tree species, Arbutus menziesii, commonly referred to as the madrona.

Carol Johnston works as a dental hygienist in a building next to McDonald’s and has watched the tree grow for the last 14 years.

“I love this tree. It’s probably the biggest in Oak Harbor,” Johnston said, referring to the madrone.

The large, orange-skinned madrone tree is next to the drive-thru line. Johnston can see it from her window and noted that many patients comment on its beauty when they come in for a cleaning. The multi-trunk tree is likely between 25-30 feet tall and has a diameter of more than 12 inches.

It can be difficult to grow Pacific madrones because the species is susceptible to soil and root disturbance, according to the Washington State University Ornamental Plant Program website. The Pacific madrone is valuable for erosion control and slope stabilization, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and was key in preventing further landslides at Magnolia Bluff in Seattle. It’s prized for its ornamental value, but is also important for wildlife.

Johnston said she hoped the tree could be saved, but was told that it must come down as part of McDonald’s upcoming renovation. Work is slated to begin in early February and the current building, built in 1976, will torn down.

The new building will be increased to roughly 5,200 square feet from its current 3,600 square feet. It will lose a couple of parking spaces and will still have two drive-thru waiting stalls. The existing freestanding sign will remain.

Franchise owner Barbara Johnson also confirmed that the tree will be removed, as is allowed by the city.

“McDonald’s really tried to save this tree for me,” Johnston said. “But with city codes and everything, they’re taking this tree down.”

Unlike Seattle and Coupeville, both of which have special protections for the tree in question, Oak Harbor does not. Oak Harbor’s namesake, the Garry Oak, is the only tree protected by city code.

Johnston said she had talked to the city about saving the madrona tree several times.

Johnston said she hoped drawing attention to the McDonald’s madrone would increase public awareness for the species.

“People just don’t know how special madrona trees are, only the Garry Oak,” she said.

“It’s just so sad people don’t understand.”

“They should be protected and we should have it in our city codes.”

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