Name: Laura Renninger, RN

Title: President and founder of Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society, a non-profit organization in Oak Harbor, Whidbey Island, Washington.

Favorite Tree: Garry oak, Quercus garryana, the namesake of our town since 1851, and a real stand-out tree due its unique branch pattern.

What was your path to your current role as a volunteer?

I was blessed to have grown up in Oak Harbor. As a child, I came to love the big Garry oak trees around me and, in particular, ones in my grandmother’s yard. Over the decades, as more and more of the stately giants among us fell, it became apparent something needed to be done to help conserve our native oaks. In 2015 our son Kyle came home from college break and asked what we could do to help, and the Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society (OHGOS) was formed.

What do you enjoy most about your work with OHGOS?

Working with our volunteer group is very gratifying and humbling. People are often so pressed for time that I’m really proud of the many hours our volunteers log in! It is truly a gift back to the community.

Are there any accomplishments you are particularity fond of?

It was gratifying to partner with the City of Oak Harbor and Whidbey Naval Air Station in 2015 for a planting project along Regatta Drive, a major arterial in town. We helped plant over 30 Garry oaks. These highly visible trees will someday form a crucial habitat corridor that ties into other oak habitats nearby in the city. Planting new oaks is vitally important because roughly only 3% of the Garry oaks in Oak Harbor are juvenile trees.

In your opinion, what is the most pressing challenge facing urban and community forests in Washington today?

Space constraints within city limits mean that urban growth and development can sometimes be at odds with the preservation of the Garry oaks in our community. Recently our group lobbied diligently to promote a change in the City of Oak Harbor’s Oak Tree Protection Code. These changes clarified and updated existing guidelines.

What are your thoughts on the future of urban and community forests in Washington?

We need to get young people involved, from elementary school level through high school, so that students recognize the value of growing healthy native trees. OHGOS is active in classroom visits and in helping students plant Garry oaks on public school campuses. This activity helps ensure that students have the opportunity to learn about our living heritage.

OHGOS recently received a grant from Island Thrift to do some innovative work. How is that impacting your success as an organization?

Grant funds help support our Legacy Garry Oak Project. OHGOS purchased a combination of books, lesson plans, and specimen collection boxes for all the schools in Oak Harbor. We also obtained a large quantity of various sized nursery pots and trays for nurturing Garry oak seedlings, and planting tools for the project. Lastly, we purchased surveying technology to complete the Garry Oak tree inventory and mapping that we began earlier. The goal of the Legacy Project is to ensure that Whidbey Islanders today and tomorrow appreciate and benefit from the Garry oak trees.

To learn more about Garry oaks and the Oak Harbor Garry Oak Society, check out this 10 minute video by WhidbeyTV Productions.


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