Savannah on the Hill

The Garry Oaks and Their Story

As you hike to the top of Youngs Hill, there is a protected area called the Garry Oak Savannah. These trees use to line the Pacific coast thousands of years ago, and today the National Parks Service strive to keep them alive.

Garry oaks use to line the coasts of the Pacific Northwest including the San Juan Islands. However, centuries of environmental change has reshaped the landscapes these oaks inhabit. Due to overlogging, the oaks have over time dwindled to a scarce few.

Frequent fires intentionally set by Native Americans allowed Garry oaks to grow and prosper because of their affinity of low and moderate heat from fires. The oaks thrived on the southern part of Youngs Hill due to the shallow soil and moderate rainfall, which helped prevent Douglas firs from taking over.

Early Native Americans had migratory patterns that brought them to and through the San Juan Islands. During the spring and summer seasons, they would gather resources from the island such as berries or Garry oak nuts. Before they would leave for the winter months, they would burn the fields to promote new growth for the next gathering season. As military camps and merchants moved to the island in the mid- to late-1800’s, oak trees were used to erect buildings for soldiers and manufacture ships by American shipyards. By this time, the oaks were scarce on the island and secluded to the area around Youngs Hill.

Today, the National Park Service has taken active steps to try and preserve the remaining Garry oak trees. The Parks Service has attempted controlled burns to allow the Garry oaks to grow, however, these attempts have led to invasive grass growth that threatens the oaks just as much as other species. New methods of preservation have been attempted as the fight for preservation continues.