It’s a crisp, cold morning in the Santa Monica Mountains. The only noise you hear at what was Western Ranch at Paramount Ranch are some birds chirping. A man is standing in front of an iconic, 70 foot high, 90 foot wide Valley Oak tree. He admits he’s sad, because this tree is one of the latest victims of the 2018 Woolsey wildfire.
John Tiszler is the Plant Ecologist and Arborist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The tree is at the center of what was the ranch’s Western Town. It appeared in hundreds of movies and television shows over the years, and was the backdrop for countless weddings.
But, in November of 2018, the Woolsey Fire swept through the ranch. It destroyed almost all of the movie set buildings and damaged many of the Valley Oaks, including the big one they call the Witness Tree.
The tree initially showed some signs of recovery, but then experts realized that it wasn’t going to survive. They think the intensity of the flames from some of the buildings burning near the tree in effect cooked its insides.
While it’s completely blackened, it’s skeleton still majestically towers over Western Town. Tiszler says if the tree was in a remote area of the National Recreation Area, they would leave it there, and let nature take its course. But, because it’s in Western Town, which is going to be rebuilt, the possibility of the branches falling, or the wishbone shaped tree splitting pose a public danger. Later this month, it will be cut down. Plans call for helping the tree to remain a part of the park in a different way, with some of the wood used for things like benches, and signs.
The park is holding an open house this Saturday, beginning at 2 p.m. to give the community the chance to say goodbye to the iconic tree which has been a part of so many lives. And, people with photographs of special memories involving the tree, like weddings or family reunions at the site, are asked to bring copies to help create a celebration of the tree’s history.