SMART puts brakes on plan to fell rare redwood

Public outcry appears to have saved an albino chimera coast redwood tree standing in the path of the SMART rail project in Marin County.

The mutated redwood in Cotati is one of only 10 in existence, researchers say, and was slated to be ripped from its home to make way for train tracks.

After experts and outraged members of the public complained about the tree’s removal, SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian told the Press-Democrat he was suspending the plan:

“I wanted to pause and make sure we do the right thing for the community and the environment. … Everything comes to a halt with this tree removal until we bring in additional experts.”

The tree stands at 52 feet and features a combination of normal green leaves and albino sections. It is thought to be the largest of its kind.

Former Sonoma County arborist Tom Stapleton vocally opposed the tree’s removal to the Press-Democrat:

“This tree is irreplaceable. They need to do something more than just cut it down.”

SMART said the tree, which is north of East Cotati Avenue about 15 feet from the railroad, had to be taken out as soon as next mont to meet federal safety regulations.

The SMART railway was approved in 2008 by voters to help ease congestion on Highway 101. As compensation, the rail project is required to plant 20 coast redwoods elsewhere.

Emily Burns, science director at Save the Redwoods League in San Francisco, said the tree is old enough to have developed male and female cones. This means it could produce offspring.  Burns also said:

“A chimera is really a genetic oddity in any species. It has two separate genomes mashed together. It’s a mosaic of tissues.”

SMART’s board began discussions to see if it’s possible to move the tree to city-owned land. An official decision has yet to be made.