A rare, albino chimera coast redwood tree in Cotati that was in danger of being felled to make way for the Sonoma and Marin counties’ commuter rail project was relocated 500 feet south of its location Thursday.
A crane lifted and loaded the 56-foot tree onto a flatbed truck that moved it across the street for planting in a field. The tree is believed to be one of only 10 in existence, and one of only a few with its type of albinism.
The tree, with white and green needles, also is unique because it contains two sets of DNA.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit district said the tree was located at the base of a wall on private property within approximately 10 feet of the centerline of the second train track to be installed in the railroad right-of-way at the intersection of East Cotati Avenue.
SMART officials said the tree had to be removed to comply with Federal Railroad Administration safety clearances for safe train operations. The right-of-way in the area is 60 feet wide and will accommodate two tracks and a multi-use pathway, smart General Manager Farhad Mansourian said.
An arborist’s report in 2012 stated the tree is a chimera coast redwood that was planted in the right-of-way of the 1850’s era Northwestern Pacific Railroad 45 years ago by a private individual as a landscape ornament, Mansourian said.
The arborist’s report analyzed extensive pruning of the tree to meet safety clearances, Mansourian said.
The report concluded that even by removing all the branches and foliage on its east side, the tree’s health would still be undermined by track construction and wouldn’t survive at its present location, Mansourian said.
The tree also would be in danger of being uprooted by winds within falling distance of the track, posing a safety hazard, Mansourian said.
Mansourian had claimed about 60 chimera coast redwoods have been documented within the native coast redwood range south of Del Norte County. Most are protected in parks or are kept secret to prevent over-collection of foliage, Mansourian said.
The 2012 report also said the documented number of chimeras is a “significant under estimation” due to lack of access to a large percentage of redwood forest, Mansourian said:
“It indicates that the subject tree receives no statutory protection under state or federal laws.”
Arborists, who said there may only be 10 such trees in existence, and community members objected to the tree’s demise.
In March, SMART officials then said it would delay removing the tree pending further study. ”
“I have halted the process to take the time to bring in additional independent experts to examine and verify the analysis that was performed in September 2012 as part of our environmental permitting for this specific tree.”
“SMART will consult with additional independent experts to verify the report’s conclusions and determine if other options exist relative to the tree.”
In July SMART officials then said they would relocate the tree. Prue Draper, a Cotati historian who has lobbied to save the tree, said she was encouraged SMART wasn’t going ahead with cutting down the tree.
Draper and Mansourian were present Thursday when the tree was planted on SMART property near the Cotati station. Phase one of the commuter train between the two counties includes 10 stations along the 43 miles of track between Airport Boulevard in Santa Rosa and downtown San Rafael.
Service is expected to begin in late 2016. SMART hopes to extend the project to Cloverdale and Larkspur when funding becomes available.
The project is partially financed with a quarter-cent sales tax in both counties.