Advocates working to save a rare chimera redwood tree in Cotati are celebrating SMART’s decision to relocate the tree, saving it from a death at the hands of a chainsaw.
After months of reconsideration, the commuter rail line announced Monday it has agreed to replant the tree, an unusual green-and-white coast redwood, about 450 feet south across East Cotati Avenue to a site near the new Cotati SMART train depot.
The fate of the chlorophyll-deficient tree — which arborists who study the genetic mutation say may be one of a kind — had been in doubt since spring, when SMART’s plan to cut it down became public.
SMART said the tree was too close to the planned tracks for federal safety rules.
But public outcry forced SMART to reconsider its plans and further investigate the potential scientific and public value of the tree.
“I’m ecstatic that SMART listened to the community and made the right decision to save the tree,” said arborist Tom Stapleton, who with Cotati historian Prue Draper led the charge to save the tree. “This means that the tree can be enjoyed for generations to come and be a landmark for the city of Cotati.”
SMART spokesman Matt Stevens said his agency was ultimately pleased with the public input, which was at first testy when SMART held to its original evaluation of the tree as unimportant and a safety hazard.
The 52-foot-tall tree, planted in the 1940s, was going to be too close to planned SMART tracks to meet federal safety guidelines. SMART officials also said their arborist’s analysis showed rail construction would damage the tree and destabilize it, making it a fall hazard in wind.
“The fact that this tree is important to the community was brought to the board’s attention. The SMART board felt it was important to consider alternatives to cutting the tree down, which is what we did,” Stevens said.
Arborists and preservationists said chlorophyll-deficient redwoods are exceedingly rare, and chimeras, which exhibit both albino and normal foliage on the same branch, even more so, perhaps numbering fewer than a dozen.
They have argued that felling the tree could destroy invaluable scientific potential.
Stapleton said the Cotati tree is the only known mature chimera to have produced both male and female cones. Cutting it down would destroy the ability to study the reproductive structure of the chimera’s seeds.
The tree was initially going to be moved to a field near Cotati City Hall, but that would have required the moving of too many power lines, SMART officials said. The new site didn’t require as many logistic gymnastics.
SMART will install a watering system when it is replanted, Stevens said, and eventually there will be some kind of educational display for train riders.
“We were at the eleventh hour as far as timing goes,” Stapleton said. “But the support we received from the public and scientific community helped turn the tree’s fate around.”
“We heard from the public that this coast redwood was important to the community in Cotati and we felt it was worth the effort to see if there was a way to relocate the tree instead of cutting it down. I am very pleased that a way was found,” SMART Board Chair Judy Arnold said in a statement announcing the decision.