With a little twisting and a lot of heavy lifting, the rare Cotati chimera redwood was hoisted out of the ground Thursday and loaded on a flatbed truck for a short move to its new home across the street, much to the delight of preservationists who fought for months to save the unusual tree.
“It’s a nice, happy ending,” said Tom Stapleton, an arborist who studies the rare green-and-white trees. He and Cotati historian Prue Draper led the effort to protect the Cotati specimen from the log pile.
The 56-foot tree, planted in the 1940s, was growing inside the federal safety zone for a second side track planned for SMART commuter train service that is planned to begin running in 2016.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit initially planned to cut the tree down, based on its original arborist report that said the tree wasn’t particularly rare and moving it or working near it would kill it. After community members raised concerns and steadily pushed SMART for months with scientific evidence of the tree’s uniqueness, the agency agreed to relocate the tree and care for it on SMART land.
On Thursday, after more than a week of prep work, a huge crane lifted the tree using straps linked under the tree’s mesh-encased root ball and moved it — in an upright position — to a waiting truck.
Dozens of engineers and construction workers cleared a path for it, moving power, cable and utility lines so the move could proceed safely.
After an unsuccessful first try that showed some roots were still connected, about lunchtime Thursday the crane operator lifted the tree up, maneuvered it over one remaining set of utility lines and dropped it squarely onto the bed of the truck waiting on East Cotati Avenue.
As several dozen onlookers watched, the tree’s limbs shook and waved gently with the motion, but the 90,000-pound tree showed no signs of tilting out of balance.
The truck driver slowly moved his unusual cargo across the street, bumped over a curb and onto the field where the tree was planted in a square hole about 20 feet wide.
Its new home is about 450 feet south on SMART property along the tracks near the Cotati rail stop. Eventually, there will be a plaque or some kind of interpretive display explaining the tree and its saga.
“I’m so glad they saved it,” said Dave Wasson of Cotati, who rode his bike to the scene Thursday. He said he’s not a “tree hugger,” but he felt strongly that protecting this tree was the right thing to do.
The move was expected to cost about $150,000, SMART spokesman Matt Stevens said. But he said the cost comes with being part of a community that cares about its environment.
“I know we have our detractors out there,” he said. “I’m proud of our organization and I’m proud of our community.
“It’s important to make choices based not just on the costs, but on the value.”
Arborists who study such chlorophyll-deficient trees say there may only be about 10 similar trees in the world, which exhibit normal and albino traits on the same branches, evidence of multiple sets of DNA.
The Cotati tree is the only known specimen that has grown to maturity, producing pollen and both male and female cones, which could open new doors in the study of the unusual phenomenon, Stapleton said.