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The unusual albino chimera redwood tree features white and green needles on the same branch. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)
Prue Draper, left, of the Cotati Historical Society and Louise Santero, a longtime Cotati resident, stand next to an extremely rare albino chimera redwood
Prue Draper, left, of the Cotati Historical Society and Louise Santero, a longtime Cotati resident, stand next to an extremely rare albino chimera redwood tree near the railroad tracks at East Cotati Avenue. The tree, one of only 10 of its kind in the world, may be cut down to make room for commuter train tracks. (Beth Schlanker / Press Democrat)

A rare, albino chimera coast redwood tree in Cotati that is in danger of being removed to make way for the Sonoma and Marin counties' commuter rail project has received a reprieve.

The Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit district said today it will conduct "additional verification of expert analysis" and "an investigation of options."

"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 General Manager Farhad Mansourian said.

The 56-foot, chimera coast redwood 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.

SMART said the tree is 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.

The right-of-way in the area is 60 feet wide and will accommodate two tracks and a multi-use pathway, Mansourian said.

"SMART is required to comply with Federal Railroad Administration safety clearances for safe train operations," 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 said 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," Mansourian said.

"SMART will consult with additional independent experts to verify the report's conclusions and determine if other options exist relative to the tree," Mansourian said.

Prue Draper, a Cotati historian who has lobbied to save the tree, said she is encouraged SMART isn't going ahead with cutting down the tree.

The City of Cotati is willing to have the tree located in Helen Putnam Park, Draper said.

"SMART will have to remove it. The City is willing to welcome it and water it," Draper said.

There are different opinions whether the tree can be transplanted, Draper said.

"It's the tallest of its kind in the world. It's been there forever and no one paid any attention to it," she said.



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