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Rare redwood faces chopping block in Cotati

  • 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 / PD)

Standing inconspicuously beside a block wall across the street from a glass shop in Cotati is one of the rarest living life forms in the world, an albino chimera coast redwood tree.

Researchers say fewer than 10 of the genetically mutated trees are known to exist.

But if SMART's rail plans proceed, the tree — the largest of its kind — soon will be cut down so commuter trains can safely zoom past.

“This tree is irreplaceable,” said Tom Stapleton, a former Sonoma County arborist who is now based in Amador County and studies the rare mutations. “They need to do something more than just cut it down.”

SMART said the tree, just north of East Cotati Avenue about 15 feet west of the tracks, must be removed — possibly as early as next month — to meet federal safety regulations as the district lays a second railroad track near the existing one in preparation for eventual rail activity along the line.

“We are just complying with safety regulations,” said Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit spokeswoman Carolyn Glendening. “It's a decision that's been made by federal regulators. It's not a discretionary matter. It's not a policy matter for the board. It's a safety matter.”

But preservationists and those in the scientific community aren't satisfied with that answer. They are hoping to raise public awareness about the rare genetic specimen in the middle of Cotati, the hub of the Redwood Empire.

Cotati historian Prue Draper, who began investigating the unusual tree earlier this year, has communicated with other historians, researchers and scientists about the oddity. They have, in turn, sought help from local politicians.

Late Tuesday, SMART Board Member Deb Fudge said she contacted SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian and has started discussions to potentially move the tree to Cotati-owned land.

“It's still super tenuous,” she said. “But at least that gives it a shot. We haven't figured out who would pay or any of that yet.”

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