A vocal community outcry has spared the life of what may be the world's tallest albino redwood chimera, which was set to be cut down to make way for train tracks in Northern California's wine country.
A spokesman for the transit agency that had originally planned to cut down the 52-foot tall tree in Cotati told NBC Bay Area on Monday that the tree will be moved 450 feet south on Aug. 7, at a cost of $150,000.
"It's a complicated move," spokesman Matt Stevens said. "But when we determined the tree was this important to the community, we decided to relocate it."
Officials from the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, known as SMART, originally said they needed to cut down the tree to meet federal safety regulations as part of the district's planned $438 million upgrade, which includes building a second railroad track four feet from where the tree stands. But Stevens said that when news broke in March that the tree was heading to the chopping block, people from all over the world wrote in to save it.
Some arborists say the 70-year-old tree that sits in the heart of the tiny town in Sonoma County is one of ten known trees of its kind on the planet.
It's an albino chimera, which means it's a single organism that carries two genetically distinct cells. This particular tree carries two separate DNA sets: One makes the leaves look normal and green; the other turns the leaves a yellow-ish albino color. Albino trees have the inability to produce chlorophyll.
Tom Stapleton, a California arborist and expert in the field of albino redwood tree mutations, was one of the leading voices in the campaign to save the tree. He says it's the tallest tree of its kind in the world.
"The tree is irreplaceable and there's none other like it in the world," Stapleton said. "This is a huge victory for the tree. I'm happy to see that SMART has decided to save this truly unique redwood."
Stapleton had gotten the word out to the media, and met with a public works director and other key stakeholders about five months ago, hoping to work out a deal to save the tree by moving it.
The money to move the tree the equivalent of about one and a half football fields will come from the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit district, the city of Cotati and the contractor, Stacy and Witbeck/Herzog. Moving the tree will require working with PG&E, Comcast and AT&T, because of all the wires and lines in the way, Stevens said.
The tree now stands in the railroad's right-of-way at the intersection of East Cotati Avenue. Stevens said that the money to move the tree will come from a pot earmarked for "contingencies," which isn't unusual for multimillion projects such as this one. The train and pathway project began in April and should be providing passenger rail service by the end of 2016.