A thriving redwood tree is one of nature’s most majestic creations. It can grow over 300 feet tall, with a trunk that can be more than 15 feet in diameter. One tree inspires awe by itself, and when gathered in groves, they create a deeply shaded cathedral that touches even non-believers like me.
The redwood in this story possesses none of those qualities.
Instead, it looks sad and sick. Because it is. Only 52 feet tall, with a 40-inch trunk, it has mixed green and pale yellowish needles. Despite the tree’s nonmajestic qualities, it has become the focus of international attention, with emotional stories appearing from the Sonoma County Press Democrat (you’ll love the picture in their story) all the way to London’s Daily Mail.
Why all the attention? This underachieving tree possesses two rare attributes. First, it has albino DNA, which means many of its needles contain no chlorophyll. It is estimated there are fewer than 1,000 albino redwoods in existence. Second, it is a chimera, which means it also has normal DNA, so it has albino and normal foliage on the same branch. Supporters of the tree claim there are only six of these on earth. We’ll get to its parasitic nature shortly.
But what about the trainlovers? They want to chop the tree down to make room for an environmental hoax called the SMART train. SMART scheduled the tree for removal, saying its location violates Federal Railroad Administration safety regulations. SMART is a commuter rail system that is being built to serve the San Francisco Bay Area from southern Marin County to northern Sonoma County. It was supposed to stretch 70 miles, greatly relieve congestion on Highway 101, and have a mixed use bike and pedestrian path for its entire length.
Climate change cultists and bicycle missionaries loved this $541 million project. But soon, even their enthusiasm soured. By 2010, the cost had ballooned to $695 million. So SMART cut the route nearly in half, called it an Initial Operating Segment, and scrapped the $90 million bike path. Initially, SMART estimated they would take nearly 5,000 car trips a day off 101. Since 101 has over 100,000 car trips every weekday, this was not a huge improvement.
Now, the scaled back system has only six trains with two cars each that hold a max of 78 people. Even if every car were jammed full, this taxpayer-supported train will take less than 3% of the traffic off 101. SMART also estimates 23% farebox recovery, which means that 77% of every ticket will be paid for by taxpayers who don’t ride it.
This is the perfect time to get back to the partially parasitic redwood. According to Wikipedia, “An ‘albino’ redwood is a redwood tree which is unable to produce chlorophyll, and so has white needles instead of the normal green. In order to survive it must join its roots to the roots of a normal redwood, usually the parent tree from whose base it has sprouted, from which it obtains nutrition as a parasite. “
Looking at the tree this morning, I’d estimate that about 35% of it is parasitic.
The latest development? If you guessed it involves consultants, studies and tax money, pat yourself on the back. On March 13, Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, said he had suspended the removal plans. “I wanted to pause and make sure we do the right thing for the community and the environment,” Mansourian said. “We are a big part of the community and we have extreme care with our environment, and we want to make sure we do the right thing. “Everything comes to a halt with this tree removal until we bring in additional experts.”
The consultant who started this entire flap is Tom Stapleton. He used to work for Sonoma County as an arborist, but has moved a few counties away. On March 14, he met with Cotati representatives to explore potential sites for relocating the tree on city land. This is likely to be a long, expensive process. But Mr. Stapleton said he is taking bids for the costs of removing the tree. Imagine my shock.
So there you have it. Two partially parasitic entities claiming the same scruffy patch of turf. In this case, I’m rooting for the tree. (Sorry, pun unavoidable.) It serves as a perfect symbol of the way Cotati’s progressive government sucks the life out of local businesses. And even though this tree might be an embarrassment to its species, it could never suck as much value from the local economy as the SMART train.
Update: the tree was moved 450 feet, at a cost north of $150,000. If you’d like to watch the transplant operation, here you go.