BOISE, Idaho – A sequoia seedling that naturalist John Muir sent to Idaho more than a century ago and was planted in a doctor’s yard has become a massive tree and an obstacle to progress.
The sequoia planted in 1912 is in the way of a Boise hospital’s expansion but has become a city landmark over the decades and the largest sequoia in Idaho. Chopping down the tree would be cheaper but has public relations risks.
So St. Luke’s Health System is spending $300,000 to move the 98-foot (30-meter) tree to city property about two blocks away starting Friday.
“We understand the importance of this tree to this community,” said Anita Kissée, spokeswoman for the hospital. Cutting it down “was never even an option.”
Texas-based Environmental Design specializes in moving big trees and plans to lift the sequoia Friday afternoon onto inflatable, rolling tubes. The tree is set to start moving at midnight Saturday and arrive at its new home around noon Sunday.
“This is going to be one of what we call our champion trees,” said David Cox, whose overseeing the move for the company. “We want to take extreme care to make sure everything goes well.”
Cox said the tree will be the tallest the company has ever moved as well as the largest in circumference at more than 20 feet (6 meters) near its base. He estimates the total weight, with roots and dirt, will be about 800,000 pounds (363,000 kilograms). He puts the chances of the tree surviving at 95 percent.
The move is part of St. Luke’s expansion to meet growing health demands in the state’s capital.
Muir, somewhere around 1912, sent four sequoia seedlings to Emile Grandjean, a conservation-minded professional forester and early employee of the U.S. Forest Service in Idaho, his granddaughter, Mary Grandjean, told a news agency.
Her father told her that Emile Grandjean planted two of the sequoias at his home in Boise and the two others went to the doctor’s home.
New owners of the Grandjean home later cut down the trees, Mary Grandjean said. The fate of a third sequoia isn’t clear. Of the four sequoias, the only one that still exists is the one being moved.
“We’ve all got our fingers crossed that the tree is going to make it to its new location,” she said.
Cox said sequoias in their native habitat in California draw moisture from the misty atmosphere and can live for several thousand years and reach several hundred feet tall.
The Idaho sequoia is in a drier, colder climate, and the tree lost its original top in the 1980s due to damage from Christmas decorations. The hospital at that point hired tree experts and the sequoia has since thrived despite living in a high desert environment.
Cox said soil analysis has been done at the transplant site to ensure it will allow the tree to keep growing. He said most of the soil surrounding the tree’s roots also is being moved to the new site to improve the chances of the transplant succeeding. If it works, the tree could remain a Boise landmark for several more centuries.
“I would say three- to five-hundred years at least,” Cox said. “It’s still a young tree.”