Gregory Thomas, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
See Guerneville Forest Coalition “The Clar Tree” for more information.
Standing on the side of Highway 116, which winds through the dense forests of western Sonoma County, John Dunlap looked across the Russian River into a stand of tall trees and pointed out one old redwood in particular.
“It’s really a hidden gem here that’s kind of out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t deserving of our attention.”
Up from the riverbank near Guerneville is the county’s tallest tree, an estimated 2,000-year-old, 340-footer known as the Clar Tree. Once thought to be the highest tree in California, it carries the name of a timber family that lived in the area back when it was a logging capital. It is easily identifiable by its dead, forked crown — the result of a lightning strike some years ago.
Passersby wouldn’t be able to glean the tree’s significance at a glance — its prominence is somewhat camouflaged by its brethren — yet the Clar is at the center of an impassioned dispute over how best to care for California’s iconic, old-growth coast redwoods, the towering titans that have inspired generations of naturalists but were nearly cut to extinction during California’s frenzied development 150 years ago.
The tree stands at the edge of a 224-acre property of redwoods, firs and oaks that has been logged in pieces for decades and is considered a “high fire hazard severity zone.” The Cloverdale timber company that owns the land, Redwood Empire Sawmill, is intent on harvesting redwood there “sustainably” and as soon as possible.