If a Moon Tree falls at the Capitol, will Sacramento notice?

Preservationists warn that $750 million Capitol annex reconstruction could endanger Sacramento’s only Moon Tree

This story has been expanded from print.

In 1971, Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa took hundreds of tree seeds into orbit as the crew headed for the moon. The seeds made it home, germinated and were planted in dozens of states in celebration of the country’s bicentennial. Sacramento’s only Moon Tree, one of seven in California, sits just steps from the state Capitol’s north entrance.

Now, as the state embarks on its $750 million Capitol annex project, the 150-foot tall Coastal Redwood and dozens of other historic Capitol Park trees are at risk of being removed.

Kate Riley of Trees for Sacramento claims that about 100 trees would either need to be removed or razed if state-provided overhead maps of the project are correct.

“Capitol Park is Sacramento’s most beautiful park, an urban forest that’s a destination for visitors and locals,” Riley said. “It’s not typically thought of this way, but it’s really an arboretum. Any changes to that need to be scrutinized.”

California Department of General Services spokeswoman Jennifer Iida said more like 20 to 30 trees would be affected. State officials are “implementing a plan for the protection, restoration or replacement of [those] trees,” Iida wrote in an email to SN&R. She anticipated that General Services would consider the project’s final environmental impact report for approval in early April.

Nothing short of completely safeguarding the trees is enough for retired Sacramento city arborist Dan Pskowski. The state’s efforts are part of a larger mindset shift in California’s capital city, he said.

“Over the last decade or so, we’ve gone from protecting and preserving to removing and replacing,” he said. “We can’t keep calling ourselves the city of trees while we’re tearing down 100-year-old, 120-year-old trees.”

As planned, the project would demolish and rebuild the east annex to the Capitol, add an underground visitors center near the old Capitol basement and construct a 2-acre parking lot underground, with 200 spaces.

It’s the latter aspect that irks retired Pskowski most.

“Trees are our first line of defense against climate change and flooding,” he said. “And we’re demolishing them so more people can drive to work. What kind of message are we trying to send?”