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Testing Jack London’s oak

In its estimated 350 years, the stately coast live oak tree at Jack London State Historic Park, shading the cabin where Jack and Charmian London lived, has watched the Valley transform, from the home of a handful of Native American tribes, to a thriving state park that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Due to a growing case of canker rot, park officials planned to take down the tree in the coming months, but an arborist from UC Berkeley could change that timeline, although not the tree’s fate. On Monday morning, Douglas Schmidt spent about an hour drilling holes at strategic spots throughout the tree’s limbs, looking for signs of decay. He’ll take the samples back to his lab for analysis, although results of that testing won’t be finalized for several months. The tree’s lifespan hangs in the balance.

“If the analysis of the samples … shows it’s clear of rot, we can probably give (the tree) a stay of execution for a year or so,” said Tjiska Van Wyk, executive director of Jack London State Historic Park.

Reports from three prior arborists concluded the tree is succumbing to rot, the natural end for a coast live oak of its size and age. Last December, a large branch snapped off and crashed to the ground, which could have been a fatal encounter for anyone close to the tree when it fell. More branches were removed to prevent any further incidents.

“You have to be really careful with sick trees,” Van Wyk said, referencing the August death of a student at Chico State University, who was sitting under a tree on campus when a branch snapped and fell, killing her instantly. “Our tree is in a really popular part of the park.”

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