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JURASSIC TREES GET MODERN SHIELD - A TRADEMARK

After surviving 150 million years in a secluded rain forest canyon, Australia's Jurassic-era pine trees are getting a modern shield against civilization's ravages - a trademark.

New South Wales Environment Minister Pam Allan said Tuesday the state government had trademarked the prehistoric Wol-lemi pine to stop anyone trying to take its seeds and clone them.The federal government will be asked to do the same thing so the plant will be protected internationally.

But it will remain legal for the state government, through the Royal Botanic Gardens and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, to clone the tree so the public can eventually buy them in nurseries.

All profits from sales will be put back into conserving rare plant species.

The pine was discovered in August 1994 in a remote area of the Wollemi National Park in the Blue Mountains, about 125 miles west of Sydney.

The biggest tree towers 130 feet with a 10-foot girth, indicating it is at least 150 million years old. They are covered in dense, waxy foliage and have knobby bark.

Their home is a tiny 1.2-acre grove in the 1.2 million-acre park.

Experts say the pine's closest relations are extinct plants found only in fossils from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods of the Mesozoic Era - about 65 to 200 million years ago.

The director of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens, Carrick Chambers, said scientists first thought the trees were merely northern hemisphere pines that would be akin to weeds. They soon concluded the discovery was in fact the botanic equivalent to finding a living dinosaur.

Allan said trademarking the Wollemi pine would stop "unscrupulous" operators who had gone to great lengths to find the secret location of the trees.

"Only those on a need-to-know basis know where it is," she said. "Even I don't know."

The government also decided Tuesday to protect the pine under a state law that bars rare and threatened plants from commercial exploitation.