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Jun 23, 2006
Focus: Environment
Action Request: Read
Location: United States
The Basics
Rising Above the Environmental Debate
Stefano Paltera/Associated Pre
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/18/weekinreview/18basic.html

By HENRY FOUNTAIN
Published: June 18, 2006

The authorities in Los Angeles plucked the actor Daryl Hannah from her perch in a walnut tree last week, arresting her and dozens of other protesters at an urban farm they were trying to protect from development.

Ms. Hannah may be the most famous person to take up residence in a tree as a form of protest, but she was hardly the first. When and where did tree-sitting originate?

It began, by most accounts, in a grove of old-growth Douglas firs in the Willamette National Forest in western Oregon in the spring of 1985. Members of two environmental groups, Earth First and the Cathedral Forest Action Group, were trying to block logging in the forest and were frustrated that their tactics, including blockades and sit-ins on cartons of explosives used to blast roads, were not having much effect.

Mikal Jakubal, one of the protesters, recalled that at a campfire meeting one night, the subject of putting people in the trees came up. No logger, the thinking went, would cut down a tree with a person in it.

But an old-growth fir, which has no branches for the first 50 or 60 feet, is not an easy tree to climb. Mr. Jakubal, who now lives in Redway, Calif., was a rock climber who had climbed El Capitan in Yosemite the year before. "I said, 'Well, I could get up in one of those old-growth trees no problem.' "

Two mornings later, on May 20, Mr. Jakubal climbed the tree, hammering nails into the trunk every few feet to hang his climbing gear. When he got about 60 feet up, he spread out a portaledge - a platform used by rock climbers - and set up shop.

Since his climb, hundreds of people have taken up residence high in trees, usually to protest clear-cutting. The most famous tree-sitter, Julia Butterfly Hill, lived 180 feet up in a California redwood for 738 days, coming down in 1999 after a lumber company agreed to spare her tree, which she named Luna, and others in a three-acre tract.

Paul Hirt, an environmental historian at Arizona State University, said that the early 1980's was a time of "real historic crisis" in the national forests. Intensive logging had occurred since the end of World War II, and the United States Forest Service had abandoned its traditional alliance with conservationists in favor of closer ties to the timber industry. When President Reagan appointed a timber company executive to head the forest service, environmental groups responded by stepping up their efforts. "It was throwing down the gauntlet," Mr. Hirt said.

Tree-sitting was seen by some as a nonviolent alternative to "monkeywrenching," or environmental sabotage like tree spiking and vandalizing of equipment. "People thought if you were going to break the law, you should do it in a way that puts your own body on the line," Mr. Hirt said.

The tactic was useful in getting news coverage. "Tree-sitting had a real interesting social order," he said. "There were the people who would climb the trees, and a whole support crew on the ground, including people who brought media people to the tree."

Loggers responded by trying to scare sitters - felling trees near them or occasionally cutting part of the way through an occupied tree. When that didn't work the companies opted for "extraction," most often accomplished by sending a crew up the tree.

Mr. Jakubal came down on his own, at the end of the first day. Loggers had cut down all the trees around him and he wanted to inspect the damage. "It was my first direct action," he said. "I was very naïve. The police were waiting in the bushes."

Mr. Jakubal was arrested, and the tree was cut down the next morning.
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Posted: Jun 23, 2006 11:01pm

 

 
 
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