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Tree sitting is a form of environmentalist civil disobedience in which a protester sits in a tree, usually on a small platform built for the purpose, to protect it from being cut down (speculating that loggers will not endanger human lives by cutting an occupied tree). Supporters usually provide the tree sitters with food and other supplies.
Tree sitters have successfully prevented logging of ancient old-growth forests for months at a time, and in some instances have convinced logging companies not to cut trees in some areas. Sometimes, tree sitting is used as a long-term resistance strategy, with activists occupying trees for months or years at a time. On the other hand, tree sitting is often used as a stalling tactic, to prevent the cutting of trees while lawyers fight in the courts to secure the long-term victories.
When tree sitting occurs on private land, it is considered by some to be an act of trespassing. Some activists stand up to this charge in court, claiming a necessity defense – that the harm done by trespassing is negligible compared to the potential harm to the environment caused by the proposed logging. Sometimes logging companies will hire tree climbers to remove trespassers sitting in trees. Although it's argued that it is the companies' legal right to do so, some tree sitters[who?] are suing Pacific Lumber to challenge this practice. Most tree sitting in California occurs on private land. In Oregon, where there are more logging projects on public land (National Forests and BLM lands), tree sitting is usually not trespassing but tree sitters can be fined for violating closure orders or camping limits, or for erecting illegal structures.
Tree-sitters in trees claimed by Pacific Lumber in Humboldt County have been subject to forced removal by hired tree-sit extractors. The practice started with a single extractor in the late 90’s but in 2003 Pacific Lumber hired teams of climbers to remove dozens of tree-sitters, particularly in the Freshwater area East of Eureka, California.
List of tree sits
Some of the more notable tree sittings include:
- Tree sitting in 1978 (the first tree sitting action) led to the protection of what is now the Pureora Forest Park in New Zealand.
- Mikal Jakubal was the first American tree sitter. On May 20, 1985 he ascended a Douglas Fir in an area of the Middle Santiam region of Willamette National Forest that was in the process of being clearcut. While short-lived, his tree sitting action inspired a group tree sitting event by Earth First! activists that lasted from June 23 to July 20, 1985, when two Linn County, Oregon sheriff's deputies wrestled Marylander Ron Huber from his tree after a day-long stand-off.
- In 1987 Jakubal came to Humboldt County and assisted with the first-ever redwood forest tree-sits. This was one year after Houston-based Maxxam Corp. bought out the Pacific Lumber Co. — which at the time owned the world's largest groves of unprotected ancient redwood — and immediately tripled the cut of old-growth redwoods. The first successful redwood tree-sit occurred in August 1987 in Headwaters Grove, then the world's sincle largest unprotected ancient redwood forest (3,500 acres). The tree-sitters, Greg King and Mary Beth Nearing, camped for a week at 150 feet above the forest floor while loggers and tractors worked below. They escaped down the dark sides of their trees, which were illuminated by flood lights, the lights themselves powered by a generator. Three weeks later the couple returned to occupy the canopy of All Species Grove, a 1,000-acre stand of ancient redwood that was subsequently destroyed by Maxxam Corp. After a week in the trees, at 160 feet above the forest floor, King and Nearing were arrested. Several redwood tree-sits occurred from 1987 until the federal government bought Headwaters Forest in 1998.
- Native Forest Action used tree sitting during its campaign to save the West Coast, New Zealand native forests. In April 1997, the logging company, Timberlands West Coast Limited destroyed one of the sites by deliberately swinging a tree from a helicopter into it without ensuring that it was fully clear of protesters. The CAA cleared the helicopter pilot of wrongdoing in a controversial judgment that was appeared to have been interfered with, according to leaked internal documents.
- Julia Butterfly Hill, an activist in Humboldt County, California became known for her 738-day sit (from December 10, 1997 until December 18, 1999) in a 180-foot (55 m), 600-year-old Coast Redwood tree she named Luna. Eventually, Hill and other activists raised $50,000 to spare her tree and a 200-foot (61 m) buffer around it.
- In 2002, two US environmental activists involved in tree-sitting protests died in separate accidents.
- In 2004, activists from Greenpeace and the Australian environmental organization The Wilderness Society hold the record for the world's highest tree-sit at 65m, in the Styx Valley, Tasmania. Peter (Peck) Firth spent 51 days up a giant Eucalyptus tree nicknamed Gandalf's Staff.
- In 2004, at least six tree sits were erected in Tuart trees at Ludlow Tuart Forest near Busselton in South Western, Western Australia.
- In 2006, two sits were built in Jarrah (Eucalyptus) trees at "Arcadia" Jarrah Forest near Collie in South Western, Western Australia. Two activists were removed and arrested but one had his charges dropped and the other went to court and was acquitted.
- In 2006, following a successful protest lasting over one year, tree sitters in Cathedral Grove (also known as MacMillan Provincial Park), British Columbia, halted the removal of a number of old growth Douglas Fir trees which were scheduled to be to taken down in an attempt to calm traffic and improve the parking facilities.
- In May 2006, protesters at Titnore Wood began a tree-sitting campaign against a major urban extension to the town of Worthing in West Sussex. Around 25 protesters created tree-houses and a network of tunnels. In March 2010, after nearly four years of tree-sitting, the local council voted unanimously to turn down the application for development.
- In 2006, 2007, and 2008, protesters in Berkeley, California sat in coast live oak trees to prevent the construction of a new sports facility by the University of California, Berkeley. On September 5, 2008, the University began logging the grove, after winning court agreement. Four days later, after a little more than 21 months, the final four tree sitters surrendered to authorities, ending the longest running urban tree-sit in history.
- 2007, protesters of the University of California Santa Cruz's Long Range Development Plan set up a tree sit, in red wood trees, on the proposed site of a biomedical research facility.
- In 2008, a tree-sitter climbed an oak tree on the University of California Berkeley campus to begin advocating the democratization of the UC Regents.
- In 2000 after two years living in Mariah, a thousand-year-old tree, Nate Madsen descended. Both Pacific Lumber (PL) and the California Department of Forestry (CDF) signed off on the timber harvest plan, which means protection for Mariah for the moment. PL can still file another plan, but for now, Mariah seems safe. http://www.treesfoundation.org/publications/article-49
- In 2008, a tree sit was constructed in College Grove (remnant bushland), Bunbury, Western Australia and was removed after being occupied for three months. Another was promptly constructed nearby in the next stage that was threatened by housing development; it included a functional trampoline.
- In 2009, there are ongoing tree-sits in Humboldt County, Ca. to prevent logging of 100+ year old redwoods by Green Diamond (formerly known as Simpson). One of the tree-villages is defending the territory of an active Spotted Owl mating pair.
- In 2009, on August 25 two protesters with Climate Ground Zero halted blasting above Pettry Bottom in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Laura Steepleton and Nick Stocks climbed 80 feet in two trees in direct protest of Massey Energy's mountaintop removal mine. The trees were located within 30 feet of the Edwight mine, and within the 300 feet of blasting. Kim Ellis and Zoe Beavers were arrested for providing direct support, only to return later that afternoon at the behest of state police to serve as liaisons for the sitters. Kim Ellis and Zoe Beavers were then asked to leave the site at 5:30pm by mine security only to refuse and get arrested again by state police at 7:30pm. The tree sit halted blasting for six days while facing harassment from miners including threats of rape, trees being felled in close proximity, and chainsaws partially cutting the trees the sitters occupied.
- In 2009, environmental activists from the Still Wild Still Threatened group in Tasmania, Australia were forced down from tree sits in the Upper Florentine Valley by police acting in conjunction with Forestry Tasmania in two separate busts in January and May.
- In 2010, on January 20 three protesters associated with Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice halted blasting on a portion of Massey Energy's Bee Tree mountaintop removal mine on Coal River Mountain, West Virginia by ascending three trees, two tulip poplars and an oak tree. David Aaron Smith, 23 Amber Nitchman, 19 and Eric Blevins, 28 were on platforms approximately 60 feet up in direct protest of mountaintop removal mining and blasting near the Brushy Fork Coal Impoundment. Joshua Graupera, Isabelle Rozendaal, Bernard Fiorillo and David Baghdadi were also arrested for providing ground support. The tree sit halted blasting for nine days. A federal judge granted a permanent injunction to Marfork Coal Co. Inc., a subsidiary of Massey Energy, ordering the defendants to keep off all company property.
- In 2010, One of the tree-villages in Humboldt County,Ca. remains and has grown to include over 30 trees that are tied together with tyrolean traverses. Though Earth First! Humboldt will not say exactly how many people or sits are up there, they do say there is a crew of tree-dwellers. The Earth First!ers withdrew from the village bordering the suburbs in order to strengthen their defense of the older and more secluded of the two groves where many more wildlife species find habitat and refuge.
- In 2011, on July 20 two protesters associated with the RAMPS Campaign halted blasting on a portion of Alpha Natural Resources Bee Tree mountaintop removal mine on Coal River Mountain, West Virginia by ascending two trees, a tulip poplar and an northern red oak tree. Catherine-Ann MacDougal, 24, and Becks Kolins, 21, were on platforms approximately 80 feet off the ground within 300 feet of active blasting on the mine in direct protest of mountaintop removal mining. Becks Kolins stayed on their platform for 14 days while Catherine-Ann MacDougal remained for a total of 30 days making this the longest tree sit east of the Mississippi River. Elias Schewel and Junior Walk were arrested immediately for providing direct support on the ground. Criminal cases are still pending for the two sitters, while a civil suit seeking compensatory and punitive damages is pending for all four activists.
- In 2011, on December 14, Miranda Gibson climbed up a 60m old-growth Eucalyptus delegatensis tree in the heart of Tasmania’s southern virgin rainforest. Gibson vowed to stay until the forest is protected. The area was imminently due to be logged, despite being part of the area supposed to be protected under the fraught Forests Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA). She was forced down from the tree 15 months later due to a bushfire.
A tree village is an extension of the tree sit/tree house protest, involving several more tree houses.
The Fall Creek/Red Cloud Thunder Tree-Village was a long running example. It was a 6-year occupation of a small timber sale in the Willamette National Forest at Fall Creek Oregon US which ran from February 1998 to November 2003. It comprised seven houses of up to 5 occupants each tied together with rope 'traverses' 200 feet (61 m) high and up to 125 feet (38 m) between 'platforms'. This tree village was designed to be totally self-sufficient with composting toilets, solar/wind power, communications, cargo lines between ground and other sits, individual rappel lines and hydroponic sprout farms. An estimated 1000 activists occupied the trees at various times. The forest occupied during the Fall Creek campaign remains uncut to this day.
Winberry Tree Village in the Willamette National Forest was another long-term occupation undertaken by Cascadian tree-sitters. The village consisted of two treehouses (160 feet high and 175 feet (53 m) high) and one suspension structure hung between trees. The Winberry village was occupied for 5 years. One tree house was two story, situated in a huge Western Red-Cedar tree. It featured a bottom story built from branches in the manner of a bird's nest as well as a running water system.
The Nanning Creek treesit ("Bonanza") is centered around Spooner, a 290-foot (88 m) Redwood with a near 40-foot (12 m) circumference, one of the oldest unprotected trees remaining in the area. This is also a village setup. Nanning Creek is located in the hills overlooking the town of Scotia, America's last company-owned town and the site of Pacific Lumber's headquarters. The area was long protected as a Marbled Murrelet nesting habitat, but recent changes in environmental law keep loggers out only for the nesting season.
"Fern Gully" was located in Northern California within the Freshwater valley south of Arcata and north of Eureka. It was one of the few remaining tracts of old-growth forest in the Freshwater area and contained a variety of old growth Redwoods, Douglas Fur and Sitka Spruce. Fern Gully initially began as a "Pirate" sit in 2003, unconnected at first from any organizations such as Earth First!. In the winter of 2004, a new group of protesters occupied the tree sit and began changing its methods of activism and image. The new sitters began by gaining access to new trees, weaving complex new dream catchers ( including one which wrapped 360 degrees around a tree from over 150 ft off the ground), suspended a platform made from recycled plywood and opened up communication with the greater environmental community (while still maintaining their own autonomy). By early 2005, Ferngully had over 22 trees tied together with traverse lines for trans-arboreal travel throughout the village without touching the ground. The village was equipped with a raincatch system that transported water 40 feet (12 m) down to a running tap at the platform (which acted as a community kitchen), as well as a solar panel at 207 feet (63 m) in a tree named Watsi. In August 2005, Ferngully was "raided" by Pacific Lumber contracted climbers. During the raid, dialog was peaceful and there was a mutual respect between the tree sitters and climbers. One climber commented that Ferngully was one of the most advanced and organized tree-sits they had seen. In the end, the climbers did not extract a single tree-sitter, instead cutting down unoccupied traverses, dream catchers and the community platform. This was a major blow to the village but the sit continued for three more years. In the summer of 2008, MAXXAM (the company responsible for the clear cutting of Freshwater) filed for bankruptcy and a local company took their place. Shortly afterwards, the new companies CEO personally visited Ferngully (with activists who were not affiliated with Ferngully) and personally agreed that his company would refrain from logging any old growth in the Freshwater Valley. In response to this, the remaining sitters in Ferngully agreed to withdrawal from Ferngully for as long as this commitment was upheld in Humboldt County. All traces of human activity in Ferngully have since been removed although veteran sitters still visit the forest from time to time where the trees of Ferngully still stand. Ferngully stands as a decisive victory for the tree-sitting movement and represented excellence in group consensus and promotion of positive communication with the logging community. The named trees of Ferngully included: Libertall, Kiandore, Thor, Jack-B-Sketchy, Watsi, Sundance, Miamore/Patience, Cheshire, Welcome, Maria and Her Majesty.
"Upper Village" was a set of 3 redwoods, Jerry, Everstine/Diversity (a double trunk tree) and Anastasia. Jerry was one of Humboldt County's most famous redwoods. A woman named Jeny Card (aka "Remedy") stayed without touching ground for 361 days, and later a young man named Willow did the same for over 18 months. Amy Gershman (aka "Wren") stayed in Everstine for almost ten months, and was later extracted, arrested, and jailed. After she was released, she went to court, and her case ended in a hung jury. Upper Village appeared on Da Ali G Show, and Willow was interviewed from the platform of Jerry by Tom Greene, who was doing a segment for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. No other tree has the extraction history of Jerry. Activists were forcibly removed from the tree on three separate occasions between March 17, 2003 and June 17, 2003. Each time, the tree-sit platforms were destroyed by climbers, but immediately replaced by activists. The Timber Harvest Plan for Upper Village expired in 2005, and the trespassers removed their platforms and traverses. These trees are located directly alongside Greenwood Heights road in Freshwater, California.
The "Ludlow" tree village consisted of three basic sits, one large traditional Western Australian sit and two new sits that were two levels and three levels consecutively; each allowed the sitter a separate area for sleeping and relaxing and one for storage, cooking and other activities; one featured a "sun-deck" for outdoor living. The Ludlow Tuart Forest was targeted, by the Cable Sands mineral sands mining company, for Titanium Dioxide, for products such as white paint and toothpaste to fortify the coating of depleted Uranium weapons. One person remained in one of the sits for 29 days, without leaving the tree once. The sits were removed but the concept has been used several times since.
Current EF! Tree-village in California (Spring 2011): A tree village is ongoing in the Ryan Creek watershed next to Eureka, California. Over 45 trees are now tied together, the tree-sits scattered amongst them. This is to interfere with clear-cutting and development plans by the Green Diamond Resource Company. The Earth First! Humboldt collective is organizing a campaign to disrupt logging of this Redwood forest. The company owns around 400,000 acres (1,600 km2) of Redwoods in Humboldt and Del Norte counties making them the largest single landowner of Redwood forest. In December 2010, Green Diamond announced they now have plans with non-profit groups to try to turn approx. 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of the area, including the tree-village zone, into a community forest. The details on this plan are still mostly unclear as of May, 2011. EF! Humboldt website
Methods of protecting trees
Violent methods, both direct and indirect, of protecting trees are not tolerated nor respected within the tree-sitting community. These methods include tree-spiking, sabotaging equipment and threatening or demonizing the loggers. Instead, only non-violent methods are implemented in proper forest defense . One such method of non-violent protest is the “lock down method”. This includes welding two, round metal tubes together into the shape of a V. An activist places their arms into this device and clips a chain around their hands thus making it very difficult to remove them. By “locking down” to a tree, an activist can delay logging for a short period of time although law enforcement simply uses grinders to release the activist from the lock down device.
A much more effective method of tree defense is known as the “traverse defense”. This method is primarily used in old growth Redwoods that are already occupied by tree sitters. A traverse line (made of either climbing or truckers rope) is suspended between two old-growths from the highest point in the trees. During a tree-sit “raid”, logging companies often pay trained climbers (usually tree arborists) to attempt climbing into occupied trees and physically removing activists down to the ground. When a traverse defense is established, the tree sitter can simply move out into the middle of this line before the climber reaches them. The wise tree sitter will always bring a hammock with them (to rest in since the common raid lasts up to 12–16 hours), food, water and their climb line to prevent the climbers from taking it and leaving them stranded in the tree. The tree sitter may also have a recording video camera with them documenting all the events to use as evidence in a court of law, if necessary. If used properly, this defense is not only non-violent but highly effective given that it is extremely difficult to remove a tree sitter off of a high traverse line. Tree-sitters will also strategically place the traverse line defenses into the first trees which must be cut before the rest of the forest may be logged. That way, a small number or activists can protect a very large area of old growth forest. For example, in the Ferngully treesit, an entire grove of Redwoods (containing almost 100 trees) was protected through a raid with just four experienced activists (one activist guarded the south end of the village and three guarded the north).
In the United Kingdom permanent tree houses are common. One treehouse, BattleStar Galactica at the Manchester International Airport, held 12 people. Permanent tree-houses can be occupied for a year or more. They often have lock-on points for protesters to chain themselves to during evictions. Tree houses have also been used at Newbury bypass, Crystal Palace and Epsom.
- Green anarchism
- Tree spiking
- Direct action
- David Chain, activist who was killed during a non-violent tree sitting in the Redwood Forest of Northern California.
- Walters, Heidi (20 April 2006). "Eric Schatz: Tree-trimmer? Monster? Gentleman? Fall guy?". North Coast Journal. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
- Trott, Ashley (19 June 2008). "Tree-Sitters' Supplies Removed From Oaks by University-Hired Arborists". The Daily Californian (Berkeley, California: Independent Berkeley Students Publishing Company, Inc.). Retrieved 13 December 2011.
- Taylor, Matthew (27 November 2007). "Reader Report: Grandmothers Break Oak Grove Siege". The Berkeley Daily Planet. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
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- "A new fight for old growth". Portlandtribune.com. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- [dead link]
- Still Wild Still Threatened - Styx Valley (2011) http://www.stillwildstillthreatened.org/styx/styx-valley
- Greenpeace - Styx Valley Global Rescue Station (2011) http://weblog.greenpeace.org/tasmania/
- "Perth Independent Media Centre". Perth.indymedia.org. 2009-09-10. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- "Perth Independent Media Centre". Perth.indymedia.org. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- "Plans for homes next to Worthing's Titnore Woods voted down". BBC News. 16 March 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
- Bulwa, Demian (4 December 2006). "Tree-sitters act to save oaks at stadium site". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
- by Jerome. "Perth Independent Media Centre". Perth.indymedia.org. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- "Earth First! Humboldt". Efhumboldt.org. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- "West Virginia Tree Sitters Halt Mountaintop Removal Blasting". Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- "Treesit stopping blasts in West Virginia". Demotix. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Suggs, Charles. "Treesitters descend, threatened with chainsaw, $50,000 bail". Climate Ground Zero. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- "Camp Florentine: About Camp". Still Wild Still Threatened. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
- Guttata, Clem. "Tree Sit Halts the Blasting on Coal River Mountain (YES, AGAIN)". West Virginia Blue. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Lannom, Andrea. "Marfork Coal Co. Granted Permanent Injunction". WBOY Channel 12. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- "MARFORK COAL COMPANY, Plaintiff, v. CIVIL ACTION NO. 5:10-cv-00069 DAVID AARON SMITH, et al., Defendant". IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA BECKLEY DIVISION. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Moore, Catherine. "‘Tree-sitters’ take up residence to fight strip mining". The Register Herald. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Press, Associated. "Marfork Coal sues tree-sitters over state protest". The Charleston Gazette. Retrieved 30 January 2012.
- Miranda Gibson, obeservertree.org
- "Australian tree-sitter ends 15-month protest after bushfire". BBC News. 2013-03-07. Retrieved 2013-06-02.
- Land, J. D. (2013, September 19). Fergully Tree-sitter from Oct 2004 - Oct 2006.
- "Life on the Battle Star (Do or Die)". Eco-action.org. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
- Audio recording of first EF! tree sitter making first climb 5/20/85
- Movies of tree-sitters living in 'Tree Village' at Fall Creek Oregon
- July 23, 1985 group treesit coverage in Oregon newspaper
- Review of 1985 Earth First! - treesitting actions in Oregon.
- Greenpeace - Styx Valley: Global Rescue Station
- Timber firm begins bringing down tree sitter - Article from when Wren and Remedy were extracted.
- Hung Jury in Tree Sit Case - Information Wren's trial after her extraction
- Tree-sitting history
- Earth First! Humboldt - Current Tree-sits 2009