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Tree-Sitters Forcibly Removed

With police help, Pacific Lumber Co. begins taking activists from redwoods.

March 18, 2003|Emily Gurnon | Special to The Times

FRESHWATER, Calif. — Armed with a court order and assisted by local law enforcement, Pacific Lumber Co. began removing the first of 18 anti-logging protesters from their platform homes high in the redwoods Monday.

Shortly before 9 a.m., Pacific Lumber officials arrived with Humboldt County sheriff's deputies and California Highway Patrol officers. They ordered out a group who had gathered to support the tree-sitters, set up a roadblock and sent company climbers up the tall trees in this forest just six miles southeast of Eureka.

By late Monday, two tree-sitters had been removed, arrested and booked into county jail.

Five supporters were arrested for failing to disperse, three of whom were jailed, the Sheriff's Department said.

"This is the most crazy display of police force and the tax dollar for corporate profit I've ever seen," said "Lodgepole," a 23-year-old tree-sitter.

The activists said that Pacific Lumber's logging has caused landslides and flooding and packed local riverbeds with silt, harming fish. The company countered that its harvesting practices have improved greatly over the years and that the activists' claims were incorrect.

Pacific Lumber served the tree-sitters with a restraining order on Wednesday and gave them 24 hours to get down from the treetops in this heavily logged company-owned watershed. None did.

In a written statement, Pacific Lumber said Monday that the tree-sitters, some of whom have been in the trees for months, were offered amnesty on Saturday if they left the trees and took their belongings with them. "Unfortunately, they have defied the court order, declined our offer and are now causing us severe economic impact in both the short and long term," the statement said.

Officials said the company's climbers were experienced in high-angle rescue and taking all possible safety precautions. The climbers used a grinder to cut through the metal devices that sitters used to lock their hands to the trees.

Many of the tree-sitters' supporters, responding to a call that went out on local radio stations and on the Internet, were angry because the roadblock prevented them from observing the removal.

"They didn't even let independent legal observers out there ... to watch and make sure these people are protected and that this is done safely and legally," a 21-year-old Arcata woman complained.

In the evening, after the roadblock ended, activists said that about 100 supporters rallied near the trees and that deputies used pepper spray on them. The Sheriff's Department did not confirm that. The activists also pledged to stage an overnight vigil outside the jail.

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