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Tree-Sitters Hang On to Perches

Some activists return to redwoods right after being forcibly removed by fed-up lumber firm.

March 24, 2003|Emily Gurnon | Special to The Times

FRESHWATER, Calif. — As Pacific Lumber Co. continues the slow process of removing activists from its trees, protesters are showing no signs of giving up their occupation of the redwoods.

After five days, the timber company had succeeded in removing five tree-sitters from this North Coast forest about six miles southeast of Eureka. At least 20 people, including tree-sitters and supporters on the ground, were arrested.

But an estimated 15 activists remained in the trees, some of whom had reoccupied redwoods immediately after company-hired climbers had brought tree-sitters down.

"There's just an escalating amount of violence happening against the tree-sitters every day," said Jeny Card, 28, who calls herself "Remedy," and who had spent just short of a year in an ancient redwood before her removal and arrest last Monday.

Card said protesters had been roughed up by sheriff's deputies, who also used pepper spray in making their arrests.

Company officials blamed activists for the violence.

"Because safety is our primary concern, we are greatly disturbed by the escalating violence and mob mentality among the protesters," Robert Manne, Pacific Lumber's president and chief executive, said in a statement Wednesday.

At the same time, the company also is facing a lawsuit filed by the Humboldt County district attorney's office, alleging that it gave false information to government agencies so that it could log on unstable slopes under the Headwaters agreement in 1999.

The lawsuit, which has polarized this traditionally blue-collar community, accuses Pacific Lumber of lying about the safety of its logging operation on steep slopes and seeks as much as $250 million in damages.

Manne called the suit "nothing more than another step to put the company out of business."

In Freshwater, tensions were high last week when the company, armed with a court order, began removing the tree-sitters. Dozens of activists were kept blocks away when California Highway Patrol officers and sheriff's deputies closed the public road leading to the area and began making arrests.

In response to complaints, the county counsel's office declared that Pacific Lumber's permit allowed the company to close the road only during logging operations -- not for the removal of tree-sitters. The road was reopened.

One example of the escalating tension occurred Tuesday, when loggers began cutting a tree that was still occupied. Activists on the ground ran toward the loggers, screaming for them to stop. The company then accused the activists of violence in "rushing" company employees.

Days later, a young woman calling herself "Amity" climbed to within a few feet of the top of a 200-foot tree as Pacific Lumber climbers pursued her. They eventually brought her down.

"They endangered her life," Card said. "They're risking everybody's life by chasing us up the trees anyway."

The activists, whose numbers have been growing steadily here for the last year, said they would come down from the trees if Pacific Lumber stopped doing four things: cutting old-growth trees, clear cutting, harvesting on steep slopes and using herbicides.

Company officials have said that Pacific Lumber, now owned by Houston-based Maxxam Corp., harvests under the most stringent environmental restrictions of any in the state.

This protest "is not about protecting the environment," Manne said in a statement. "This is part of a radical political agenda based on lawlessness and the desire to destroy our way of life."

Company spokesman Jim Branham admitted that he was frustrated.

"We're continuing to go up, taking them down," he said. "We've kind of dealt with all the other alternatives over the years. We're not given any real choice."

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