Opinion: Tree Sitter Folly

Reports about the yearlong protest over the removal of a small grove of oak trees near Memorial Stadium in Berkeley have traveled worldwide. Once again, Berkeley and its politics have become headlines for pundits everywhere. A small group of activists, few of them university students, have camped in the branches of the oak trees since the end of November 2006.

"Ground Support" helpers have funneled in food and carried out human waste since the beginning of the protest.

UC scheduled removal of the oaks as a first step in building an athletics center adjacent to Memorial Stadium where the athletes practice and play their sports.

The City of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation, and a neighborhood homeowners group have filed lawsuits, each with their own particular concerns, about the proposed project. The oak foundation's suit centers on the oaks to be removed.

The trees are neither "old growth" nor "heritage" trees; they were planted in 1923 by UC as landscaping on their own property.

Coastal Live Oaks are not a threatened species; there are millions of them in Alameda County alone, over 100 million in the state - and that's counting only trees in woodlands and forests. (The information comes from the California Oak Foundation web site.)

The number of trees UC proposes to remove is small, 38 in all, and don't contain enough lumber to build one medium sized house. The University has promised to replace the trees by planting three times the number nearby, two of three with saplings, the others with six-foot container specimen trees.

Perhaps there are other larger issues, like sudden oak death, that the foundation could better expend its resources to support?

The 38 trees do not support a significant ecology; the grove is too small and there is too much human traffic on all sides for that. In their zeal, the tree-sitters have damaged the oaks they claim to protect; more unfortunately, that damage has extended to neighboring trees that are not scheduled for removal.

The tone and manner of expression of the tree sitters' protest has not helped their cause, and serves as a poster-child for those who denigrate more important environmental issues elsewhere.

The tree-sitters presence in the trees has been declared illegal trespass by court order, but 276 cases and 126 arrests of 134 individuals hasn't had much effect. The tree protest has cost the University over $400,000 for extra police action, fence construction, and processing of trespassers. Ultimately that cost is a waste of taxpayer and student (fee) money.

The sitters' "arboreal village" (to give it the kindest possible description) is an eyesore and a health hazard: graffiti, blankets, clothing, food containers, human waste and other detritus occasionally litter the area.

The protest lacks popular support. Notably Cal students have not deemed the protest worthy of their time or attention.

There are no free speech issues at stake. The judge presiding over the project lawsuits explicitly instructed attorneys that there were no free-speech issues to be argued in the case.

The sadder fact is that the protest has changed nothing.

The trees have been protected by court injunction halting all construction activities on the athletic center until the case is resolved. Even if the tree-sitters had never sat upon a single branch, the trees would still be there, and in fact would be in better condition than they are now.

Finally, few understand that the lawsuits are not an attempt to stop removal of the trees; there is no legal theory in play that could prevent UC from managing its own property and landscaping as they wish; rights to do that were granted by the state to the University when it was founded.

Instead, Berkeley and the other plaintiffs are simply arguing (with regard to the oaks) that UC did not adequately describe the environmental impact of removing the oaks in their Environmental Impact Report. So even if the judge were to rule in Berkeley's favor (on this particular issue), UC would simply have to improve the description, recertify the document - and remove the trees.

With contributions from editor Chris Avery


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\"Ground Support\" helpers have funneled in food and carried out human waste since the beginning of the protest.

UC scheduled removal of the oaks as a first step in building an athletics center adjacent to Memorial Stadium where the athletes practice and play their sports.

The City of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation, and a neighborhood homeowners group have filed lawsuits, each with their own particular concerns, about the proposed project. The oak foundation's suit centers on the oaks to be removed.

The trees are neither \"old growth\" nor \"heritage\" trees; they were planted in 1923 by UC as landscaping on their own property.

Coastal Live Oaks are not a threatened species; there are millions of them in Alameda County alone, over 100 million in the state - and that's counting only trees in woodlands and forests. (The information comes from the California Oak Foundation web site.)

The number of trees UC proposes to remove is small, 38 in all, and don't contain enough lumber to build one medium sized house. The University has promised to replace the trees by planting three times the number nearby, two of three with saplings, the others with six-foot container specimen trees.

Perhaps there are other larger issues, like sudden oak death, that the foundation could better expend its resources to support?

The 38 trees do not support a significant ecology; the grove is too small and there is too much human traffic on all sides for that. In their zeal, the tree-sitters have damaged the oaks they claim to protect; more unfortunately, that damage has extended to neighboring trees that are not scheduled for removal.

The tone and manner of expression of the tree sitters' protest has not helped their cause, and serves as a poster-child for those who denigrate more important environmental issues elsewhere.

The tree-sitters presence in the trees has been declared illegal trespass by court order, but 276 cases and 126 arrests of 134 individuals hasn't had much effect. The tree protest has cost the University over $400,000 for extra police action, fence construction, and processing of trespassers. Ultimately that cost is a waste of taxpayer and student (fee) money.

The sitters' \"arboreal village\" (to give it the kindest possible description) is an eyesore and a health hazard: graffiti, blankets, clothing, food containers, human waste and other detritus occasionally litter the area.

The protest lacks popular support. Notably Cal students have not deemed the protest worthy of their time or attention.

There are no free speech issues at stake. The judge presiding over the project lawsuits explicitly instructed attorneys that there were no free-speech issues to be argued in the case.

The sadder fact is that the protest has changed nothing.

The trees have been protected by court injunction halting all construction activities on the athletic center until the case is resolved. Even if the tree-sitters had never sat upon a single branch, the trees would still be there, and in fact would be in better condition than they are now.

Finally, few understand that the lawsuits are not an attempt to stop removal of the trees; there is no legal theory in play that could prevent UC from managing its own property and landscaping as they wish; rights to do that were granted by the state to the University when it was founded.

Instead, Berkeley and the other plaintiffs are simply arguing (with regard to the oaks) that UC did not adequately describe the environmental impact of removing the oaks in their Environmental Impact Report. So even if the judge were to rule in Berkeley's favor (on this particular issue), UC would simply have to improve the description, recertify the document - and remove the trees.

With contributions from editor Chris Avery


©Copyright 2008, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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