Tree-sitter dead after 50-foot fall

By Angela Atercutter
Friday October 11, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — A man with the environmental activist group Earth First! has died after a fall of more than 50 feet from a redwood tree, raising concerns about the dangers of tree sits, often used to stop logging operations. 

The man, whose identity hasn’t been released but went by the forest name “Naya,” had only been in the tree for about 12 hours on Tuesday evening when he fell, according to Dennis Davie of the Santa Cruz contingent of Earth First! 

“Santa Cruz Earth First! is deeply saddened by this tragic event, we never like to lose an activist,” said Davie. “This was a young man in his first tree-sit.” 

Earth First! has been staging tree-sit protests against logging company Redwood Empire’s operation in the Ramsey Gulch area about 20-miles south of San Jose since August. Naya had just come to the area to join the protest on Monday night and had climbed into his tree Tuesday morning, Davie said. 

On Tuesday night, for an unknown reason, he fell out of the tree and was taken by helicopter to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, where he was soon pronounced dead. The county coroner’s office had not determined the cause of death or the man’s identity Thursday. 

The man isn’t the first to be injured in a tree-sit protest. In April, 22-year-old Beth O’Brien of Portland died after falling from a tree in Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon. In September 1998, David “Gypsy” Chain became the first California Earth First! activist to be killed during a tree-sit protest when the Humboldt County tree he was living in was felled by a logger. 

“They think they’re on a mission and they don’t consider the risks involved,” said Jim Branham, a spokesman for Pacific Lumber Co., which has about six tree sitters currently on its logging property in Humboldt County, 30 miles southeast of Eureka. “I do think they view their actions as being somehow heroic, instead of dangerous or illegal.” 

Davie said he acknowledges that tree sitting is dangerous and that there is a heroic nature to putting one’s body on the line to protect something. But he said that all Earth First! protesters, including Naya, are given training on how to remain safe and healthy during tree sits. 

Davie said Naya came to the Earth First! camp saying that he had rock climbing experience and after talking with other members of the group for several hours they determined he was capable of climbing the tree. He was also given some training on the ground before going up. Normally, tree sitters are given two days of training. 

“They believed he climbed well, but it still was his first tree sit,” Davie said. 

Earth First! activists have protested logging operations in the Ramsey Gulch area for more than two years. Although protesters and Redwood Empire have been at odds at times, the logging company issued a statement Wednesday saying its employees were saddened by the death. 

Tree sitters can spend months camped on platforms in old-growth trees, hoping to call attention to the environmental effects of logging. In perhaps the most famous incident, Julia “Butterfly” Hill spent two years 180 feet up in a 1,000-foot redwood in Northern California to save it from being cut down for lumber. 

She came down in 1999 after Pacific Lumber Co. agreed to leave the tree standing in return for $50,000 to make up for lost logging revenue