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Protesters Take to the Trees to Save Threatened Live Oaks

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday December 05, 2006

In the wee, dark hours of Big Game, a Wolf made like a Butterfly and took to the trees. 

By Monday, he had two companions perched in neighboring trees, and the three had drawn a trio of TCV trucks and their telescoping antennae, as well as an assortment of print media types. 

Though he had failed in last month’s run for Berkeley mayor, Zachary Running Wolf had become a media celebrity, eagerly cheered on by neighbors of UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium and eager environmentalists. 

Perched in a comfortable hanging cloth chair, the Native American activist has risen to new heights in a media-savvy campaign to save the stand of coastal live oaks that is threatened by the university’s plans to build a $120 million high-tech training gym as the site. 

UC Regents are scheduled to meet this afternoon, Tuesday, to approve plans for the $120 million Student Athlete High Performance Center. 

“I hope we’re going to have something to celebrate tomorrow,” Running Wolf said Monday afternoon, “but if we don’t, I’m going to stay here as long as it takes.” He’s acquired some impressive support. 

“Country Joe McDonald has been a big help,” said Doug Buckwald, a neighborhood activist who has taken a lead role in organizing logistics for the protest. “He talked to the student UC regent for quite a while yesterday, and he brought a whole trunk full of food and water by today. He’s also offered to hold a benefit concert.” 

Running Wolf said his protest was inspired by the example of Julia Butterfly Hill, the young environmental activist who spent 738 days in a California Redwood beginning on Dec. 10, 1997, to protect it and older old growth trees from loggers. 

“I never knew much about tree-sitting until two weeks ago when I started organizing this,” said Running Wolf. 

Should the regents approve the training center and start cutting, “They’re going to have to extract me from this tree, because that’s the only way I’m going to leave this oak grove.” 

Scott Walchenheim applauded. 

The 65-year-old retired Berke-ley public school teacher said the only thing keeping him out of a tree was Parkinson’s disease. 

“For six years I lived in a 100-acre Oak grove on the edge of a wilderness,” he said. “I came to love Live Oaks and all the animals and plants that evolved together and live together. 

“The university says they’ll replace each tree with three saplings. That’s a joke. Each one of these trees had a thousand times the biomass of the saplings and a thousand times the habitat. A flock of bushtits came here yesterday, birds that eat insects they find under the leaves. We would lose all that, along with the last remaining grove in the flat part of Berkeley.” 

“We’re now opposed to the training center,” said Mike Kelly of the Panoramic Hill Association, which represents neighbors who live on the slopes above the stadium. “This is just the wrong place for it.” 

Kelley said he’ll be in attendance at today’s regents meeting, addressing members of the Grounds and Building Committee through a telephone circuit set up in San Francisco. 

Running Wolf’s companions in the trees are Aaron Diek, a UC Berkeley student, and Jess Walsh.