University Chainsaws Isolate Tree-Sitters

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 01:01:00 PM

Chainsaws lopped off all lower branches of the last remaining bastion of the Memorial Stadium tree-sit Thursday as UC Berkeley prepared for their final moves against the protesters in the oak grove. 

Contract arborists, equipped with Plexiglass shields, worked from the platforms of two cherrypickers, whacking off the branches of the redwood and two nearby oaks.  

“The removal of these branches will make it very difficult for those who are illegally occupying university property to move back into the trees they had formerly occupied, and will help prevent new protesters from joining them,” Vice Chancellor Nathan Brostrom said in a prepared statement. 

By the time the chainsaws had stopped, the trunk of the redwood had been stripped of branches to a height of about 35 feet. 

Protesters have occupied perches in the grove since December 2006, hoping to block the demolition of the stand of oaks and other trees which the university intends to remove to make way for a four-level gym and office complex dubbed the Student Athlete High Performance Center. 

Foes of the project, including the City of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation, the Panoramic Hill Association and a group of Berkeley citizens, lost the first round of their legal battle against the project. 

The university now wants Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Miller to end her injunction against construction when she issues her final ruling, which could come as early as Monday. 

The university has agreed to withhold further action for two days after the ruling, to give the losing side time to file an appeal. 

Tempers grew heated outside the barricades campus police have erected along the eastern side of Piedmont Avenue, with protesters yelling at campus police. 

“Yo, Vickie! What the fuck are you doing?!” screamed Ayr, one of the most prominent of the supporters when he spotted campus police Chief Victoria Harrison. 

“You’re violating the court order,” yelled Zachary Running Wolf, the first of the tree-sitters and now an active member of the ground support team. 

But Dan Mogulof, the university’s executive director of public affairs, said the trimming was consistent with the judge’s order—which he said only barred construction activities and not measures designed to support public safety. 

Before they had finished, the arborists—who work for a Watsonville firm—had come within a few feet of one of the tree-sitters and had managed to seize some of their gear, which they sent plummeting to the ground. 

The Thursday morning action confines the tree-sitters to the upper reaches of the redwood and may limit their ability to move from tree to tree, making their capture easier if and when the university makes its final move and calls in the chainsaws to level most of the grove.