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People’s Park Tree-Sit Ends With Holiday Reprieve

By Richard Brenneman
Tuesday December 23, 2008 - 09:59:00 AM
The threatened acacia trees are fenced off at People’s Park.
Richard Brenneman
The threatened acacia trees are fenced off at People’s Park.

Berkeley’s latest tree-sit ended the same day it began last week when campus police signed a Christmas truce that spares—for the moment—two acacias in People’s Park. 

Zachary RunningWolf, the same arboreal ascender who began the lengthy occupation of the oak grove at Memorial Stadium on Dec. 2, 2006, was the lone occupant of one of the People’s Park acacias, which share space with a children’s playground. The grove tree-sit ended Sept. 9, the same day the last of the trees there was leveled by a chainsaw-wielding contract crew. 

RunningWolf’s ascent at People’s Park on Dec. 18 came after campus officials cut down one tree south of the park’s stage area and posted a notice that they planned to ax the other two to the east. 

According to the plastic-shielded notice placed on a fence surrounding the playground, one of the shoots of the acacia at the park’s western end had collapsed Dec. 2, and the remainder of the tree was then taken down. 

“Two other acacia trees at the east end of the park … have been identified as potential hazards by UC Berkeley and consulting arborists,” the notice declared. “They are structurally weak and subject to failure and collapse, and are planned to be removed in the near future.” 

After RunningWolf ascended the branches Thursday and a preliminary effort failed to dislodge him, negotiations began, and by mid-afternoon, UC Police Capt. Guillermo Beckford had signed a statement which was passed up to RunningWolf. 

“This is written notification that if you will voluntarily come down from the Acacia tree that you are in presently, that the university will NOT remove these two trees during the holidays,” read the statement that opened “Dear Zachary.” 

“If the stadium treesit was the longest urban treesit, this was the shortest,” said RunningWolf Thursday afternoon. 

Both campus and city police were on hand when he descended, but Capt. Beckford had promised no arrest would be made, so RunningWolf was free to accept the accolades of supporters, who included Dumpster Muffin and other veterans of the stadium grove action. 

The protesters plan to consult with their own tree experts to see if the acacias really are diseased. 

“I was up in the trees and I didn’t see any sign of disease,” RunningWolf said, adding, “I suspect they really just want to cut whatever they can in the park. But this isn’t on fraternity row. This is People’s Park.”