Page One

People’s Park Acacias Felled Despite Tree-Sit Protest

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday January 07, 2009 - 06:37:00 PM
UC Berkeley briefly gained a pair of tree-sitters Monday morning in one of two acacias at People’s Park designated for the ax by university officials. The activists and the tree came down a day later.
Richard Brenneman
UC Berkeley briefly gained a pair of tree-sitters Monday morning in one of two acacias at People’s Park designated for the ax by university officials. The activists and the tree came down a day later.

Berkeley’s latest tree-sit ended almost before it began when the lone remaining branch-percher descended to earth Tuesday morning, followed by two acacias a few hours later. 

Campus community relations director Irene Hegarty said that only one of the two tree-sitters who took to the branches was still aloft when community members talked him down. 

“He walked away, though he was cited and released for trespassing by university police a couple of blocks away,” she said. 

Arborists made short work of the trees, leaving five or six five-foot logs and a pile of wood chips for use at the park. “They might use the logs to make benches or to line planting beds,” Hegarty said. 

“In any other context, this would not be news,” she said. 

But tree-sitters and their supporters were much more upbeat Monday after a reporter responded to a tip from Zachary RunningWolf, who launched Berkeley’s best-known tree-sit at Memorial Stadium on Big Game Day 2006. 

Two protesters had declared their occupation Monday morning of one of two People’s Park acacias that the university plans to chop down.  

Unlike the Memorial Stadium tree-sit, which ended in September with the demolition of a venerable oak grove, the People’s Park protest wasn’t sparked by construction.  

While the university wanted to clear the stadium grove to make way for a four-level high tech gym and office complex, UC Berkeley spokesperson Irene Hegarty says safety concerns have prompted plans to remove the trees from the park.  

And even some tree-sit supporters say they weren’t adamantly opposed to removal of the trees should that prove necessary, so long as the university replaces them, and not necessarily with acacias.  

“We have a lot of demands,” said one of the tree-sitters Monday afternoon.  

Just what those demands were wasn’t clear.  

While some supporters say they wanted the acacias to live, others said that they might accept replacements if the university proved that the trees must go.  

RunningWolf staged a brief occupation of one of the acacias on Dec. 18, before UC Police Capt. Guillermo Beckford signed an agreement to postpone any axing action until after the holidays.  

RunningWolf is among the backers of indigenous replacements if needed, preferably a redwood—the same species he climbed to kick off the Memorial Stadium tree-sit two years earlier.  

Kingmen Lim, an independent certified arborist who volunteered to look at the two acacias, said he believed the People’s Park trees could be saved “with a combination of non-invasive cabling and end-weight reduction.”  

Hegarty said reports on the park’s acacias were prepared by three arborists in 2003 after safety concerns were triggered when another park acacia toppled unexpectedly.  

One consultant was on the university staff and a second was hired by the school, while a third was paid “by the community.”  

All of them said the three playground acacias were structurally weak, and one had been reduced to a hollow shell. The hollowed tree was removed, and the decision was made to examine the remaining trees in five years.  

The university’s latest plans to remove the trees were sparked by the collapse of a fourth acacia at the western end of the park in early December, she said, though the People’s Park Community Advisory Board had been briefed on concerns about the trees a month earlier.  

RunningWolf said he didn’t believe the larger community had been adequately notified, “and needed to be involved before any decisions were made about the trees.  

Reign, another supporter of the tree-sit and one of those who had occupied the trees at Memorial Stadium for 11 months, said “the kids up there in the trees know they are depending on this earth to keep on living, and they are there to save life that is in jeopardy.”