Berkeley tree-sitters hang on, 18 months in

In December 2006, protesters angry about campus expansion plans clambered into the branches of a threatened oak grove at the University of California, Berkeley.

There had been signs their protest might be coming to an end as a court case challenging a planned athletic training facility inched closer to resolution. But still, the tree-sitters sit.

This month administrators, who won a court order allowing them to evict the protesters, cut supply lines, yanked a few protesters out of the trees and drove the rest into a single redwood. For a while, it looked as if campus officials were prepared to starve protesters out.

But after the remaining half-dozen or so tree-sitters said they were not moving and were rationing water, officials relented and offered them sustenance.

“This misguided effort to preserve a 1923 landscaping project certainly doesn't warrant any action that could cause harm or permanent health consequences for anybody involved,” campus spokesman Dan Mogulof said.

Protesters and their supporters say they are prepared to hold out.

“They're very well-trained tree climbers. They're very experienced, and I have trust in them that they're going to keep themselves safe and they're going to keep defending the grove,” a supporter who would give her name only as Citizyn said last week.

A judge had issued an injunction blocking the construction while the suits were pending. But earlier this month, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller found the new facility is mostly legal. Campus officials have asked the judge to modify the injunction, and construction could begin soon.

On the tree issue, campus officials note that most of the trees were planted in the 1920s. They have promised to plant three trees for every one felled. But tree-sitters say that is not acceptable.

Over the past 18 months, protesters had been cycling in and out, using supply lines stretched over a campus-erected barricade.

In the past two weeks, though, the mood has swung wildly.

Protesters howled, flung excrement and shook tree branches as campus-hired arborists cut supply lines and removed gear.

But by late last week, campus police were negotiating with the protesters, offering to provide food and water if protesters would lower their waste on a daily basis in the interest of hygiene.

Campus officials ended up giving up the water without concessions; protesters declined to yield their urine.