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Tree sitters return to earth

After more than 20 years of protests, the last two people living in the giant redwoods of Northern California were climbing down for good, convinced by the new owners of the forest that the ancient trees would be spared from the saw.

Still, the tree sitters looked rather lost.

Having lived nearly 200 feet off the ground for 11 months, Nadia Berg – who calls herself Cedar – seemed unsure of her footing on the lush forest floor of Humboldt County's Nanning Creek grove. Cedar had made herself at home in a tree dubbed Grandma, a massive double redwood joined at the base, and had grown accustomed to the whistles and whispers and ways of the woods.

“Being here, for me, hasn't been a sacrifice,” said the 22-year-old Alberta native, still in her harness after rappelling down Grandma last week for the final time. “I feel so honored that I could be here for the trees.”

Berg's neighbor, Billy Stoetzer, a 22-year-old activist from the Missouri Ozarks, came down last week, too.

With that, the great timber wars of the North Coast came to an end.

It was a long, twilight struggle that redefined environmental activism and introduced the American public to a new type of civil disobedience – tree-sitting.

So quietly did the truce happen that almost no one involved can believe it. But the drawn-out, sometimes violent, battles between Pacific Lumber, the largest private owner of old-growth redwoods, and environmental activists who flocked here to save the trees, are history. Pacific Lumber has new owners, a new name – Humboldt Redwood – and a new pledge to protect old trees, some of which were around before Jesus was born.

Protecting old-growth trees was part of the plan that Humboldt Redwood, largely owned by Don and Doris Fisher of The Gap, submitted to acquire Pacific Lumber in bankruptcy court. Among other things, Humboldt Redwood promised to spare any redwood born prior to 1800 with a diameter of at least four feet. It also pledged to avoid clear-cutting, or cutting down trees in vast swaths, a practice that the timber giant aggressively practiced under its previous owner, Maxxam Inc.

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