Climber cuts tree-sitters' supplies

February 19, 2008 7:38:09 PM PST
14 month battle between UC Berkeley and a group of tree sitters took a new twist Tuesday. The university began dismantling some of the encampment on Tuesday. Protesters believe they are being provoked, but the university says it's a safety issue.

On early Tuesday morning, UC Berkeley made its stealth move. A professional arborist, hired by the university, began climbing up the oaks.

"They are cutting people's gear. including tarps, safety lines, water, and food out of the trees. They are endangering people's lives," says one protester.

But university officials say they are trying to protect lives. Two of the tree sitters have been injured falling from the safety lines which they use to maneuver within the branches. The mission Tuesday was to cut those down. A platform was also dismantled and containers of human waste fell to the ground. They did not attempt to pull people out of the trees.

"This is not a prelude to some sort of confrontation in the tree tops, but it is part of an effort to increase the pressure on the people in the trees," says Dan Mogulouf, UC Berkeley spokesperson.

The protest began just over a year ago after the university announced plans to build a sports facility on the site of the oak grove. About a dozen activists are involved from time to time. There are now said to be four or five hanging in there, perhaps more than ever now.

"Guaranteed they're going to need more stuff and guaranteed they're going get it," says one supporter.

A judge ruled in October that the university could forcibly remove the tree sitters. But officials say they'll wait until a court decision expected in April on a lawsuit trying to block their sports project.

"And if the people in the trees continue to violate court orders and our pleas to come down, then we'll put the pieces in place to end this peacefully," says Dan Mogulouf, UC Berkeley spokesperson.

I could be a pretty miserable night in the trees for the next week. It's cold and wet, but a group called 'Berkeley Grandmothers for the Oaks' plans to bring more supplies and food to give the tree sitters back what was taken from them by the university.