UC Removes Unoccupied Trees From Oak Grove

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UC Removes Unoccupied Trees From Oak Grove

On Friday, September 5, the UC began to remove 42 trees from the Oak Grove adjoining Memorial Stadium.

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A Brief History of the Oak Grove Tree-Sit

Staff members of The Daily Californian discuss the events of the tree-sit.

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Photo:    Photo: Nearly all of the trees in the oak grove have been removed, with the tree-sitters confined to one redwood. The campus intends to fully clear the area in the coming days.   

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The 42 of them galvanized three lawsuits, national media attention and the longest urban tree-sit in history, which has lasted since late 2006. Now nearly all the trees that once towered above the grove near Memorial Stadium-save for a lone redwood-lie in a heap.

Virtually all the trees that Berkeley protesters have rallied to save were felled by university-hired workers over the weekend. Their actions clear the way for UC Berkeley to begin its $124 million athletic training center and end its battle with the tree-sitters, which has cost the campus almost two years and more than $750,000.

Only two trees were left as of yesterday, and the campus intends to fully clear the area in the coming days, said Dan Mogulof, UC Berkeley's executive director of public affairs.

Across the street yesterday afternoon, a group of Native Americans danced to honor the tree-sitters and the grove they say is an ancient burial site. Amidst the roar of chainsaws, tribe members beat drums, shook rattles and pleaded with their audience to pray for the final four tree-sitters.

"They're up there still fighting the battle," said Malinal Cihuatl, a member of the Purepecha tribe, gesturing to the activists in their redwood high in the air. "Why are we down here? Why can't we be up there like they? They're fighting for Mother Earth."

Those four protesters awoke Friday to the sounds of snapping branches and grinding woodchippers. Workers of a tree-removal company, hired by the university, began pruning tree limbs shortly after 8:30 a.m, Mogulof said. About six hours later, the company pulled workers from other jobs to actually chop down entire trees.

Campus officials said the court's ruling prompted them to immediately begin clearing 42 of the grove's 70 trees sooner than anticipated.

Erik Eisenberg, the unofficial spokesperson for the protesters, who goes by "Ayr," was arrested yesterday for blocking the road against police orders. He was also arrested by UCPD Friday, along with four other activists.

At dusk on Friday, dozens of protesters sang and danced down Piedmont Avenue, where they have erected a row of makeshift tents.

Throughout the weekend, onlookers witnessed one tree after another fall. Some mourned.

"This was never an attack on sports. It was only protection of a beautiful space that a lot of people cared about for so many reasons," said Laili Falatoonzadeh, a UC Berkeley senior.

Others, however, cheered.

"It's been overblown. It's one more way to add to Berkeley's hippie reputation that we're a bunch of liberal crazies," said freshman Casey Keenan.

Three groups-the city of Berkeley, the California Oak Foundation and the Panoramic Hill Association-sued the university in December 2006 to prevent construction of the athletic center. Three weeks ago, a county judge issued a final ruling in favor of the university.

Attorneys from the foundation and the association asked for an appeal of the case. A San Francisco appellate court decided on Thursday to hear the appeal, but also gave the campus the green light to begin construction.

Stephan Volker, an attorney for the foundation, asked for an injunction from the California Supreme Court, which has yet to issue a ruling.

Zachary RunningWolf, the unofficial leader of the protest, said yesterday that the activists intend to stay put.

"It's up to us to continue the struggle up there," he said.

But as the tree-sitters' 72-hour ultimatum from the campus expires at 9 a.m. today, city and campus officials are beginning to look ahead to the end.

City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said that the supporters will soon need to leave the sidewalks.

"We don't allow it in parks around the city and I don't see why we will allow it here," he said.

Looking down at the newly cleared earth, one of the tree-sitters, who goes by "Huck," said it was all worth it.

"It's not so much about the trees themselves," he said. "It's about the land. It's about the issues."

Amy Brooks of the Daily Californian contributed to this report.


Contact Stephanie M. Lee and Will Kane at [email protected]

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