Group Teaches How To ‘Take Forests Back'

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Instead of protesting forest clear-cutting on Sproul Plaza, Jake Wilson, a UC Berkeley senior, and other members of a Berkeley activist group prefer to demonstrate in a more unconventional fashion.

These activists, dedicated to saving old-growth forests, strap on tree-climbing harnesses and ascend 200 feet in the air onto 600-year-old redwoods, where they live until loggers stop cutting the trees down.

In an effort to educate students about the importance of saving old-growth forests, Wilson and Earth First! group members offered free lessons in safe tree climbing on Saturday at the Kingman Hall co-op.

The training session is one of several the group will hold until the end of the school year, hoping that more people will participate in future tree-saving campaigns.

"We're here to represent that people need to take forests back," said Wilson, who is majoring in conservation resource studies. "This is what we call 'direct action' - we put our bodies on the line because no one else is doing it."

The climbing lessons will also help other activists incorporate these skills with their other protest tactics, said Liberty Jaswal, a junior.

"We are showing a city establishment how to integrate tree-climbing tactics to climb buildings, billboards and hang banners (to protest)," said Jaswal, a philosophy major.

The site of the tree-climbing lessons was home to a small forest of very old, strong trees and bush vegetation that surrounds the student co-op. Under a white flag with a red anarchy sign with the word DECENTRALIZE painted on it, 25 participants were shown how to climb and descend trees, strap on harnesses, set up climbing equipment and traverse lines, which are connecting ropes that allow protesters to move from tree to tree. The group emphasized the safest methods for climbing trees and assured participants that "climbing a tree is safer than riding your bike on Telegraph (Avenue)."

The majority of participants at the event had never previously climbed a tree using professional equipment. For many it was their first tree-climbing experience.

J. P. Moschella, a senior in economics and a group activist, tree-climbed for the first time Saturday, going nearly 50 feet off the ground.

"It's empowering to be up in the canopy, where our ancestors came from," Moschella said. "It's like coming home."

He added that he hopes to use the skills he learned soon to go into the forest and stop timber corporations from clear-cutting trees.

"Tree climbing is a crucial and effective way to learn how to save a lot of our forests from these corporations that only care about profit," said Lia Evans, a junior in nutritional science and first-time participant.

Last summer, Earth First! members set out to Oregon to save the oldest group of Redwood and Douglas fir trees. They climbed to the tree canopy where they set up a platform with a tarp and occupied a string of five trees.

"One or two people lived on each tree, but it took a whole group effort to save the trees," Wilson said.

The people in the trees relied on a base group to deliver food, water and other essentials to them. In order to achieve the maximum level of self-sufficiency, the group collects food from dumpsters or receives donations from stores.

Nicholas Sobb, a UC Berkeley graduate and group activist, spent six months living on a tree called Happy, which was part of the old-growth forest. He intends to postpone graduate school for another year in order to return to the forest and prevent loggers from clear-cutting.

"The experience makes one question the 'progress' that's going on," Sobb said. "It's an egregious abuse of public trust - decimating trees."

Wilson, who also spent part of his summer living in a tree in Oregon, said it requires personal endurance.

"It can get to be strenuous," Wilson said. "You need discipline and you have to realize that the future of bio-diversity and the continuation of life on Earth is the most important cause."

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