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Tree sitting is exactly what it sounds like; it is a form of protest which involves sitting in a tree. Until the demands of the tree sitter are met or the tree sitter is forcibly extracted, he or she will be supported by an extensive ground crew. In the United States, the environmental movement has been using tree sitting as a form of direct action since the 1980s, mostly in Oregon and California. Several noted tree sitters have managed to hold their lofty positions for several years.
The exact origins of tree sitting are unclear, although it was used quite effectively in New Zealand in the 1970s. In the United States, a man named Mikal Jakubal started tree sitting in the 1980s, and Earth First!, a radical environmental group, picked up the practice. One of the most famous North American tree sits was in Humboldt County, California, in the 1990s, when Julia Butterfly Hill sat in a redwood called Luna for two years.
There are several reasons to organize a tree sit. Obviously, a human occupant makes it difficult for a logger to cut down a tree, so many environmental groups use the tactic to prevent or stall logging. While tree sitters occupy trees, the logging company is morally obligated to cut off logging operations in the area, since people could be injured or killed. This gives activists time to file injunctions and to raise public awareness of the cause.
Tree sitting may also be symbolic, as was the case with a group of Berkeley activists who started tree sitting near the University of California, Berkeley, in 2006. The activists were opposed to expansion of the school's athletic facilities, so they occupied trees which were slated for destruction to make their views known. In addition to stalling construction, the activists also drew major attention to the issue, much to the dismay of the University.
Technically, tree sitting is illegal, since it involves trespassing. Many logging companies forcibly eject tree sitters with the assistance of tree climbers and law enforcement. Lawsuits for trespassing or illegal camping may be filed against the tree sitters and their support crews, with a heavy focus on support crews since tree sitters cannot survive without help from the ground.
The effectiveness of tree sitting is debatable. It certainly draws attention to environmental causes, which can be valuable. In some cases, it has also resulted in a successful appeal of a timber harvest plan. In other instances, however, logging companies have managed to remove tree sitters and continue with their work, a source of great frustration to activists. Many tree sitters also become deeply attached to “their” trees, and an unsuccessful tree sitting mission can be very emotional as a result.