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What is Tree Sitting?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By MrsPramm — On Mar 13, 2014

@pastanaga - I actually think they should take a leaf out of the books of other environmentalists and encourage tree sitting as a tourism attraction. People are much more likely to be sympathetic to a cause if they have experienced the benefits of it and it must be lovely sitting against a tree trunk, high above the canopy. It wouldn't be so lovely to have to live up there for two years though.

By pastanaga — On Mar 12, 2014

@Iluviaporos - If it's a well organized protest then they should take that into account. The people sitting up against a tree trunk are only there to get the whole group into the papers. They should use experts and other professionals from a variety of fields to do the actual speaking to the media for the most part.

And they should also make it clear that they are participating in an act of desperation, rather than a spontaneous gesture of defiance. People need to see it as someone throwing themselves on a grenade, rather than just a child throwing a tantrum.

By lluviaporos — On Mar 11, 2014

I think this is one of the better forms of protest, honestly, because it is absolutely direct, it doesn't harm anyone except the activist and it will potentially physically protect the thing that needs protection.

Unfortunately, I also think because it seems like a stunt, it probably doesn't do very much to get the average person behind a protest. I guess because you get the sense that the girl sitting in a tree is a little bit unbalanced, and that doesn't exactly make you want to listen to what she has to say.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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