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What is Tree Spiking?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tree spiking is a type of ecotage which is intended to prevent loggers from taking trees. In the United States, it is a federal felony, as of 1988. While spiking is still practiced, it is highly controversial among many environmental activists, with some organizations even split in opinion from within. Many opponents of tree spiking argue that the practice is extremely dangerous and potentially highly alienating, while supporters argue that it makes logging much more difficult, thereby forming an effective method of protest.

When a tree is spiked, someone hammers a piece of hard material such as metal or ceramic into the tree. The tree is not damaged by this activity, as plenty of hard objects lodge in trees naturally, and trees are able to adapt their growth patterns to scar over the affected area. However, when a logger attempts to cut a tree down, the tree spike will catch on the saw blade, causing it to break or shatter. Even if a spiked tree is successfully felled, it can still wreak havoc at a mill, as a spiked tree did in 1987 when it caused a sawblade to shatter, almost killing a mill worker.

Tree spiking is designed to make logging more difficult.
Tree spiking is designed to make logging more difficult.

Some tree spikers say that it should be done as ethically as possible. Ideally, the spike should be located well above saw height, so that loggers are not in danger. The spikes should be made of brass or another non-iron metal, so that the tree itself won't be too damaged. Spiked trees should also be clearly marked, and lumber companies should be notified when trees on a timber harvest plan have been spiked. When done in an ethical fashion, tree spiking is intended to ensure that logging is not profitable, thus leading timber companies to leave stands of trees alone.

More radical activists, however, do not practice tree spiking ethically. They argue that the environment is worth more than the potential loss of a human life. The practice certainly has a long history; incidents of spiking date back to the late 1800s, although it was not popularized until the 1980s. Dave Forman, co-founder of Earth First!, popularized the practice in a book called Ecodefense, arguing that it should be part of the arsenal of committed environmental activists.

As tree spiking became more widespread in the late 1980s, especially in Northern California and Southern Oregon, some activists became concerned about the practice. Several documented injuries indicated that tree spiking had the potential to be deadly, and many environmentalists were concerned that spiking was giving their movement a bad name. As a result, many groups condemned the practice, arguing that there were safe and more effective ways to put a stop to logging. Within Earth First!, members were split on the issue, and continue to be to this day.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is tree spiking?

Tree spiking is a form of eco-sabotage where metal rods or nails are driven into trees to prevent logging. This controversial tactic aims to protect forests by causing damage to sawmill equipment, thereby making the trees less desirable to loggers. However, it poses serious safety risks to workers and is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Why do individuals participate in tree spiking?

Individuals spike trees primarily as a protest against deforestation and logging practices they consider unsustainable or unethical. They believe that by making trees hazardous to cut, they can deter logging companies and protect ecosystems. However, this method is contentious due to its potential to cause harm to loggers and mill workers.

What are the potential consequences of tree spiking for the logging industry?

For the logging industry, tree spiking can result in costly equipment damage, production delays, and increased safety measures. Sawmill blades can be broken or damaged when they hit a spike, which can lead to significant financial losses. Moreover, it can create a hostile environment between environmental activists and industry workers.

How is tree spiking detected and prevented?

Detection of tree spiking often involves visual inspections and the use of metal detectors before processing. Prevention strategies include increased surveillance of forests, legal action against perpetrators, and engaging with communities to address environmental concerns constructively. Some mills also use advanced scanning technology to detect metal inside logs.

What legal repercussions exist for those caught tree spiking?

Individuals caught tree spiking can face serious legal repercussions, including fines and imprisonment. In the United States, for instance, tree spiking is considered a federal offense under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Penalties can be severe due to the potential endangerment of human lives and property damage.

Are there alternative methods to tree spiking for forest conservation?

Yes, there are numerous non-violent and legal alternatives to tree spiking for forest conservation. These include advocacy for sustainable logging practices, reforestation projects, legal action to protect endangered habitats, public awareness campaigns, and working with certification bodies to promote responsible forest management practices.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


Can't they spray paint the tree to id it?


My ex husband was a logger and he had a scar that ran up his leg, side and up to his face from a spike in a tree. He showed me areas that had been logged within five years and had been reseeded by the logging company and was recovering very well. Then he showed me an area that had burned 10 years ago because of too many dead trees and it hadn't even begun to recover.

While I drove a truck all over the US, I saw some of the effects of forests that had been spiked. It is false that it doesn't harm the tree. It actually introduces a wound into the tree where beetles can breed and kill the tree. I saw several forests in or where the entire forest had been killed by beetles because of spiking. It's pretty sad that the supposed action of protecting the trees may, in fact, kill off the entire forest. Think before you act.


@fiorite- It's really important to keep your head about controversial issues like tree spiking, especially since so many politicians use it to be a platform. I read about one US senator that made up stories about knowing people who had died or been maimed by tree spikes. Upon questioning, he was unable to produce any names of people supposedly injured. After all this, speculation came out that stories of maiming and killings were lies spread by the logging companies and their lobbyists to stir up public outrage against economic terrorists/environmental activists. I am not going to take a position on tree spiking in this forum, but I just wanted to put out that information for what it is worth. You cannot always trust politicians and everything they say, because they tend to have ulterior motives.


@cougars- Almost all tree spikes are driven into trees high up and out of the reach of fellers. They are meant to damage saws at the mill, which are much more costly than a chainsaw. The reason I know is I worked at a mill for a few months on the green chain (worst job ever). We had scanners who would use metal detectors to find spiked trees. These only worked for metal spikes, so other types of spikes could still damage blades. A spike would cost a mill money, but they will rarely cause injury in a mill. If the mill is compliant with all safety standards, they will have blade guards and nobody will be near enough to be hurt. In fact, I have never heard of a confirmed tree spiking death.


I am an environmental major, but I have also worked for a landscape company. My coworker cut through a maple that had an old tap left in it, and it ripped the saw right out of his hands. The jarring of the saw ended up pulling muscles in his chest and the chain snapped right off his saw. This is a firsthand example of how dangerous a spike in a tree is.

Tree spiking causes death and it is highly irresponsible. There are better and more constructive ways of regulating the cutting of forests that do not require killing people. I am 110% for conservation of resources, but I cannot stand environmentalists that justify protecting the life of one being while maliciously intending to harm others. All the people who do this accomplish is to draw negative attention to their cause, and make themselves look like extremists.

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    • Tree spiking is designed to make logging more difficult.
      By: Lars Johansson
      Tree spiking is designed to make logging more difficult.