Interview with a Tree-Sitter

View from the tree-sit (Photo courtesy Redwood Forest Defense)

On June 9th and 12th, I interviewed Lupine, a tree-sitter who is currently participating in a Redwood Forest Defense campaign to stop logging at a site in Humboldt County, California. We spoke on the phone, and though we were disconnected several times by a weak signal, we were able to have a great conversation. Tree-sitters have always been heroes to me, and I really appreciated the chance to connect with someone from the newest generation to be out there fighting the good fight.

What follows is a partial transcript, edited for clarity. You can listen to the entire interview here.

Kollibri: So where did I reach you? Are you up in the tree today?”

Lupine: Yes

Kollibri: What’s the view like from up there?

Lupine: The tree I‘m in is kind of in the middle of the grove of trees that are still standing. So, it’s nice. There’s Redwoods on one side and a grove of Red Alders on the other side. The clearcut is a little bit down the hill. It’s like 50 or 60 feet away and I can see it. And I can see the ocean from here. If I climb to the top of the tree, I can see pretty far south. I think I’m seeing Arcata Bay.

Kollibri: Wow, that’s a beautiful view. I mean, except for the clearcut.

Lupine: Totally. Yeah, the clearcut is a trip. It means we have really good sunsets here because there’s a really open view, but it also amplifies the freeway noise, and it itself is really horrible to witness.

Kollibri: So you’ve had the tree-sit up since about April 1, I believe?

Lupine: Yeah, that’s right. It’s not a joke. It’s been 70 days today.

Kollibri: That was when Green Diamond, the local company, started to come in and log?

Lupine: They started logging out here in March and we discovered at the end of March and we set this up in response. Green Diamond does own a lot of land in this area but they are a massive corporation and they own–as you might be aware since you spent time in Oregonthey own many many acres of land in Oregon and Washington as well.

Kollibri: I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Humboldt & Mendocino counties over the last five years, working on farms there, so I’m kind of familiar with the area, but I hadn’t actually heard of Green Diamond before. So that’s private land you’re on?

Lupine: That’s right. These are private timber lands. Green Diamond owns hundreds of acres in Humboldt County, a lot of it in northern Humboldt County… This land is an indigenous village site named Tsurai and the closest settler town is now known as Trinidad.

Kollibri: …What kind of forest is it around there?

Lupine: It’s a really beautiful mixed forest. A lot of it has been logged before. North of us is the protected Redwood National Park. The timberlands that we are here on is all second and third growth. It’s Redwood dominant, but it’s a mixed forest, so there’s Sitka Spruce, Douglasfir, Red Alder, and regionally endemic Prickle Cone Pine.

Kollibri: Bristle Cone Pines?

Lupine: Prickle Cone Pine. Also known as Bishop Pines.

Kollibri: Oh, I haven’t heard of that tree.

Lupine: They only grow in a few isolated locations in this area and it just so happens that the timber harvest plant that we are attempting to defend here is one spot. The company is trying to log some of the Prickle Cone Pines right here.

Kollibri: What kind of animals live around there?

Lupine: We’ve been seeing this beautiful Black Bear around the sit. One of my friends just saw a Humboldt Marten, a threatened species, pretty close to here. There are other endangered and threatened species that call this ecosystem home, but this area is somewhat damaged now. There’s a couple of Flying Squirrels who have moved into the trees because they like our food. We get a lot of visits from Hummingbirds. I’m personally just starting to learn about the ecology of this area. So it’s cool to experience that wildlife that lives here, personally.

Kollibri: Hummingbirds up pretty high like that? How high up is your sit?

Lupine: The sit that I’m living in right now is pretty low to the ground. It’s probably only about 40 feet up. Some of the others are higher, like 50 or 70 feet.

Kollibri: So there’s more than one.

Lupine: Yeah. We have a little tree village here with about five trees tied together and three of them with living set-ups in them.

Kollibri: Some people maybe wonder why it is that tree-sits are effective. That’s mostly because that’s a safety issue to cut trees around trees-sits. Could you talk about that? That’s why they’re tied together, right?

Lupine: That’s right. It’s kind of a bizarre tactic. The issue is that it’s hard for the general public to really connect with and to value forests that they can’t see and don’t have any interaction with. So we put ourselves in the trees to try to draw attention to these places and to force the logging companies to stop. It’s basically our own safety that we’re putting on the line. It’s direct action in that we’re occupying trees that were about to be cut. They were logging in this area and when we came out we saw a chainsaw on the ground and we’re like, the tree right next to it, we’ll climb that one first.

So we actively stopped work by occupying the trees. But more broadly than that, it’s a symbolic action where our presence here hopefully draws attention to issues surrounding deforestation…

Kollibri: I understand that [Green Diamond] stopped cutting as soon as you showed up, pretty much.

Lupine: Yeah, we emailed Green Diamond immediately and said, “Hey, there’s folks in the canopy. You need to stop working in this area.” And the next morning, the sawyers came out and they collected their tools and left. Green Diamond has been quoted in the newspaper as saying that they’re not going to call the cops on us during COVID. So right now it feels relatively safe out here.

Kollibri: It sounds like you’ve also been getting a lot of good community support out there too.

Lupine: Yeah. As you know, as someone who’s spent time in this area, there’s a lot of folks—even though the economy here has been based on logging and there’s a lot of good old boys—there are a lot of people who are sympathetic to forest defenders and are concerned with the environmental impacts of logging. So it feels like we have broad community support here. I feel that we are in coalition with other grassroots groups in Humboldt, both environmental groups and groups fighting for necessary social justice.

Kollibri: Is there a legal aspect of this going on. too, like with the courts? Or is it like, the sit and other organizations pressuring Green Diamond?

Lupine: There are organizations in this area that are doing long-term work to challenge logging in the area. The main organization that comes to mind is the Environmental Protection Information Center [EPIC], based outside of Arcata, which works in legal realms to challenge logging and other industrial environmental degradation. We aren’t affiliated with EPIC. I really respect their work and feel informed by it but I don’t know if they’re working on anything related to Green Diamond at the moment. It’s really challenging for organizations to challenge private timber companies. It feels difficult to hold them accountable.

There’s a whole roster of state and federal agencies that are tasked with overseeing logging on private timber lands, but I feel like they’re failing to do their jobs and there’s not a lot of recourse for the public. That said, there was a boatload of comments opposing this timber harvest plan when it was approved, as well as the former timber harvest plan for this same area…

What’s interesting about this land in particular is that it’s not just approved by all these state agencies like any timber plan must be, but it’s also “certified.” All of Green Diamond’s timberlands are certified by both the Sustainable Forestry Initiative [SFI] and the Forest Stewardship Council [FSC]. Both of these are green-washed third parties that allow timber companies to label their products as “sustainable” and to sell them at a higher price.

The question of what sustainable forestry looks like is complex but I don’t think that SFI or FSC are an adequate solution to holding these private companies accountable.

We see that right below me. There’s this clearcut that’s at least ten acres. If we weren’t here, it would be at least twenty. That’s what the company intended to cut here. Twenty acres is the maximum they’re allowed to clearcut under their certifications…

I don’t think any clearcut should be called sustainable. In a broader sense, we should be questioning the very existence of industrial timber harvesting during a climate crisis. If that’s really how we want to be managing carbon sinks right now.

Kollibri: Let’s talk a little bit about that more. A lot of people talk about the importance of planting trees to sequester carbon, but of course there’s already a lot of trees doing a great job at that, and they don’t do a good job at that until they’re mature, so obviously keeping forests is very important. So, should we even be cutting mature trees…?

Lupine: I’ve been thinking about this a lot and even though I’m outraged at the way that our government has handled the pandemic, I think that [how] we are all using the language of “essential” to evaluate different aspect of our lives is a fascinating tool. The logging industry is considered part of the agricultural industry and therefore it’s considered “essential.” So when the pandemic hit, I just called Green Diamond and I called Humboldt Redwood Company–which is the other major logging company in the area–and I said, “Are you going to keep working?” And they said, “Yep. Full steam ahead. We’re essential businesses.”

I think that there’s so many layered complex issues at play here, my brain kind of starts to like fuzz out when I think about all the things going on right now, but I think that the way the pandemic has totally shut down our society might in some ways provide tools that we can use–that might provide an urgency that we can use, to apply ourselves to addressing the climate catastrophe that’s in front of us. That I think demands an even broader shut-down of business-as-usual, but a totally different one; one that’s informed by climate justice and by caring for the most marginalized people instead of disregarding their safety the way the government has during the COVID pandemic.

It feels really connected to me that we are in the middle of this pandemic that attacks folks’ respiratory systems, and that black and brown communities are the hardest hit by that because of lack of access to resources and because of systemic racism. And at the same time, climate crisis is this much greater threat, that threatens all life on earth, which is also disproportionately affecting people of color and folks in the global south and folks living in poverty. And then, at the same time, there’s still logging companies and other corporations that are hell-bent in destroying the wildlands around us. And that feels like an existential threat. It all feels timely in the midst of this national uprising in response to police brutality. I hope it isn’t too hippy-dippy for me to say that all of this feels really connected to our breath and to that life force.

It’s bizarre to be disconnected from what’s happening all over the country right now, and to have comrades in the streets and people being brutalized by the police and to meanwhile be in this peaceful forest out here. But it does feel like all part of one struggle to me.

…I think a lot of people in my generation, I’ve been greatly concerned about the climate catastrophe since I was a teenager and have been struggling to find meaningful ways to address it, So that feels like a driving force for me , or my involvement. It feels like a privilege to be part of a younger generation of activists what are continuing work that’s been going on for decades here on the North Coast and to being to learn about the movement history here. And to learn from movement elders who are really active.

Kollibri: So you’ve met some of those elders?

Lupine: Yeah. It’s been a privilege to get to meet and feel supported by folks who were around during the Headwaters struggle, and worked on countless other campaigns that received less publicity. And to learn from them… It feels like a privilege to be part of the fabric of the Earth First! movement and maybe to even be part of morphing it. Earth First! had a lot of ugly, racist, hetero, patriarchal roots and it’s cool at the moment to be working on a campaign that is led by young, queer and femme people and a lot of people who’ve come through here have been femmes, queers, and people of color. It feels important to me, as a younger activist within this movement, to continue to apply ourselves personally and more broadly within the movement, to concepts of decolonization, anti-racist work, especially because Earth First! and the environmental movement as a whole has a lot of entrenched racism that people have been working to unpack for years, but we still a lot of work to do.

Kollibri: …Can you tell me what “decolonization” means to you?

Lupine: Yeah. To be honest, as a white person, a settler, in this country, I feel like I’m just starting to learn about decolonization. I feel under-qualified to speak about it.

But it feels like right now the climate movement in this country–in so-called North America, I should say–is really indigenous-led. Just this year, witnessing the strength and resilience of First Nations people in Canada–the Wet’suwet’en and their allies–fighting back against fossil fuel infrastructure has been really humbling and really inspiring. It’s really fascinating to me to live on the North Coast, in so-called Humboldt, where there’s a lot of powerful, indigenous resistance here. Just last year, a coalition led by indigenous Wiyot folks was able to defeat a green-washed wind energy development that was slated to be built south of the tree-sits here.

I guess that doesn’t really address your question of what decolonization means, but for me, as someone just starting to learn about it, trying to look toward and learn from indigenous activist leaders feels like the first step in educating myself. I’m still trying to figure that out…

Kollibri: Oh yeah, I’m still trying to figure that out too… So how it is that people can help out or support y’all?

Lupine: …The number one way is that the corporate giants who are trying to destroy this place – this tree where I’m currently sitting in, and the land around this – arms of that corporate octopus are in your neighborhood and are trying to destroy the wildlands around you. So, what I ask is that folks join local, grassroots, direct-action environmental groups in their areas, or start some if there’s that need, and support those groups.

If people are local in Humboldt County and want to help us, we always welcome visitors out here. If folks want to come and sit in a tree, we will build you a tree-sit of your own, or if you want to just drop in. If folks want to follow us on social media, you can. [Facebook] We are on Instagram at @redwoodforestdefense.

People are welcome to contact us at redwoodforestdefense [AT]

You can also Venmo us at @redwoodforestdefense.

If you want to support financially, I think there’s a lot of bad-ass, anti-racist bail funds and defunding police department campaigns and other things that really need support right now, and I would ask folks to prioritize that.

We’re over here and we’re going to be holding it down through whatever happens, whether it’s a seemingly unending pandemic, or a national uprising against police brutality, we’ll probably still be here in these trees. This timber harvest plan means that this area is still under threat for a few more years.

Listen to the entire interview here.

Kollibri terre Sonnenblume is a writer living on the West Coast of the U.S.A. More of Kollibri’s writing and photos can be found at Macska Moksha Press