An estimated 50-75 people took part in a staged protest today at a eucalyptus grove on the UC Berkeley campus, many of them stripping naked in doing so, to make clear their opposition to a proposed FEMA-funded tree-clearing program in the East Bay hills.
The event was orchestrated by the Tree Spirit Project whose mission is “to raise awareness of the critical role trees play in our lives, both globally and personally.” Jack Gescheidt, who founded the project, does this partly by taking fine-art photographs of people, often naked, communing with trees and nature.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency in March allocated $5.7 million to the California Office of Emergency Services to remove eucalyptus trees as part of fire hazard abatement in Claremont Canyon — scene of a devastating wildfire in 1991 — and other nearby areas, such as Tilden Park and Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. The funds will be distributed to UC Berkeley, the city of Oakland, and the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD).
The Tree Spirit Project has joined other campaigners who oppose what they say is unnecessary and harmful “clear-cutting.” The Hills Conservation Network (HCN) group is suing FEMA in federal court. It says the clearing of trees will increase rather than decrease fire danger by turning fire-resistant living trees into dead wood left onsite. It is also protesting the potential use of the herbicide Glyphosate, commercially known as Round Up, on the remaining tree stumps after the clearing.
However, another group of hills residents opposes the FEMA decision for the opposite reason: they say the fire mitigation plan doesn’t go far enough. The Claremont Canyon Conservancy (CCC) supports complete eradication. Jon Kaufman, stewardship coordinator of the 500-strong group, said earlier this year: “The problem today is eucalyptuses crowd out native trees, leaving a dense eucalyptus forest with oaks and bays underneath, starved for sunlight.”
The fire that took hold on Oct. 20, 1991 spread across 1,520 acres, incinerating more than 3,300 homes at an average rate of 11 seconds each and, ultimately, injuring 150 people and leaving 25 dead.
On Saturday, at around 10 a.m., Gescheidt came to an area of the Cal campus just north of downtown Berkeley with a six-man crew, according to Ted Friedman who took the photographs published here. Gescheidt gave a “stirring talk” defending the eucalyptus trees, which he said have been wrongly identified as a fire risk. He then directed the volunteers who had shown up in a dress rehearsal as they posed artfully, fully clothed, against the large trees. Then many of the volunteers stripped off and resumed their poses for photographs to be taken. The shoot took about two hours, Friedman said.
Hill group sues FEMA over plan to cut down trees (03.23.15)
UC Berkeley expert talks about hillside tree removal plan (06.11.13)
UC Berkeley seeks funds to cut down 22,000 non-native trees (05.17.13)
Berkeleyside special report: The Berkeley-Oakland Firestorm (2011)
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