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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Tree-sitting, Suburban-style

Air Date: Week of

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A Los Angeles suburb is the unlikely scene of a major tree-sitting protest. Cars and trucks roar past the busy site where a man is occupying a majestic Valley Oak. Ilsa Setziol of member station KPCC reports.


CURWOOD: On the outskirts of Los Angeles, a man named John Quigley is sitting in a tree. He’s been there for more than three weeks, and a lot of people are taking notice. News vans are tracking his every move. Onlookers crane their necks to see him. The tree is an elegant Valley Oak more than 250 years old, but this tree isn’t in a lush forest. It’s surrounded by concrete and brand-new homes. For member station KPCC, Ilsa Setziol reports.

SETZIOL: For years, this largely conservative community of Santa Clarita seemed to tolerate the fast pace of growth. Many people moved here to claim their little patch of paradise at the foot of these crumpled hills, studded with graceful oaks. But then the county decided one particular oak tree had to be removed to widen a road for a batch of 20,000 new homes. That’s what prompted John Quigley to move up into a tree and endure days of sitting on a small platform about 40 feet off the ground.

QUIGLEY: It’s a little tough. The biggest thing is it would be nice to take a shower. But, you know, this has become something larger than my personal comfort, obviously.


SETZIOL: A parade of cement mixers and other trucks rolls in and out of a tract of nearly finished homes just across the street. Quigley says no sooner had he taken up his roost than visitors began to arrive.

QUIGLEY: This community, they didn’t know that this tree was scheduled to be cut. When they found out, they started mobilizing and they have fought for this tree and that has been an inspiration. And now, we’re starting to see the politicians finally listening to them instead of the wealthy developers here.

SETZIOL: Quigley was recruited to sit in the tree by local activists. For years, they say, they’ve tried to raise the issue of uncontrolled growth and loss of open space. They’ve talked about endangered fish and frogs. But activist Lynn Plambeck says even people who were concerned didn’t think they could make a difference.

PLAMBECK: And yet here’s a guy that could get up in a tree and really stop the bulldozer from coming. And it’s a symbol for them that we really can, we’re empowered, we can really have a say still.

SETZIOL: Plambeck says Quigley has spurred many people who have never been active before to inundate the phone and fax lines of county officials. All the attention has made Quigley and the tree celebrities in this quiet bedroom community. Scores of schoolchildren have sent letters and pictures addressed to Quigley care of the oak tree. Every day, dozens of people like Katie Doody and her three kids stop by.

DOODY: It’s an opportunity to show my children something about conservation and something about respecting nature.

SETZIOL: County officials say widening the road is necessary to avoid future traffic jams. They recently offered to resolve the conflict by moving the tree elsewhere. But John Quigley and his supporters think because it’s already stressed, moving the tree could kill it. For Living on Earth, I’m Ilsa Setziol in Santa Clarita.



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