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Environmentalist Protester Falls Out of a Tree and Dies By: Ken McLaughlin
Mercury News | Tuesday, October 15, 2002

A young man taking part in an Earth First protest near Mount Madonna County Park died Tuesday night after falling about 100 feet from a redwood tree where he had been living.

The man, who remained unidentified as of late Wednesday, is the first tree-sitter in California to die after tumbling from a tree.

``We're pretty much in shock and trying to decide what to do,'' said Tim Ward, a member of the Santa Cruz contingent of Earth First.

Ward said the man was in his mid-20s and had recently come to Santa Cruz. He was homeless, Ward said, before deciding to join a tree-sit protest against Redwood Empire, the San Jose-based firm now logging the approximately 50-acre site.

``We've been trying to find out what caused him to fall,'' Ward said.

He said Earth First protesters are all trained ``how to climb safely and how to rappel and how to stay fed and sanitary.'' They're also told to stay on a tether while in the trees, but for some reason the man was untethered, Ward said.

Redwood Empire on Wednesday issued a statement saying that employees were saddened by the news. The company said a logging crew and foresters rushed to the scene of the accident shortly before nightfall Tuesday. The crew had heard the man moaning and went to investigate.

Crew members and foresters comforted the man, who told his rescuers he didn't know why he had fallen, before emergency medical crews arrived. He was transported by ambulance, then transferred to a helicopter and flown to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

Hospital spokesman Matt Schenone said the man's heart stopped when he was being transported in the helicopter. Doctors tried to re-start his heart when he arrived at the hospital shortly before 10 p.m., but he was pronounced dead minutes later.

His body was sent to the coroner's office, where medical examiners on Wednesday night were trying to determine the exact cause of death as well as the man's identity.

Earth First Santa Cruz had brought plywood platforms, buckets, ropes, food, water and other supplies to set up the protest in mid-August as logging crews prepared to move in. From 15 to 20 activists took turns occupying four trees -- named Esperanza, Free, Critter and Fresco -- as loggers worked around the protesters.

The scene of the accident was in the same area where the group had set up the first tree-sitting protest in Santa Cruz County's history in June 2000.

The area has been the subject of a long-running dispute. Environmentalists and county officials contend the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is too lenient with loggers. They argue that the logging of redwoods and Douglas fir will defile a creek that runs through the property and will upset the balance of the habitat. Redwood Empire and department officials, however, say the logging is environmentally sound.

On the eve of the first anniversary of its aerial ``village'' near Mount Madonna, Earth First's attempt to establish a large tree-sitting operation near Boulder Creek was marred by the serious injury of a young woman. Jenna Griffith, then 20, who uses the forest name ``Sparrow,'' was injured when she fell about 30 feet from a tree and hit her head on a redwood stump. She is now fully recovered.

Earth First abandoned tree-siting sites in the Boulder Creek area in October 2001.

``This tragic accident should not have happened,'' Redwood Empire's statement said of Tuesday night's accident. ``The man and others were illegally trespassing upon private property for which there is a state-approved harvest for second-growth trees.''

Redwood Empire officials have said they were surprised by the protest because the ``minor concerns'' expressed during public hearings had been addressed by the company.

``More surprising is the apparent lack of training and disregard for safety considerations by these tree-sitters and their supporters, which would result in an untethered person falling from a tree,'' the statement said.

The first Earth First tree-sitter killed in California during a tree-sit protest was in September 1998 in Humboldt County, where David ``Gypsy'' Chain was killed by a tree felled by a logger.

In April, a tree-sitter in the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon fell from a tree and later died.

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