Battle stations

Special to The Times

In March 2003, Eric Schatz removed Jeny Card and Kristi Sanchez from an 180-foot-tall redwood, clearing the way for loggers.

Before they could finish cutting down “Jerry,” though, “forest defenders” scattered into the path of falling debris, preventing further action. Pacific Lumber eradicated the tree-sitters’ “lower village” in the Freshwater area of Humboldt County, including two trees that the sitters left unattended for a few hours while getting dinner at a friend’s house. Other nearby trees went to the mill as well. Today, at least seven redwoods are occupied.

Pacific Lumber is slowly making progress, and the sitters are reacting less passively than their predecessors. Schatz says a professional agitator showed up at his house after the removals last March, stating that he wanted the climber’s neighbors to know that they lived next to a criminal.

The desperation has spilled into the trees too. During one extraction last year, as Schatz worked in a tree to cut through a sitter’s lockbox, an onlooker broke past the ground crew and free-climbed toward the action.

The protester came so close to the climbers’ ropes, Schatz says, that he feared for his men’s safety. He says he grabbed the sitter, who began to thrash wildly. The climbers tied a restraint around the sitter’s legs, and then one stood on top of him. In a heavily edited video released by the sitters, the captive’s screams mix with curses hurled from the ground and from neighboring trees at Schatz.

Pacific Lumber is back at work now, and the tree-sitters are in its way. So, for the moment, are the courts: A Humboldt watershed protection group secured a restraining order to prevent Pacific Lumber from logging in some areas while a judge studies the issue.

Bored, perhaps, one sitter who once occupied the same redwood as Sanchez and planned a dramatic showdown there with “Climber Eric and his goon squad,” left the tree and occupied a fir in Sacramento. He was arrested after several hours.

In Humboldt, activists don’t know when or if an extraction might come, and although Schatz says he often plans his removals well in advance, neither he nor Pacific Lumber will discuss when they might attempt to clear the squatters. To pass the time while they wait, climbers and sitters swing from the trees.