Berkeley students and residents conduct tree-sit to protect oaks, 2006-2008


To prevent the University from building athletic facilities on an oak grove.

Time period

October, 2006 to September 9, 2008


United States

Location City/State/Province


Location Description

University of California, Berkeley
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 3rd segment

Methods in 4th segment

Methods in 5th segment

Methods in 6th segment

  • protesters delivered an oak sapling to the University's Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau
  • Campaigners threw feces and urine at police officers
  • Tree-sit

Additional methods (Timing Unknown)

Segment Length

Approximately 4 months


Zachary RunningWolf


Berkeley City Council, the Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, Wavy Gravy, Country Joe McDonald and Julia Butterfly Hill (known for the longest documented tree-sit)

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Sylvia McLaughlin (90-years-old), Berkeley City Councilmember Betty Olds (84-years-old) and former Mayor Shirley Dean all took a turn sitting in the trees


The University of California, Berkeley

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

There were many accusations of attacks on police officers, but no reports of police officers seriously harmed.

Repressive Violence

There are accusations of police assault. By September 2007, there were 98 documented arrests or citations and 155 violations of University policies.





Group characterization

students at the University of California Berkeley and residents of Berkeley

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

Joining order not known

Segment Length

Approximately 4 months

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

0 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

4 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

In the fall of 2006, the University of California Berkeley administration began implementing plans to build a new sports training facility that would be adjacent to the current stadium.  The new building would provide more sophisticated gym equipment for visiting athletes, more weight rooms, and 911 parking spaces.  It would also “retrofit” the seismically unsafe Memorial Stadium (built on a dangerous fault line). All this would make up the new Student-Athlete High Performance Center

In October and November local groups, among them the Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society and locally-known individuals Wavy Gravy, Country Joe McDonald and Julia Butterfly Hill began organizing actions to save the trees.  They called their coalition “Save the Oaks.” At rallies they renamed the lot “Memorial Oak Grove” and tied ribbons around particularly important trees, among them a 200-year-old tree named Sentinel Oak.  

On 14 November, the City of Berkeley passed a resolution supporting the protection of the grove calling it, “an impeccable resource that contributes to the well-being of all Berkeley citizens.” Berkeley students also started a petition and a Facebook group, which quickly swelled to 600 supporters.

On 4 December at 4:00 am Zachary RunningWolf and Jess Walsh, the first two tree sitters, , climbed into the branches of the old oak trees to begin a tree-sit. The day was just prior to the last – and highly-contested -- football game of the season, between Berkeley and Stanford. 

The tree-sit focused attention on the up-coming meeting of the UC Regents Building Committee the following Tuesday in San Francisco.  That panel was tasked with making a decision that took into account both sports center design, including that it was contractually promised to the football coach, and the environmental impact of the project.   At stake were 90 trees, including 8 redwoods and 65 oaks, of which 38 were protected coast live oaks. The Committee had promised to replace each of the 38 oaks with three newly planted ones.

The City of Berkeley had already made it illegal to cut down mature oak trees in the City, but the University claimed that their property was not under the jurisdiction of the City. Also, there was not widespread agreement about which trees were the older, protected ones.

Within one week, the tree-sit had gained people and public support.  A ground support community provided food to the tree sitters, filed media reports, and made signs.  The tree-sit lasted until 9 September 2008, roughly 21 months.  

During this time, the public controversy continued.  RunningWolf submitted evidence suggesting that the grove was a burial ground for some indigenous Americans.  Despite more controversy, this assertion was neither confirmed nor denied by officials and contemporary Indigenous groups and advocates.  Similarly, during the rest of the longest documented urban tree-sit, there are conflicting reports and it is difficult to draw conclusions about exactly what happened.

On 22 January 2007, 90-year-old environmentalist Sylvia McLaughlin, 84-year-old Berkeley City Councilmember Betty Olds, and 71-year-old former Mayor Shirley Dean, temporarily joined the sit-in.  Later that week, Judge Barbara Miller issued an injunction protecting the trees until she could make a decision about the four pending lawsuits against the University of California, Berkeley.  

On 17 March 2007, more than 100 people took part in a nude photo shoot by Jack Gescheidt with the oak trees as part of his TreeSpirit Project.  Police threatened to arrest participants citing public indecency, but did not follow through.  In July, police suspected tree-sitters of damaging trees by removing branches.  Tree-sitters replied that they were pruning the trees, although opponents on the ground continued to suspect that they had cleared branches to make more space for sleeping platforms, pulleys, and rope bridges.

On 29 August 2007, the University built a chain-link fence surrounding the tree-sitters, allegedly to protect the sitters from football fans and potential opponents.  Campaigners responded with a public outcry, claiming that the fence did not protect them, but rather, was likely to “starve them out.”  By later in the day, the police allowed the ground support team to deliver more food into the platforms. Allies surrounded the fence by linking arms to show support for the tree-sitters and the trees. Soon after, the California Oak Foundation challenged the construction of the fence in court, but Judge Barbara Miller said that it did not violate her order banning site construction.  

The University offered a settlement proposal to the Berkeley City Council on 4 September, in which they made the following proposals: replacing each tree with two new trees and one large nursery oak, promising to schedule no more than eight football games and seven other large events (more than 10,000 people) per year, promising not to schedule events that needed extra sound amplification, and offering to construct the new gym and update the current stadium to be earthquake safe.  The Berkeley City Council promptly rejected the proposal.

On 12 September 2007 the University announced that it would seek a restraining order to remove the protesters.  The hearing continued on 1 October, when Judge Keller determined that the tree-sit was illegal.  Further, he said that the first amendment rights of the protesters were intact because they could use them elsewhere, and the university has a right to protect its property. 

On 8 November, the University built a second chain link fence, this time with room for barbed wire which they later added.  The project cost the University an estimated $80,000.

In mid-February of the next year, 2008, University arborists climbed into the trees and removed loose objects.  Throughout the spring and into the summer, the University periodically sent agents into the Grove to dismantle temporarily unused platforms and to remove spare materials.  At times, confrontation occurred.  Multiple tree sitters were arrested, but not before throwing feces and urine at police from their trees.

On 18 June, Judge Miller released her first verdict on the lawsuits that the City of Berkeley, the Panoramic Hill Association, Save Tightwad Hill, and Save the Oaks at the Stadium had collectively filed.  She found that the proposed center did not violate zoning codes because it would not be built directly on a fault line, although some parts of the proposed project are legally alterations to California Memorial Stadium, and, “by state law the value of these alterations can not exceed half the current value of the stadium.” After a series of appeals and responses on 22 July 2008, she “ruled that the University's amended proposal satisfied environmental and seismic safety requirements.”  She went on to lift her previous injunction against construction on 29 July 2008.  Finally, she ruled that the plaintiffs “would have to pay 85% of the university's court costs, split evenly among the three parties.”  The final ruling came on 26 August, when she confirmed her previous ruling.  

The university cut off outside resupply of the protesters on 19 June 2008.  The City Council voted to send a delegation to make sure that the tree-sitters had sufficient supplies, and determined that they did. Judge Keller said that the University had an obligation to prevent endangering of the protesters, and that they needed to supply water and food, which they did, in the form of bottled water and high-calorie energy bars.  It is important to note here that the tree-sitters changed periodically, sometimes even daily, but they maintained the tree sit for the entire campaign.

On 20 July, 30-50 people marched from the oak grove to the on-campus home of the University's Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau to plant a tree on his property- a sapling that had sprouted from an acorn in the Grove.  Some of the campaigners were arrested and accused of trespassing during this action.  

During August, the University clipped some branches, including trees where the sitters were living.  Then, on the 5th and 6th of September, the University cut down remaining trees in the grove, except the one where the sitters remained.  

On 9 September, contractors began to build scaffolding around the final tree as the police department moved in cherry pickers topped with fabric to protect contractors from objects that the sitters might throw. As the protesters continually resisted arrest, University Police Chief Victoria Harrison attempted to negotiate with the four men while suspended in a basket hanging from a crane almost 100 feet in the air. After asking them repeatedly to come down “with some dignity,” Harrison was able to convince the men to quit their climb and walk peacefully down the scaffolding. Once they were on the ground, protest leader Eric Eisenberg informed the media that UC Berkeley had agreed to include the community more heavily in future construction decisions, a concession the protesters seemed pleased with. All four men were handcuffed and taken to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin on charges of trespassing and violating a court order. One protester was also charged with attempted battery. Hours later University construction crews took down the redwood that had housed the protesters.

The University proceeded to build the rest of the stadium, after a 21-month delay due to the tree-sitters.  Estimates say that the tree-sit cost University of California Berkeley more than $300,000 between police overtime and fence construction.


(1) 1979 People's Park actions in Berkeley- citizens used tree-sits to protect a park.


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California Oak Foundation Et Al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. The Regents of the University of California Et Al., Defendants and Respondents. Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Three. 1 Oct. 2010. LexisNexis, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

City Council of the City of Berkeley. "Oak Tree Removal Ordinance." City of Berkeley, 10 Dec. 1998. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Samantha Shain, 16/12/2012, and Elena Ruyter, 06/11/2011