An estimated 50 to 75 people took part in a protest Saturday 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, the West Marin resident 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 several parts of the hills — including Claremont Canyon and other areas near the scene of the devastating 1991 wildfire that killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3,000 homes. The funds will be distributed to UC Berkeley, the city of Oakland, and the East Bay Regional Parks District.
The Tree Spirit Project has joined other campaigners who oppose what they say is unnecessary and harmful “clear-cutting.” The Hills Conservation Network 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 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.”
On Saturday, at around 10 a.m., Gescheidt came to the eucalyptus grove near Cal’s western entrance 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.
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