This Day In History: December 2

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On December 2, 2006, four students at the University of California, Berkeley, inhabit the treetops of an oak grove on campus to protest the university’s plans to demolish over an acre of the forest to build a new athletic center, kicking off an epic 21-month standoff. It was one of the longest tree sit-ins in history.

Tree sit-ins are a form of civil disobedience in which protestors physically occupy a tree to prevent it from being cut down, often for long periods of time. At its peak, the Berkeley protest saw over a dozen people living on the limbs of the grove’s oak and redwood trees; volunteers and others brought them food, water and supplies.

In addition to the unbudging tree-sitters, the university faced pushback from the Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society, and was sued by three parties, including the Berkeley City Council, over the project’s proximity to the dangerous Hayward Fault. According to one conservation analyst, the grove provided sustenance for more than 300 animal species, including deer, squirrels, woodpeckers and moths.

A 2007 injunction by an Alameda County judge paused plans to cut down the grove, but, by July 2008, the court ruled in the university’s favor, prompting campus police to begin arresting protestors and clean out their redwood encampments. While the case was appealed, a state appeals court in September 2008 refused to block construction, allowing the university to chop down the entire grove in the following three days. Within a week, the remaining four tree-sitters were coaxed into climbing down from one of the last two redwood trees still standing by the stadium, and were subsequently arrested.