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News ::
15 Sep 2003
Modified: 16 Sep 2003
In the past two days, workers from the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area used chain saws and bulldozers to fell trees dangerously close to the trees two Earth First! activists are sitting in. Dandi and Badger, the two tree sitters, have also been cut off from their supporters on the ground.
Mt. Wachusett Tree Sit: Day 44

In the past two days, workers from the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area used chain saws and bulldozers to fell trees dangerously close to the trees two Earth First! activists are sitting in. Dandi and Badger, the two tree sitters, have also been cut off from their supporters on the ground.

Activists & Old Growth Forest in Danger as Workers Cut Trees
By Erika Ransom

September 13, 2003

Since August 1st, Dandi has lived on a small platform about 80 feet up in the air within a 140-year-old red oak in the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation in central Massachusetts. For the past forty-four days, Dandi’s perch has been stopping a ski lodge’s plan to clear cut this tree, and twelve more acres of forest that act as a critical buffer zone for one of the last strands of old growth forest in the state.

A few weeks ago, another Earth First! activist, nicknamed Badger, joined Dandi in the tree sit, and set up camp in a tall oak nearby.

In the past two days, the situation has intensified and become more dangerous as workers from the Wachusett Mountain Area (WMA), the private company that operates a ski resort in the state park, used chain saws and bulldozers to cut trees and shrubs directly around the two trees the activists are sitting in.

Early this morning, WMA workers lost control of a falling tree while logging only about twelve feet away from the base of the tree Badger is sitting in. A cut tree began to fall towards Badger’s platform, and workers had to scramble to temporarily hold the tree with a ladder while frantically redirecting the tree’s fall.
Badger described the situation. “They started cutting and it started falling this way. They scrambled to get some people to help pull it the right way and I was really lucky it didn’t fall on me, or on the tree I’m sitting in. They also cut some trees yesterday closer to Dandi’s sit, close to the tree that she is traversed to.”
Clearing the area around the trees is just one tactic being used to scare and intimidate the activists into coming down and giving up the fight.

State troopers have closed off and surrounded the immediate area, which is on state-owned land, leaving Dandi and Badger cut off from any contact with their supporters except by radio. No one is allowed to bring the activists supplies, especially food or water.

However, media are being allowed access into the camp area, and a few mainstream news outlets such as New England Cable News and FOX have covered the story and visited the site. On September 13, after gaining permission from the Wachusett Mountain ski lodge, being questioned by a Massachusetts State Trooper and having my bags searched, I was allowed into the area for ten minutes to talk with the sitters and film with my video camera.

Badger explained, “No one has old us to leave, or to come down. A couple of times the WMA told us we are trespassing. But yesterday, in the early afternoon, there was a police helicopter overhead and there has been a police presence with at least five or six officers here at all times. There are floodlights all around. The policemen like to shine their lights up here at night. Actually, last night they actually brought their girlfriends around to check out the whole scene.”

While I was there, a state trooper stomped around in the woods around the camp area, two troopers were looking up at the activists with binoculars, and at least two other troopers with squad cars were in the area directly outside the camp.

Protestors of the planned logging in the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation and friends and supporters of the sitters have set up a site with signs across the street from the entrance to the ski area, as close to the camp site as the police will allow. Earth First! activists remain in radio contact with the sitters, and Dandi and Badger can hear the noise of yells, car horns and drums from the street, about six hundred feet away. On the day I visited, two squad cars were positioned about half a block away on both ends of the street, guarding a small crowd of only about thirty people.

The value of the trees is enormous on both sides, and the tree sit comes after ten years of struggle by activists and environmental groups including The Sierra Club, Massachusetts Audubon Society, Watchdogs for Environmentally Safe Towns as well as Earth First! to stop the proposed expansion of the Wachusett Mountain Ski Area. The trees that Dandi and Badger are living in are part of a critical buffer zone that protects the largest old growth forest in the state east of the Connecticut River.

Badger, from his perch high up in the tree, explained why he thought this forest was worth fighting for. “These red oaks are very old, and are some of the oldest red oaks in Massachusetts. We think this forest is worth saving. More than that, it is a buffer zone that protects the old growth forest at the top of the mountain–which has never been cut and is older than Massachusetts itself. If this forest is cut down, we definitely believe that it will have catastrophic effects for the older forest at the top of the mountain. In addition, every time the forest is cut [on this part of the mountain] down here, it increases sediment and pollutes the water supply of the city of Fitchburg, which is a reservoir lake at the bottom of the mountain.”

The land in dispute–including the 220-acre old growth forest at the top of the mountain–is owned and managed by the state as part of the Wachusett Mountain State Reservation. The Wachusett Mountain Area does not own the land, but leases 450 acres of the park to operate a profitable ski company.

After a four-year court battle, and what many environmentalists are calling a bogus Environmental Impact Report, the WMA has recently won permission by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) to cut a 12.5-acre swath into the buffer zone to expand its ski trails. Unless the activists are successful in stopping the logging, a strand of 140-160 year old Northern Red oaks will be clear cut and replaced by a man-made meadow, reducing biodiversity, increasing erosion and making the old growth forests more vulnerable.

The debate surrounding the cutting of the forest is not only about saving the Wachusett old growth forest, as it also involves the larger principal of how state park lands should be used.
“Wachusett Mountain used to be run by the state, and it didn’t make money and was a burden to the taxpayers. A public bid process privatized it and Wachusett Mountain Associates won that public bid process. Now we make money that we pay the state every year for running the ski area,” said Tim McGuire, Environmental Engineer for the ski area. “We want to run a successful and competitive ski area, so to do that, we have to keep improving our equipment, offering new things, and this [expansion] is one of the things we thought would be a benefit to our skiers.”

Others argue the Wachusett ski lodge is wrongly benefiting from the use of public lands for private profit at the expense of the ecosystem and the people of Massachusetts.

Emily, one of the Earth First! activists I met at the road site, said, “I hope that we’ve been a thorn in their side at the very least. I hope that we can still possibly save this forest if certain people intervene but overall, I hope this rallies together public support for our state parks, and that we can continue preserving the ones that are left. I want the Crowley’s [who own WMA] to know the damage that they’ve done to this area, and the damage they’ve done to a lot of people.”

What will ultimately happen on Wachusett Mountain may have a resounding impact on how state park lands are used. At the moment, it seems the courts have opened doors for continued private development at the expense of biodiversity and public use.

“The court’s decision is first and foremost a victory for all the skiing and snowboarding families in Massachusetts,” said Jeff Crowley, president of Wachusett Mountain Associates on the WMA web site. “We are obviously very pleased by the SJC ruling. The case questioned the entire MEPA environmental review process and the decision sets an important precedent for both the environmental and business communities.”

While snowboarding may be in this year, and expensive ski lift tickets generate a substantial profit for the WMA, it doesn’t bode well for the ancient trees or the many animals and plants that depend on an intact forest.

Before my time was up talking to Dandi, looking up to her perch at the top of a majestic red oak, I asked what she would like to tell people given the chance.

“I would tell people that they don’t have to be complacent and sit back and watch their world die,” Dandi replied. “I hope that this may inspire someone to take action somewhere else. Every individual has the power to inspire change.”

I also asked Dandi if she has anything to say to the people supporting her tree sit. “Yes!” she said. “I love you all, and thank you so much for all of your support. You all are so awesome down there. We could not be up here without you all.”

*** UPDATE September 15, 2003, 9:05pm***

Cutting has begun all around the two treesitters despite the threat to thier well being. Several trees were felled in in their immediate area. After a verbal warning from "Badger" a WMA worker cut a tree which began falling towards him and which had to be held up by two workers so as not to squash him while others scrambled to get a wedge and clawhammer into it so it could be roped and pulled the other way.

A brave supporter was able to haul ass into the woods to document this scene, despite the fact that the state police had banned certain people from entering the public land on which the ski area festers.
Police presence has been ridiculously high for a couple of non violent treesitters and their supporters. Folks gather daily at the end of the dirt hiking road, on the paved road to drum , and chat via walkie talkie with the folks in the trees. Surveilence and profiling are at their all time high.

The Crowley family, the WMA workers and police have shown no regaurd for human life. They hang out below the trees daily to mock and laugh at folks in the trees and have even organized hay rides from the ski lodge to the cutting area.

For now the two remain in their perches, though they are being denied food and water.

A protest is planned for Saturday, the 20th at noon, meet at the Vistors' Center. This will happen even if every tree has been slaughtered. Check out Western Mass Indymedia.org for a great story...We are still asking for folks willing to hold benefit shows and for other donations in the form of postal $ orders to MA EF! P.O Box 533 Lunenburg, MA 01462

****
Photos are available at: http://www.theprofits.org/Wachusett.html

More information on the tree-sit: http://boston.indymedia.org/front.php3?article_id=15826&group=

People who want to support the tree-sitters and Earth First’s struggle to save the old-growth buffer zone should email the group at: takeaction2001@hotmail or call 978-273-7928. Donations can be mailed to: Mass Earth First!, PO Box 533, Lunenburg, MA 01462. Media interested in talking to the protesters can call the number above or Kim Foster at 617-230-1910.
See also:
http://www.theprofits.org/Wachusett.html
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Comments

Awesome article (english)
16 Sep 2003
I realise the skiiers and the loggers are happy to see this land stolen from the citizens of Massachusetts. I didn't realise how irresponsible skiiers were, though, to be glad that the watershed for local towns would be endangered just so a snowboard trail could be put in!

You know, folks, you can expect rich, aggressive people who value money above everything to feel it's their right to vandalise public property so they can make more money. That's just the kind of people they are! Gotta figure on it.

But skiiers? I always thought skiiers were outdoor types who weren't irresponsible -- just liked to have fun. Now I wonder. I see on one site where one skiier is saying "thats it -- don't count me in on this theft of public property". Only one. Does that mean I can change my attitudes about skiiers? Are you folks out there really that shallow and self-indulgent?

I want to hear it straight from the folks who are implicated in this shady deal. After all, who knows what strings were pulled to get the DEM to reclassify that area as not being watershed? Even before the old growth section of forest was discovered, the DEM had agreed to clearcutting that whole side of the mountain -- which is indisputably watershed for the local towns -- for these commercial interests. How did they do that? Doesn't that sound shady to you? It sure does to me and to a majority of the local people who are looking at problems with their water supply for a long time in the future.