(Video) Willits Tree Sitters Removed and Arrested in Highway 101 Bypass Protest
Warbler has come to earth.
Police arrested the 24-year-old tree sitter, whose real name is Amanda Senseman, on Tuesday morning, bringing an end to her two-month act of civil disobedience aimed at stopping a Highway 101 bypass construction near Willits.
A supporter said police arrested two other tree sitters as well, reportedly after firing a projectile at one who refused to let go of his tree.
More protesters reportedly remained in other trees on the site at noon, with multiple California Highway Patrol officers in the area.
This video posted by Emerald Triangle News appears to show a demonstrator shot with a rubber bullet.
The law enforcement operation included cutting down the ponderosa pine where Warbler had been living.
The officers also arrested two people, Sara Grusky, 56, and William Parrish, 31, on the ground, said officer Steve Krul.
Supporters of the protesters said the CHP used cherry pickers to remove Warbler, and began approaching other tree sitters. “It’s a really tense situation here,” Kelly Larson, a local electrician told KQED’s Polly Stryker. “I’m really worried for everyone’s safety.”
Two protesters strung lines between trees and suspended themselves in the middle of the lines, where CHP officers in cranes were pointing guns at them, said Larson, who was on site to join the protest. “It’s really crazy.”
Later officers began cutting the line, forcing the protesters to retreat to a tree where the officers caught them, said Larson. Krul, who said he would not comment on tactics used to remove the protesters, could not be reached later in the day.
Other protesters are screened off from the construction site by fences, with about 50 officers “in full riot gear” on guard, Larson said.
Krul said the CHP gave the tree sitters multiple warnings before deciding to remove them. Warbler, a farmer, demanded that the work halt while Caltrans negotiated an alternative to the bypass. On Thursday she began a hunger strike.
The pine where Warbler lived was located on the southern outskirts of Willits in Mendocino County and overlooks Highway 101. She, along with the group Save Our Little Lake Valley, are trying to block the construction of a four-lane, six-mile, $290 million highway bypass around town.
Caltrans has planned the bypass since 1988 and says it’s necessary to allow through traffic to avoid the bottleneck of downtown Willits, where U.S. 101 narrows to two lanes.
Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said the trees were in the path of the planned bypass and had to be removed for the project to go forward.
Currently traffic slows while passing through Willits, resulting in daily delays of 15 to 20 minutes that can stretch to two hours at busy times, said Frisbie.
Larson said that the opponents had suggested multiple alternatives to the project which will disrupt farms, ranches and wetlands. “There’s a huge amount of environmental destruction that’s going on,” she said.
Frisbie responded that the agency had exhausted the other possibilities.
“We investigated and eliminated over 30 potential alternatives for this project,” he said. “If there was a better, less expensive alternative as these people propose, then we would have gone with that.”
In addition to speeding traffic, the project will reduce air pollution from diesel trucks which emit more particulates in stop-and-go traffic, Frisbie said.
Since February the CHP has made 16 arrests in the project, said Krul, sometimes arresting the same protester more than once.
Officers charged most, including Warbler, with trespassing, a misdemeanor. Often people arrested on that charge are released the same days as their arrest, he said.
But he was not sure what happened to Warbler after officers took her to the Mendocino County jail.