by Deborah Svoboda
After camping out in a ponderosa pine 71 feet above the ground for two months, "Warbler" has not achieved her goal of blocking a Highway 101 bypass around the Mendocino County town of Willits. Now she is trying a hunger strike.
On Thursday the 24-year-old, whose real name is Amanda Senseman, lowered her remaining bags of food to a waiting police officer who searched the bags and then gave them to protesters at the site.
Warbler said she will drink broth for the next two days and then move on to a water-only diet.
In the meantime, she has gained company in the nearby foliage. Two other protesters climbed up into separate trees last week in eastern Willits, and third climbed a tree across the highway from Warbler's late Wednesday night.
On the ground, four protesters were arrested on Tuesday for trespassing and blocking work by sitting on a loader, according to Capt. Jim Epperson of the California Highway Patrol in Ukiah.
This video shows a CHP helicopter circling the tree where Warbler is camped.
Last week 40 to 50 CHP officers took over the area where Warbler has been living. Warbler said they cut her off from activists and supporters, while a local contractor began to remove nearby ground cover and oak trees and started building fences.
Following the arrests of eight people last week, a CHP helicopter circled Warbler's tree at the level of her platform. She believed they were taking photos to prepare to force her to come down. "They were so close, I could have thrown a stone at them," Warbler said.
"I'm just angry and exhausted from the emotion of it all,” she added.
She still has no intention of coming down and said she believes that the CHP is “aiding and abetting Caltrans in a crime.”
She listed three demands:
- Cease all construction on Caltrans' current Willits Bypass immediately, pending legal resolution.
- Allow the public and press to enter the destroyed and disturbed areas to document said destruction and violations of law, nature and common sense.
- Adopt the least harmful alternatives and appropriately scaled transportation solutions for Willits and the Little Lake Valley.
Epperson said only Caltrans could make such concessions. In the meantime, the police aren't trying to force Warbler out of her tree. "There's a lot of things we could do, but our plan right now is to keep up negotiations with her," he said.
Caltrans spokesman Phil Frisbie said the demands have "all been addressed many times."
He referred readers to Caltrans' blog about the project. “We are continuing to press on because of the cost to taxpayers and we believe that we have a project that has been developed lawfully,” he said.
The tree sitters can descend anytime without fear of prosecution, Frisbie said.
The pine that Warbler lives in is located on the southern outskirts of Willits in Mendocino County and overlooks Highway 101. She, along with the group SOLLV, are trying to block the construction of a four-lane, six-mile, $290 million highway bypass around town.
Caltrans has planned the bypass for decades and says it's necessary to allow through traffic to avoid the bottleneck of downtown Willits, where U.S. 101 narrows to two lanes.
Warbler took to the ponderosa pine to protest potential environmental damage to the area, including tree removal and disruptions to migratory birds. Wetlands will need to be filled in order to build the bypass, which could have an impact on spawning streams for endangered coho salmon and steelhead.
Caltrans claims that mitigation work funded by the project will more than compensate for any environmental damage.