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Update: Tree-Sitting Pipeline Protesters Being Removed

Kurt Holtz

Law enforcement officers have apparently begun removing protesters from the Yellow Finch Lane site, according to the group Appalachians Against Pipelines.

The group posted video from one of the tree sitters that showed law enforcement working with chainsaws around the site.

A second video, later in the day, showed a large crane was being set up at the protest site.

Original Story:

In the mountains between Roanoke and Christiansburg, protestors are putting their bodies on the line to block completion of a long-delayed gas pipeline. They’re occupying a steep section of forest in the pipeline’s path, living on platforms high in the forest canopy for more than two years.

Protestors and authorities know a showdown is coming but they don’t know when or how.

All through the winter, and the one before that, they stood their ground; an array of protesting tree sitters, rotating in and out, learned how to live, camped on platforms, cradled by trees and covered by tarps on a mountaintop.

But now it’s springtime in the Blue Ridge. 

Construction season.  

And pressure is on for the company to get this 3-hundred 3-mile, 42-inch pipeline project finished.

“We just had a rally nearby for the 900 days of these tree sits being here.”

That’s Acre, one of the tree sitters, it’s a “forest” name.

He’s talking with me on his cell phone from his perch in the high above us.

“The weather's been nice. There's been some updates about extraction stuff possibly happening soon.”

Forest names have long been part of environmental protests.

Acre says they’re vital, because “When you use your real name you put your friends at risk of perjury. If the stream cleaner sunrise folks who come hang out with us were to be arrested for some reason and the cops pressed them for info about the tree sitters, they would be between a rock and a hard place if it weren't for the fact, we conceal our identities.

This is part of what's called OPSEC or operational security. When you use fake names it's a constant reminder to help protect your friends by being careful about what you share.”

On this day, it’s quiet out here in this rugged, wooded terrain, but that’s about to change.

Acre says there’ve been rumblings, equipment staging, and the revving of chain saws around the encampment.

But there are still hurdles to cross for The Mountain Valley Natural Gas Pipeline. It’s 3 years behind schedule and a couple billion dollars over budget. Everyone involved in this action, from authorities, to supporters, and sitters, know; extracting tree sitting protesters in this steep terrain won’t be easy. And right now, the company still lacks authorizations for the 42-inch diameter pipeline to cross hundreds of streams and wetlands in this rural, mountainous part of Virginia.

And that’s not all that’s in the way.

“We’re in THE WAY!” 

That’s ‘Acre,’ calling down to us from way up in the forest canopy. 

We climb part of that steep mountain but our microphone, strapped to a 10-foot pole doesn’t even get us close.

“It’s really funny to just be sitting up here and I'd watch them march underneath us with their chainsaws and not be able to cut these trees.”

That’s ‘Robin,’ her forest name, a fellow protestor in a nearby tree.  “Just like, kind of stare up at us in bewilderment, like ‘how did they get up there and how do we get them down?’ I’m not coming down until they make me. So however long that is, that’s how long I'll be up here."

She says she chooses “to remain anonymous because I could be anyone, your co-worker, neighbor, sibling, or even you! I am no one special, I'm just someone standing up for what they believe in.”

“98% of the scientists in the world, agree with the tree sitters., 98% say global warming is real.”

Alan Graf is a civil rights lawyer who started the legal observer program in Oregon during a tree sitter protest there. When he moved to Virginia several years ago, he started a chapter here.

“We agree that the climate and the earth is in danger. We agree that these young people specifically are trying to protect their own future. And we agree that they have exhausted all of their means to try to prevent this monstrosity from happening.” 

At one point there were TWO natural gas pipelines planned for Virginia, but Dominion Energy scrapped its project last year.

And that makes the MVP even more necessary than ever, say company officials, -- and that colder than normal temperatures in Virginia this winter underline “the “importance of completing the pipeline project as soon as possible.”

Spokesperson, Natalie Cox, has said in a statement, that MVP retains strong support from shippers, and that,“unnecessary project delays are affecting consumers.”

Those delays now amount to more than 9-hundred - days and counting.


Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.