Bearly legal

Tree strikes: When word got to us that an environmental activist named Bear had been forcibly removed and arrested for climbing a tree in Capitol Park last Thursday, Bites naturally suspected this was the same Bear featured in R.V. Scheide’s cover story last year (“Life and limb”; SN&R Cover; March 6, 2003). After all, the tree-sitting movement may be burgeoning in California, but how likely was it that it would include two different, um, Bear—or is it Bears?

“I think the plural of Bear is Bear,” confirmed Earth First! activist and organizer Shunka Wakan. “But [this Bear] was definitely around at the time [of the SN&R story]. And, as far as I know, yeah, he is the only Bear. Except for back in 1998 around the Gypsy Mountain Free State. That’s right, there was another Bear. But he hasn’t been around for a while.”

Bear came to our fair city to demonstrate support for the pending Senate Bill 754, the Heritage Tree Preservation Act, which would save any and all trees that were here in 1850 or before. “It would effectively save the remainder of the unprotected old-growth trees in California of all species,” said Wakan, noting that the state has redwoods that are a few thousand years old. “This country regularly protects buildings that are way younger than that as historical monuments, so the whole idea of this bill is that this is part of our heritage as a country.”

It may be a while before Bear returns to his normal perch in the treetops of Humboldt County (where, interestingly enough, District Attorney Paul Gallegos is fighting against a recall campaign almost completely financed by Pacific Lumber, a company he happens to be suing). “They’re both in jail with $5,000 bail,” Wakan said of Bear and his ground-support person, who goes by the name of Sunset. Both were arrested around two hours into their tree-sit. In addition to charges of conspiracy, resisting arrest and trespassing, Wakan said they also were “charged with demonstrating without a permit, so apparently you need a permit to exercise your First Amendment rights to free speech on the Capitol lawn.”

Scream team: Like many Americans, Sharmon Rice’s first encounter with Howard Dean was a campaign-speech clip. But it wasn’t the scream that was aired hundreds of times a day on news, talk and late-night-comedy shows. Rather, it was last year’s appearance at the California Democratic Convention, where Dean electrified attendees with his fervent opposition to the then-looming war on Iraq. “That night, from my TV, I heard someone saying, ‘Shame on you and you and you.’ And I stopped and said, ‘Who is that?’” Rice said.

A year later, Rice serves as media coordinator in Sacramento for Dean, which claims some 3,200 volunteers. A broadcast producer, she is well aware of the effect that the media can have on a campaign: “I do radio and TV commercials, so I understand how the whole thing works,” she said when our conversation turned to the scream heard around the world. “And most people are really afraid to be outside of the norm of what looks right on TV.”

Rice believes voters also are unduly influenced by polls, and she argues that Dean’s losses occurred because supporters “looked at the polls and basically became brokenhearted. A lot of people have been working so hard for almost a year. They were so crestfallen, they didn’t come out to vote.”

Still, California remains fertile ground for Dean, assuming he makes it this far. A CNN scorecard even lists him as having 15 California delegates (with John Kerry placing second, with four) three weeks before the primary. But, though California moved its primary up to March 2 in order to have more influence over the presidential horserace, the media has speculated that if Dean doesn’t win Wisconsin, he’ll drop out before he even gets here. “Things keep changing from day to day,” said Rice. “I think it would be very unusual if he pulled out before California. There’s certainly a huge ground force in California ready to go.”