Barking up the wrong tree: Protester cuffed after attempting to halt East Side seawall project by climbing tree

The NYPD told a tree climbing protester at the site of an East Side seawall construction project Monday to make like a tree and “leave.”

Work on the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (ESCR) was abruptly disrupted Monday when a disgruntled local climbed a tree to prevent it from being uprooted.

Calling themselves tree defenders, several park goers cheered for a young woman on April 25 who scaled mesh fencing surrounding a construction area in the East River Park before climbing onto the base of a tree near Corlears Hook Park between Cherry and Grand Streets.

Chainsaw-wielding workmen slumped on a nearby wood pile while several NYPD officers and a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer attempted to talk the protester down. With the woman refusing to be unseated from her woody perch, the workmen were instructed to turn their attention to several other trees in the area. 

As time wore on, more anti-ESCR activists arrived to encourage the woman who had placed her body in the way of the spinning saw. Shaking the fence and chanting, the group demanded the trees be left unscathed.

The protester refused to step down, forcing workers to look on.Photo by Dean Moses

The trees are being removed in order to install a floodwall that is intended to protect the Lower East Side from extensive damage from storms like that akin to superstorm Sandy. While some say they welcome the work which the DDC promised will include new park amenities, others have decried the removal of trees, dubbing it ecocide.

One distraught tree defender watching from afar unleashed a scream as a tree was run through with a chainsaw, sending it toppling to the earth. The women began weeping, as two others embraced her in comfort.

Supporters shook the fence as they watched the act of defiance. Photo by Dean Moses
Three women embraced after a tree was cut down. Photo by Dean Moses

Tree limbs were dragged to a woodchipper all the while the protester remained in her perch under the watchful eye of the NYPD.

“Your heart sinks every time you see it,” George H. said, watching both the tree removal and the protester’s standoff. “We’re here to bear witness, and we can’t leave these trees just to die on their own. You know, someone’s got to be here to support them.”

After several hours, the protester willingly stepped down from the bark after the workers had left. She was placed in cuffs and led away. However, according to those watching, they deemed it a victory since the tree was left standing.

After several hours the protester was cuffed and arrested. Photo by Dean Moses