Interview With a Tree-Sitter, Protesting Scripps Biotech Center

Rachel Kijewski has spent the last four days camped out 30 feet above ground, in the branches of a cluster of pine trees off I-95 in Palm Beach Gardens.

She and other members of the environmental group Everglades Earth First are protesting a plan to build a Scripps Research Institute biotech center, offices, and houses on 680 acres of vacant land. The group says it wants to preserve one of the last large tracts of forest in the area, and protect threatened species such as wild pine, royal fern, and ground lichens.

The Palm Beach Gardens City Commission approved the Scripps plan last spring, but Kijewski,25, and other activists are willing to go to great lengths to stop the bulldozers. They derailed a similar Scripps proposal in western Palm Beach County five years ago, and Scripps eventually opened a center in Jupiter instead. The Gardens project would be the second phase of the center's development.

Kijewski and fellow protester Russel McSpadden have been camped out in the trees since Monday. The Juice asked Kijewksi how she's faring.

What's it been like up there?
It's absolutely beautiful gazing into the forest.

Have you slept? Eaten?
Sleeping, eating, pooping -- you name it, we're doing it in the trees. We have hammocks for sleeping, we have a good food supply [fruits, dried goods, canned goods]. We have sort of a tree-sitters port-a-potty in regards to the important daily needs.

Have you gotten any positive response from cars or people passing by?
A good amount of honks, even at night.

Why did you volunteer for this?
I'm absolutely in love with slash pines and this particular type of forest.I enjoy climbing trees. This is one of the most direct ways I can put my skills to use.

How long will you be up there?
Not sure exactly. I'd like to stay up here until we get this forest actually saved. That's my goal, but we'll see what happens.

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