Tree-Sitting Protesters Arrested; Activists Mourn Fallen Foliage

In South Florida, defending green space from a developer's bulldozer is akin to protesting oil rigs in Texas. Yesterday, the activists attempting to block the construction of a new Scripps Research Institute biotech center in Palm Beach Gardens got a glimpse of how quixotic their quest may be.

Two protesters camped out in trees on the development site near Donald Ross Road and Parkside Drive were briefly arrested for trespassing. Brandon Block, 25, and Courtney Claar, 23, were jailed for only about three hours before being released on their own recognizance. But their colleagues in the Everglades Earth First! group found the whole episode dispiriting. They had just completed a month of successful tree-sitting in the Briger Forest, roughly 680 acres of vacant land where the biotech center is planned.

To add salt to the wound, someone -- the protesters are not sure who -- cut down a handful of trees in the forest, including the tall, 80-year-old beauties where the activists had been camping out. "We

were really attached to the trees that they cut down," says Ana Rodriguez, of Earth First!

Over the past month, several activists took turns eating and sleeping, Lorax-style, in the treetops 30 feet above the ground. The protesters object to the biotech center and to its destruction of a rare green haven for species such as the gopher tortoise and hand fern.

The City of Palm Beach Gardens has already approved the Scripps project, which is slated to include offices and houses as well as the biotech center.

Yet Rodriguez says yesterday's arrests won't deter the activists. "We're gonna figure something out. We're not gonna let them break our spirits," she says.

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