Activists known as eagle protectors rallied together on Sunday, Jan. 8 in defense of a bald eagle’s nest on Northern Pomo Land in Potter Valley, California. PG&E had planned to cut down the tree that the nest is in, citing public safety as the tree sits too close to a power line.
This is PG&E’s second attempt to cut down this tree. Last year they were stopped by a group of activists led by eagle protector Monkey Gonzalez, who were able to defend the tree until it became legally protected due to nesting season beginning on Jan. 15.
The group defending the nest this year included protestors from Idle No More SF Bay, Mattole Forest Defense, and members representing the Pomo Tribe.
To Indigenous people, eagles and their feathers are one of the most sacred aspects of their culture.
Isabella Zizi of Idle No More SF Bay and of the Northern Cheyanne, Arikara, (Uh-rich-ka-rah) and Muskogee Creek tribes says this connection motivated her to protect the nest.
“For me, eagles represent power, protection,” Zizi said. “What I learned growing up was that the reason we use eagle feathers during ceremony, it’s to connect us to the creator and our ancestors that are up above and not on this earth. The eagle feather takes our prayer higher.”
Polly Girvin, an elder of the Pomo people and retired federal Indian Law lawyer, was protecting the nest to fulfill what they feel is an obligation to the eagles, as an Indigenous person. They said they want to set an example for Indigenous youth.
“I’m here for the eagles, but I’m also here for the preservation of, and enhancement of Indian culture. To me, they are connected,” Girvin said. “Our connection to the sacred animals, our connection to the trees, it’s all part of a familial connection.”
PG&E’s stance differs from that of the Protectors. “The dying tree, that contains an inactive bald eagle’s nest, is a hazard and is at risk of failing and
striking a PG&E line in a high fire-threat area,” said PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian in an email. “PG&E will not take chances with public safety.”
Protesters disagree with PG&E’s claim that the nest is inactive, as bald eagles were spotted coming to and from the nest as early as Jan. 4 and as recently as Jan. 16 of this year. Zizi reported seeing the eagles and captured images of them.
Zizi said that the protesters’ goal was again to protect the tree until January 15, when it will have legal protection. PG&E returned to the tree Wednesday Jan. 11, with law enforcement. One PG&E employee was filmed pushing past protesters and threatening legal action against them.
Zizi described the rough conditions that activists experienced at the site, including heavy rains, winds, mud, and lack of food and water. “First day all we had was some bread, some slices of cheese,” she said. “We created a carpet using fallen twigs.”
Despite these conditions, the protectors remained in high spirits due to their connection to the eagles, particularly for the Indigenous protesters there. The eagle protectors eventually received support with food, water, and firewood on the second day of the protest.
Currently, the protectors remain at the site of the nest. Despite the nesting season protections, PG&E remains a threat to the nest and its potential inhabitants. Until the tree is under legal protection, the activists are prepared to continue defending it.
“We will blockade the incoming PG&E trucks. I’m sure some people will even put their bodies at the base of the tree. Everyone’s spirit grabs them in a different way. But we are here to do nonviolent direct action resistance to prevent the cutting of this tree,” said Girvin.“We will endure the elements, we are here for the long haul, we will be here for the next 6 days, and these birds will not be extracted and these trees will not be cut down under our watch.”
Girvin and Gonzalez have spoken to lawyers and Congressman Jared Huffman’s office to file lawsuits against PG&E and to raise more support for the eagle’s nest.
“I don’t expect PG&E to have any reverence for these birds,” Girvin said. “I can’t change PG&E management to have reverence. But we do, and they are going to have to look us in the face.”