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New protester takes to tree in Willits

Despite the abrupt removal and arrest of five tree-sitters within the Willits bypass construction zone Thursday, a new protester took up residence in an oak tree Saturday night.

The unidentified woman, who is going by the name "Owl," is situated within a grove near the pine that housed tree-sitter Amanda Senseman beginning in late January, said Naomi Wagner, an Earth First organizer.

Mendocino County Caltrans official Phil Frisbie said Caltrans was not aware of a new tree-sitter Monday. Frisbie said the area where the tree-sitter is said to be located is not in the path of current construction.

"We're pretty much done with tree and brush removal on that end of the zone," he said. "It doesn't look like (they) are within any area we're working at currently."

The oak occupation follows nearly nine weeks of protests over the $210 million bypass.

Construction for the bypass began Feb. 25, but has encountered numerous delays due to protests and the discovery of bird nests along the route.

Activists contend that, though Caltrans has obtained permits for the work, the project is in violation of the federal Migratory Bird Act. Wagner said Monday she expects protests to widen.

Seventeen people have been arrested during the protests over the bypass, with one remaining in Mendocino County Jail facing three counts of assault and battery.

Senseman, a 24-year-old Willits goat farmer who first climbed a tree to protest on Jan. 28, spoke at a rally Saturday afternoon celebrating anti-bypass efforts. The Willits Environmental Center awarded Senseman its annual Judy Bari Award for her environmental efforts.

Senseman, who said she was "excited" to learn of the new tree-sitter, is continuing a hunger strike she began March 28. Senseman began the hunger strike while in the tree, issuing a list of demands to Caltrans and sending copies of the letter to Sacramento legislators.

Members of the anti-bypass group Save Our Litte Lake Valley plan on scheduling trips to Sacramento in the coming weeks.

Staff Writer Melody Karpinski can be reached at 521-5205 or Melody.Karpinski@pressdemocrat.com

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