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Sunday, November 24, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Climb A Bridge, Save A Tree -- Harrelson, 8 Others Arrested In Redwood Protest

AP

SAN FRANCISCO - Nine demonstrators, including actor Woody Harrelson, were arrested yesterday after they scaled the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge to demand that the government protect a 60,000-acre redwood forest.

Hanging from rock-climbing gear, the protesters stretched out banners high above the roadway while bridge officials and California Highway Patrol officers waited for them below.

Harrelson and the others dangled 200 feet above an all-day traffic jam that formed as motorists slowed to stare.

They were booked on charges of trespassing, failure to obey a peace officer and public nuisance, the highway patrol said. They were processed at a jail, and officials expected them to be released last night.

Their largest banner, measuring 70 feet by 35 feet, was a personal message to Texas businessman Charles Hurwitz, whose Pacific Lumber Co. owns the Headwaters Forest Complex in northern California's Humboldt County.

"I shamelessly and proudly call myself a tree-hugger," Harrelson said via cellular phone as he dangled above the snarled bridge traffic.

Although Harrelson said it was not his intent to cause the all-day traffic jam in both directions, he said he did want motorists, bike riders and hikers to take the messages on the nine protesters' banners home with them.

Currently, the government, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is negotiating to buy 7,500 acres of the forest for $380 million. But the environmentalists, from Earth First! and other groups, say that's far from enough trees.

"When a tree gets to be 1,000 years old, when a tree gets to be 2,000 years old, like these ancient redwoods are . . . wouldn't you stop and think that maybe they're more sacred than money . . .?" asked Harrelson, who wore an "I love trees" banner.

The protesters said they wanted to get the attention of Feinstein, President Clinton, Gov. Pete Wilson and others.

"Most people think the Headwaters Forest has already been saved. But they need to understand the truth of the deal," said protester Celia Alario, who scaled the bridge's north tower along with Harrelson.

Josh Brown, a spokesman for Earth First!, said scaling the bridge was a continuation of protests at the Pacific Lumber mill in Carlotta, Calif., where more than 1,000 people have been arrested. In one protest, singers Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley were arrested.

When asked if she and the other protesters were prepared to be arrested, Alario, said, "Sometimes we have to put our lives on the line literally to protect the planet."

Harrelson, who received mountain-climbing training before making the climb, said he was camping near the Headwaters Forest when his fellow protesters came up with the attention-getting ploy.

"Someone jokingly said, `Hey, why not climb the Golden Gate bridge?' " he said. "And here we are.

Harrelson, who now makes his home in Costa Rica, first came to prominence as the dimwitted bartender in the popular television show "Cheers." He has appeared in such movies as "White Men Can't Jump" and "Natural-Born Killers."

The protest drew angry calls, honking horns and some sympathy from drivers and mountain bikers.

"I appreciate their right to express an opinion, but not at the expense of so many people," said Heidi Skupiem, who was prevented from riding north from San Francisco to Marin County.

However, her friend Bill Goldsberry, also from San Francisco, said, "It's frustrating, but I support them. I don't think (the Headwaters issue) is to be taken lightly."

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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