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Willits tree-sitter on hunger strike

  • Amanda Senseman, nicknamed Warbler, is staging a tree-sitting protest of the Highway 101 Willits bypass project, south of Willits. ((Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat))

A Willits woman who has been camped out in a pine tree protesting the Highway 101 bypass began a hunger strike Thursday.

Amanda Senseman, 24, took up residence in the tree Jan. 28, hoping to stop construction and inspire Caltrans to seek alternatives to the project. Construction on the $210 million bypass began Feb. 25, but suffered delays due to the discovery of a bird's nest and interference from protesters.

Senseman released three demands at a news conference Thursday morning, saying she will go on a hunger strike until they are met. The CHP began blocking deliveries of food and water to the tree-sitters March 23.

Senseman's demands included an immediate end to bypass construction until pending legal action is resolved, public and media access to the construction zone and the adoption of an alternative to the bypass.

"Her actions do not change the fact that the safety for everyone in the Willits bypass construction area is our number one priority," said Phil Frisbie, a Mendocino County Caltrans official. "We will continue to work with CHP, and if anyone's safety is at risk we will ask CHP to take action as needed."

The announcement follows a tense week between protesters and CHP, with 11 protesters arrested for trespassing while trying to interfere with construction.

Two protesters were arrested twice, with one woman who was arrested on Saturday booked into Mendocino County Jail and held for four days on a felony charge. Tara Dragani was charged with trespassing, resisting arrest and felony assault on a peace officer, said CHP Capt. Jim Epperson.

Epperson said the felony charged stemmed from Dragani's biting an officer during an altercation.

Dragani was released Tuesday and all charges were dropped, said Naomi Wagner, an Earth First representative and one of four who were arrested during Tuesday's protests.

On Tuesday, Wagner, Ellen Faulkner, Matthew Callaghan and Larry Day walked in front of oak trees about to be felled and held up crime scene tape. All were arrested for trespassing.

After giving the press conference, Senseman lowered all of her remaining stock of food down to her supporters, said Will Parrish, a Save Our Little Lake Valley organizer who is joining Senseman's hunger strike.

Epperson said the CHP would continue to monitor the situation. He said the CHP is concerned about the tree-sitter's health and will act as needed.

"It's our job to make sure that work keeps going forward, but also maintain the safety of everybody involved," Epperson said. "It's a hard situation they've put themselves in."

Senseman could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

You can reach Staff Writer Melody Karpinski at 521-5205 or melody.karpinski@pressdemocrat.com.

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