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July 15, 2008

Activists Stand Up to Power Company, Save Trees

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Barbara Wilson of Jacksonville, Alabama (above right) had never been an activist before. But when a representative of the Alabama Power Company appeared at her front door last year and told her the company going to chop down the three 75-year-old pecan trees in her front yard, she decided not to take it lying down.

The power company had recently changed its longstanding policy of trimming trees underneath power lines to one of cutting them down. Wilson told the company she'd do everything in her power to stop them, and she put up signs in her yard and started a petition to save the trees.

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Fellow Jacksonville resident and longtime Sierra Club activist Rufus Kinney (with Wilson, top photo) saw Wilson's signs and stopped to talk with her. And on the morning Alabama Power arrived to chop down the trees, they found Wilson and Kinney in folding chairs, chained to the trees, a crowd on hand, and Wilson's grandson Jake up in one of the trees, telling the power company to "leave my Nana's trees alone!"

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Wilson, chained to one of her trees, talks with a reporter.

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Kinney, chained to one of Wilson's trees, with neighbors Susan and Andy Hug.

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Jake Wilson in the tree where he sat all day to save it from being cut down.

The power company set another date for removal, and this time not only were the two again chained to the trees, an even larger crowd and media were on hand. The company then sued Wilson and Kinney, who retained the pro bono services of Birmingham attorney Mark Martin (below at left, with Wilson, Kinney, and key supporter Derek Raulerson), who had successfully represented the Sierra Club before. Among other findings, Martin revealed that similarly situated trees in wealthier locales were being trimmed, not cut down.

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In March 2008, a county circuit judge ruled that Alabama Power's new policy was illegal and there was no significant evidence it would increase safety. The company announced it would appeal the decision, but on June 18 it officially dropped its case against Wilson and Kinney.

"We received so much support from total strangers who appreciated us standing up for something we believed in," says Wilson.

"This is a wonderful victory for the trees, for democracy, and for the earth," Kinney says. "What's so gratifying is that people put traditional politics aside and came together for a common cause." Read more here.

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