Tree spiking is a type of ecotage which is intended to prevent loggers from taking trees. In the United States, it is a federal felony, as of 1988. While spiking is still practiced, it is highly controversial among many environmental activists, with some organizations even split in opinion from within. Many opponents of tree spiking argue that the practice is extremely dangerous and potentially highly alienating, while supporters argue that it makes logging much more difficult, thereby forming an effective method of protest.
When a tree is spiked, someone hammers a piece of hard material such as metal or ceramic into the tree. The tree is not damaged by this activity, as plenty of hard objects lodge in trees naturally, and trees are able to adapt their growth patterns to scar over the affected area. However, when a logger attempts to cut a tree down, the tree spike will catch on the saw blade, causing it to break or shatter. Even if a spiked tree is successfully felled, it can still wreak havoc at a mill, as a spiked tree did in 1987 when it caused a sawblade to shatter, almost killing a mill worker.
Some tree spikers say that it should be done as ethically as possible. Ideally, the spike should be located well above saw height, so that loggers are not in danger. The spikes should be made of brass or another non-iron metal, so that the tree itself won't be too damaged. Spiked trees should also be clearly marked, and lumber companies should be notified when trees on a timber harvest plan have been spiked. When done in an ethical fashion, tree spiking is intended to ensure that logging is not profitable, thus leading timber companies to leave stands of trees alone.
More radical activists, however, do not practice tree spiking ethically. They argue that the environment is worth more than the potential loss of a human life. The practice certainly has a long history; incidents of spiking date back to the late 1800s, although it was not popularized until the 1980s. Dave Forman, co-founder of Earth First!, popularized the practice in a book called Ecodefense, arguing that it should be part of the arsenal of committed environmental activists.
As tree spiking became more widespread in the late 1980s, especially in Northern California and Southern Oregon, some activists became concerned about the practice. Several documented injuries indicated that tree spiking had the potential to be deadly, and many environmentalists were concerned that spiking was giving their movement a bad name. As a result, many groups condemned the practice, arguing that there were safe and more effective ways to put a stop to logging. Within Earth First!, members were split on the issue, and continue to be to this day.