Photo by NPR

In east Texas, there is an awe-inspiring network of treehouses perched eight stories above the ground. It’s not an eco-resort or some dreamer’s getaway – the treetop settlement was built by David Daniel to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is slated to rip through his property. Daniel was concerned over losing the forest he loved, the repercussions a pipe leak would have on his land, and the overall environmental impact of tapping dirty tar sands in Canada. With no money to fight the oil giant TransCanada, he did what was within his means. A former circus performer and rigger, Daniel had experience setting up a high wire – that he would ride across on a motorcycle while lit on fire. The carpenter and daredevil constructed seven houses high in the branches of his old oaks.

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Despite his months of effort, a local judge placed a temporary restraining order on Daniel after he tried to block TransCanada’s construction crews. The company spied the airborne fortresses from patrol flights and slapped Daniel with a $50,000 lawsuit. With little energy left, Daniel decided to settle with TransCanada for an undisclosed amount. While Daniel was never able to protest in his trees, other activists were ready to take up the fight. For 80 days, several dozen concerned citizens took turns living in his treehouses, some wearing masks to hide their identities. Called “eco-terrorists” by TransCanada, they were watched by guards on constant rotation and harassed by construction crews threatening to knock them to the ground below with heavy machinery. In the end, Daniel’s land was cleared and the pipe was moved 100 feet out of the way to avoid the houses.

Much publicity has been given to the controversial northern end of the Keystone Pipeline, but few realize that the southern stretch has been endorsed by President Obama. The pipeline is a potential “game over” for the world’s climate, and it presents a risk to water tables and ecosystems spanning from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. A number of demonstrations have taken place across the nation to highlight the dangers of tar sand extraction. Protesters are called heroes by fellow activists and trouble-makers by big oil, and tensions will continue to grow as long as the US continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels.


Photos by NPR and Wikimedia Commons user Magnus Manske