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Name: Roy van de Hoek
What He Does: Goes out on a limb
Claim To Fame: Prairie watchdog

The Carrizo Plain, a vast, desolate prairie in central California, is home to a host of endangered species, including the giant kangaroo rat and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard. But for other forms of life, the 250,000 acres of public land can be an unforgiving place. Just ask Roy van de Hoek.

On the evening of December 8, 1996, van de Hoek lay handcuffed and facedown in the dirt after being arrested by a Bureau of Land Management ranger on 12 misdemeanor charges, including vandalism and trespassing. For the previous 14 months someone had been sneaking around the plain at night, pruning and chopping down trees and tearing down fences. The BLM, which oversees most of the Carrizo, thought it had its man.

Van de Hoek was no ordinary suspect. He worked for the BLM from 1988 to 1993 as a Carrizo wildlife biologist and was outspoken against BLM policies that allow tree planting and fence building. Such measures, says van de Hoek (and other biologists familiar with the area), disrupt the delicate ecology of the plain and threaten native species that thrive in treeless conditions. “If you’ve made this a natural area,” he explains, “then you have to live up to what that means.”

But is van de Hoek, who now works as a naturalist on Catalina Island, the limb reaper of the Carrizo Plain? The BLM has prepared a 100-plus-page case file against him that includes a crime lab’s analysis of his wire cutters and a special agent’s photographs of his tire tracks. “It just doesn’t seem fair that one person should try to take the law into their own hands and impose their own beliefs on everyone else,” says BLM supervisor Steve Larson, van de Hoek’s former boss.

Van de Hoek says only that he is motivated by a love for the land, not a hatred of trees. “What I dream about is that 500 people all show up on the Carrizo with wire cutters and we all cut fences.”

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