Joe Kinder Reflects on Aftermath of Controversial Tree-Cutting Incident

11/4/13 - In early October 2013, professional climber Joe Kinder cut down two juniper trees, one alive and one dead, in Tahoe, California, sparking a violent backlash toward the professional climber from the community. Following the incident, Kinder received death threats, hate messages, and antagonizing phone calls from complete strangers. Now, almost a month later, Kinder discusses the aftermath of the situation.

In July 2012, Tahoe locals took him to a new cliff in the Tahoe area where he climbed Tree Beard (5.12c), which Kinder describes as the one of the best 5.12c’s he had done in his life. Kinder realized the potential for developing new routes on the granite wall, and returned to get to work. While developing a new route, Kinder had to lower through a 10-foot-tall, 10-inch-thick tree, which stood by another dead tree at the base of the route. Kinder realized the safety threat the trees could pose to climbers. He left the crag torn, thinking of the trees but also about the granite he calls, “one of the best crags in the U.S., no doubt.”

He came back in the first week of October with friend Ethan Pringle and Pringle’s girlfriend. Kinder made the decision to cut the trees down to provide the safest route possible, having never been told that they were juniper trees, which are illegal to remove. Junipers are spread across Tahoe and are known for their ability to thrive on little water, their incredibly long life span (they live hundreds of years), and their rich history in Native American cultures.

When Kinder told local climber Chris Doyle about the new line he had developed, he anticipated Doyle would be excited about the route. When Doyle responded with anger about removing the trees, Kinder knew he had made a serious mistake. California climber Bernie LaForest posted a picture, taken by Doyle, of the destroyed tree in front of Kinder’s new route on Instagram, placing the blame on Kinder and Pringle and publicly issuing their telephone numbers. A few hours later, LaForest removed the picture.

“The juniper cut down by Joe Kinder with accomplice Ethan Pringle. I wonder what Muir would think of the progression of our sport. Let these guys know how you feel. Maybe it will make a difference in the future. This tree has been growing here before most of our families came to the continent,” LaForest said in his Instagram post.

Photo from Adventure Journal.

Kinder later clarified that he took the trees away from the route to bury them, out of respect for the area, and LaForest uncovered the tree and dragged it up the mountain for the picture.

Immediately, the climbing public directed a heat wave of criticism and anger toward Kinder. Thought LaForest took the post down, someone had already taken a screenshot and uploaded it for the wide and vocal SuperTopo audience. In no time at all, the controversy went viral.

Climbing reached out to LaForest to understand his perspective of Kinder’s actions and the violent response following his post. “I’m really distraught at the brutality displayed toward Joe and in no way do I condone this sort of response,” LaForest said. “His actions were irresponsible, ignorant, and selfish, but not intentionally malicious. He is sincere in his apology, and has shown this sincerity and humility in conversation.”

LaForest commented on the importance of the issue to him, as a local climber, “The cutting of these two trees isn’t going to cripple the planet, but when do you, as an individual, take a stand? I feel that as a professional athlete, especially in sports that are so married to the outside world, it’s your obligation to not only push the progression of the sport but more importantly be a steward to the places that you do your business.”

Kinder made his first public statement on his blog on October 20, explaining the situation and deeply apologizing for his mistake. “I want to make no mistake that this was a regrettable error on my part. I am deeply apologetic about what I did. I was wrong. I F’d up. And I’m very sorry.”

Kinder also clarified that his friends (including Pringle) were not involved; he was the only one who removed the trees. While Kinder understands the consequences of his actions, Kinder has also reiterated that his intentions behind removing the trees were positive and for the safety of the climbing community. “The danger factor was a serious concern of mine,” Kinder told Climbing. “After realizing this cliff would be a crag of very high-grade routes, it was something that I assumed was the right thing to do. This tree was in a dangerous spot, as there was a hard part near the ground, and you would fall into it.”

Though the controversy has begun to settle in the headlines, Kinder is unsure of whether or not people have cooled down. Kinder is currently taking time away with his friends and family for reflection. “I am very upset. I have disappointed many people in the climbing community. This was a major incident in my life and will take a long time to heal from as well as grow from. My biggest goal now is to form this into something positive,” Kinder said.

As part of his reflection, Kinder wants to share the most important thing he’s learned in the aftermath. “It’s important to remember that we are visitors. Our tiny footsteps add up to have an effect. I am taking this time now to understand this more and hope that my actions can carry over into someone else’s understanding of this,” Kinder said.

In order to clear the air with climbing community, Kinder wants to acknowledge the public accusation of his denial of his actions when the story first came out; he describes this accusation as a misunderstanding. “The ‘denial’ topic was a funny one,” Kinder said. “After the photo was posted on Instagram, I was bombarded with calls, messages, and texts all from California numbers or No I.D… I was in ultra-defense mode as I was scared for my life and well-being. I played it off the same way I played off all the other calls. I was passive, polite, and vague.”

To begin compensating for his mistake, Kinder has made donations to the Access Fund, Sierra Nevada Alliance, and Leave No Trace. He has also confirmed that he will be doing community service work in the Tahoe region.

For now, Kinder will remain with friends and family, carefully figuring out how to best proceed with his status in the climbing community. He stresses the importance of remaining positive and acknowledges that “This will take time.”



Previous Comments

DON'T kill trees to climb?

cam - 07/05/2014 10:09:07

Doug has hit the nail on the head. Mistakes were made. California state laws were broken. Joe Kinder was lucky that he didn't "clean" a climb in a National Forrest where an Assistant Attorney General of the United States would file felony charges against him leading to either a Federal District Court trial and guilty verdict (nice pictures; even better multiple posts admitting commission of the wrongful act) or a plea bargain. Either outcome would bring Mr. Kinder a period of incarceration in a federal prison, a substantial fine, and a lifetime of dealing with the limits a felon faces. As for the fools who make threats over the Internet: Title 18 of the United States Code has several severe penalties for each such criminal threat and/or conspiracy. Don't think for a moment that nobody is ever prosecuted for making those threats. Google "Prison for man who posted threats on Facebook" for yourself - and stop making threats. Grow up! Everybody can learn something from this unfortunate series of events (well, almost everyone). I'm certain that Joe Kinder's "unauthorized lumberjack" days are over. I'm in South LA County planning my December visit to J-Tree; perhaps I should consider a late spring trip to Tahoe to check out that new climb (not that I can climb 5.12c with any consistency).

George - 11/13/2013 6:34:56

Sounds like Joe has expressed his sorrow. It is up to climbers and community to forgive him. We all make mistakes and America is all about second chances if a fellow fesses up straight...and learns. I am sure Joe will not make this mistake again and at least the flare up will be read by others who will also learn. I look forward to reading Joe's name in the future and associated with a conservation project.

brad mcleod - 11/13/2013 4:39:15

@getoveryourself weight-lifting meathead good for nothing tiny ballsack babyback bich.

climbingrulestheworld - 11/12/2013 11:06:40

limestoner - 11/12/2013 7:21:21

Climbers are a bunch of pussies. Period.

getoveryourself - 11/10/2013 2:58:40

stink for the tree. i guess it comes down to this, at least for me: if you dont know what it is, you shouldn't mess with it. sounds like he is taking the time to reflect on an ill he did in the world, for whatever reason. i've done a little gardening, usually bits of scrubby stuff growing in cracks. but when it comes to trees? did you never find a thankgod tree root to grab? did you never find a patient tree waiting at the top to put a sling around? and did it not occur to kinder that having a tree to fall into might make the grade a little spicier? shoulda left it :-)

marten ten broek - 11/10/2013 1:48:07

I wonder how public land managers are looking at this issue and the responses? With all the concern over upcoming climbing policies on public lands we need to present the climbing community in the best light. However you spin it, access IMHO, occupies the higher ground and needs to be considered constantly before we act. Maybe fixing a piece of protection or two to stop the fall into the trees might have been the lesser of two evils...maybe not. Just another perspective.

J. Kesler - 11/08/2013 8:24:06

@realclimberscilmbice: I felt no shame last night with your mom when the condom broke... Yawn... Little boy, leave the adult conversations to us. Run along now, the Mountain Dew, little Debbie Snack Cakes, PS2 game station, and Iron Man pajamas are calling your name. Let us grown folk handle this

realclimbersclimb - 11/07/2013 4:45:08

Yawn. It's a tree. Who gives a shit. Not me. Report news not gardening. I've hooked, kicked, and snapped shrubbery on lead. I feel no shame.

realclimberscilmbice - 11/07/2013 10:51:35

Bernie. I appreciate your efforts to atone for your mistake, but I have no interest in discussing the matter with you. If you have an issue with my comments you may want to take some time to look within yourself for the answer. I get it. You did what you thought was a just course of action. In fact, I praise your inclination to environmental stewardship, and the fact that you apologized for your mistake. However, there is no reason for me to call you. It would only propagate a cyclical pattern. I truly wish you the best moving forward. -Campbell

Campbell - 11/07/2013 1:32:08

Mr. Campbell Hello this is Bernie LaForest. If you would like to discuss this further please give me a ring. My number was posted on the original instagram also. 801-631-9251 I will say here. I am in total agreement with you. The publication of Joe’s number was a mistake. One that I have apologized to Joe for. It was unnecessary and the only thing that was not thought through at the time. I am “ashamed” to not foresee the brutality that would be casted upon him. Which I neither condone or see as acceptable. That being said, I am the one who was willing to take a stand on the subject. Which of course means I get to have a conversation with you. Best Regards, Bernie LaForest

Bernie LaForest - 11/06/2013 9:49:37

This sad story is as old as Gilgamesh. IMO, it does no good now to be negative to Joe. He has expressed regret already and knows the score. He can redeem himself. Helping the Access Fund is fine, but in a tree related error, the correct ceremony is tree planting. That action can have a lasting good karma as the planter revisits his trees later, accepting the losses also he has caused. Joe can easily plant many more junipers in the Sierra, getting some advice from people who know what is needed and where. These western juniper species are some of the most amazing trees in the world. Many a Yosemite climber has a 'pet' or special old tree to revisit up in Tuolumne each summer. The Juniperus genus itself is the widest ranging tree species in the world, reaching about the fifteen thousand foot level in alttitude in lower Zanskar. If there are any higher growing trees in the world, please let us know. Since junipers are associates then of us high and wild climbers, let's take the incident as a learning curve. Joe I am sure is a good kid and will do the right thing for his part in fixing the error. He will be back better than ever. Western climbers are as a group more conscientous than the Sherpas in terms of not ripping off juniper boughs to burn in sacred fires. However with micro hydro, solar, and conservation, the Khumbu's junipers are coming back slowly too.

ginny evert - 11/06/2013 3:53:13

HAHA, you people are funny. I've got 5 juniper bushes in my backyard. Joe, I'll PAY YOU to come chop them down.

mwysuph - 11/06/2013 1:12:03

This story was a bummer to read. I'm a little embarrassed for Joe, but I'm extremely embarrassed for the folks who sought retribution by posting his information. In the facing up to his mistake, Joe seems to have been self-reflective and honest in his statements. There is not denying that the Juniper is a protected species of tree. And, yeah, he chopped it down. His decision to chop the tree down was based, so it seems, on the safety of future climbers at the crag. He definitely should have learned the local custom, and law, protecting that species of tree. Had he done so, I'd like to think he would have acted differently. It was an honest yet ignorant mistake. Posting someone's phone number online as retribution for his mistake is a vile act. Like chopping down a tree, once done it can not be undone (even if you delete the post). Unlike the mistake that Joe seems to have made, the decision to post his information online was not done with the safety of Joe in mind, nor was it done to better the climbing community. In fact, it was a malicious and petty act done to harm him, and the community alike. If individuals who act in this manner are to be the voice of our climbing community, en masse, perhaps they should remain silent. Someone posted inquiring what John Muir might say about chopping down the tree. He'd probably be upset. But, I wonder what he'd think about maliciously posting online the personal information of someone who made what seems to be an honest mistake. About forming a lynch mob? Joe, wherever you are, you made an ignorant mistake and you need to do a lot better. To the folks who formed the lynch mob in search of retribution for Joe's mistake, you're moral compass has led you further astray than you probably believe. In fact, the course you have chosen is more difficult to correct than Joe's. Embarrassing mistakes all around, and particularly embarrassing for the greater climbing community.

Campbell - 11/06/2013 11:40:13

Most people should agree that the internet vigilante response to this incident has been ridiculous. That said, equally ridiculous are the relativists who play the 'we all drive cars' card to try to hide the tree in the forest, so to speak. Cutting down the juniper was a serious error and the fact that there's trash on the ground in cities and smog in the air has absolutely no bearing here. One middle path through the morass of commentary might go something like this: Joe made a mistake and apologized for it, but his apology was rather self-aggrandizing and seems like the type of apology one makes only once one is 'caught', as it were. I really don't think his cutting of the juniper was intentionally malicious, but his apology appears flippant and self-serving even while it attempts to show remorse. Maybe the apology is heartfelt; if so, this should be a time for Joe to reflect on his motives towards climbing and on how his actions affect the climbing community. The selfish approach only works for so long and I hope he truly learns a lesson not from all the internet vitriol but from being out there in the woods, planting trees or whatever he has agreed to do in penance. Maybe he'll realize that climbing is a selfish pursuit and that being good at it can't compensate for having a more objective view of things, including trees that seem to stand in the way of 'progress'.

Drew - 11/05/2013 9:08:13

I bet Kinder and the Goblin Destroyer from Utah would make great friends. They both love destroying cultural resources and blaming there actions there strong desire of protecting others. Its a good thing he cut that tree down because I am constantly reading accident reports of climbers dying from those pesky junipers.

tree huger mother lover - 11/05/2013 4:05:31

This thread is proof of how just how hypocritical we climbers are. Really? Threatening someone over a tree? I don't know what is more pathetic, our uptight climbing community or the fact that Climbing Magazine chooses to report this as news. Whats next guys? reporting on me refusing to carry my shit out from crags? Stop harassing the guy and let him pay a fine if need be...Nothing is going to bring that tree back to life. Everyone makes mistakes, live ya learn . But please everyone! Get off your high horses !

YourMom - 11/05/2013 12:48:22

He should not have cut down the tree. But the people who harassed and threatened Joe's life should be scourged. Definitely not a big deal. Pay (or donate) the $500 fine and move on. Andrew Solow, San Francisco, CA

Andrew Solow - 11/05/2013 12:19:33

Joe... every single one of us has made a terrible error that we'll regret to the end... I think you've made amends and should get back out climbing... screw the holier than thou crowd... I appreciate the work to put up a new route, flawed as it was, you were still working for the community as a whole.

Craig - 11/05/2013 11:39:34

The internet insures no opportunity to be sanctimonious ever goes to waste! A simple "hey bud, that's not how we do things round' here" would have sufficed...

Marc B - 11/05/2013 11:19:42

Kinda of a lot of trees, not that many climbing routes. Seems like cutting down one 100-year juniper for a stellar route is not that big of a deal....That is such a minimal impact compared to other sports. At least Joe doesn't play golf.

Adam - 11/05/2013 9:15:00

The lesson to learn here, especially for Joe, is to THINK before you make actions. I think Joe tends to get really really excited about things and it clouds his brains. He certainly has made mistakes in route setting before. My advice to Joey is to just DO THE RESEARCH! Ask 1. what are the ethics here? 2. What impact will setting routes have? Must I alter the environment and the rock drastically? 3. Can it be ascended with traditional gear? 4. What would the locals prefer I do with the shrubbery on and around the wall? 5. Can I build another route that I don't have to cut/alter/destroy things? We should all think before we act, and do the research. Joey, God bless him, should not rely on his own intelligence to make "solid" decisions. He needs to ask others (clearly not Pringle) first.

Researcher - 11/05/2013 2:42:58

The backlash of this whole ordeal is astonishing. Although I completely agree that Joe should have done his research and consulted with the locals before altering the environment, this is a case where intentions DO matter. The world is not black and white. He was concerned with safety--this wasn't a reckless who-gives-a-shit ego-inflating decision just so HIS route had good access. It was an ill-informed decision rooted in solid rationale. Joe Kinder is not the man environmentalists should be attacking--he is on our side. From my experience, most climbers love and respect our planet, and see themselves as stewards of the wilderness. Judging from his behavior after the incident, I am sure Joe is no different. He made a mistake, and has graciously apologized and humbly worked hard to make amends. Everyone fucks up sometimes--I'm impressed by how hard he is working to make things right. He clearly cares. Let's focus our energy on combatting the true evils of this world and protecting and conserving our beautiful planet against those that would truly destroy it. Hang in there, Joe.

Kelsey - 11/04/2013 11:36:56

WOW. you really would think in all this hoopla that someone would have at least contacted the person who put up Treebeard. I just found out about this whole thing today when a friend told me about it. I put up Treebeard in 2000 or so. After panicked research, I finally discovered that Kinder didn't chop down the Treebeard tree actually, but some other trees near it. Obviously a dubious decision on his part and not one I would have made. But really? The vitriol on the web about this is truly remarkable and dismaying. He publicly copped to blowing it and should be commended for that. Obviously he made a mistake and realizes it. Still can't help but think it's strange that the architects of the original routes up there weren't even brought into the discussion by Kinder or any of these forums.

Nils Davis - 11/04/2013 8:01:03

I agree wholeheartedly on the hypocrisy of this situation. Irony, John and Steven about summed it up. Death threats!? Seriously!?!? You have got companies out there like halliburton, monsanto, conagra, etc. collectively ruining OUR lives and OUR land at an incredible rate, mind you, along with people's that don't even live here, yet these people are gonna become killers and bullies over this tree issue!? WAKE UP!!! NEWSFLASH!!! We've got bigger things to worry about!! And that's not to say don't take care of what ya got, but the dude made a mistake, apologized and seems genuine about the issue. Most climbers are not out on a rampage to destroy nature with malicious intent, and Mr. Kinder seems like no exception. I don't believe he owe's anyone anything and I would like to echo John's statement from earlier in these comments cuz it's exactly what I was thinking: Get over yourselves hippies!

Nick - 11/04/2013 7:34:00 yup

Jennifer - 11/04/2013 6:23:28

Didn't he also bolt new routes at the Red and not use appropriate length and diameter bolts only to not fix it himself, but sent some money to have a local replace all the bolts? Or was that another professional climber?

Jennifer - 11/04/2013 6:20:09,-------, Today you can visit the grove where Methuselah hides, but you'll have to guess at which tree it is. Could this one be it? ------- Photo from article was obviously not included. "Could this be is quote from article."

Ron - 11/04/2013 4:06:22

Reminds me of the story about the cutting down of the world's oldest tree, the Methuselah Tree. Methuselah At 4,841 years old, this ancient bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism on Earth. Located in the White Mountains of California, in Inyo National Forest, Methuselah's exact location is kept a close secret in order to protect it from the public. (An older specimen named Prometheus, which was about 4,900 years old, was cut down by a researcher in 1964 with the U.S. Forest Service's permission.) Today you can visit the grove where Methuselah hides, but you'll have to guess at which tree it is. Could this one be it?

Ron - 11/04/2013 3:50:01

I'm overwhelmed by the irony of the comment left by none other than the Delicate-Arch-damaging Dean Potter. Visible in the instagram screenshot is his comment "I'm saddened by such disrespect to nature and such thoughtlessness." That irony pretty much sums up the silliness of this whole ordeal. Climbers leave an impact no matter how "lightly" we tread. If you find yourself pointing a finger at Joe, you should consider turning that around on yourself as well.

Irony - 11/04/2013 2:16:45

People need to relax its a freaking tree. not like he killed an animal or like an eagles nest. that tree will grow somewhere else. If people in the climbing community are so concerned about trees why don't you look at what were doing to our rain forest. that's a definite concern. For the people giving death threats and what not you should be ashamed of your self. Joe wasn't out there doing this to screw with nature he was looking out for the safety of "people" in the future of the climbs.. Joe shouldn't have to be in hiding or do community service or anything to make you people feel better.

Steven - 11/04/2013 2:04:31

So many weekend eco warriors, so few pro climbers to demonize. Want to save the earth? Don't have kids, then go dig your own grave and jump in.

Mijo - 11/04/2013 1:20:49

In the big scheme of things, a ten foot tall tree, whatever.

rg - 11/04/2013 12:44:03

Ben, go outside, look at the trash in the street and look at your presumably 'hybrid" car still screwing up the environment, and tell me how one tree has anything to do with saving the world. Your wilderness is constantly threatened by things much larger than some guy chopping a tree. Climbing ethics is one of the most backwards things that exists. Just look at trad junkies B&Ming over camo painted bolts when THE CHALK ITSELF is the most unsightly part of it all. Do you use eco friendly chalk? Thought not.

JJohn - 11/04/2013 12:40:04

Ben, go outside, look at the trash in the street and look at your presumably 'hybrid" car still screwing up the environment, and tell me how one tree has anything to do with saving the world. Your wilderness is constantly threatened by things much larger than some guy chopping a tree. Climbing ethics is one of the most backwards things that exists. Just look at trad junkies B&Ming over camo painted bolts when THE CHALK ITSELF is the most unsightly part of it all. Do you use eco friendly chalk? Thought not.

John - 11/04/2013 12:35:14

John: you're an asshole with no foresight. Stick to climbing gyms, PLEASE, and don't treat my wilderness as a playground to which we owe no sense of stewardship.

Ben - 11/04/2013 12:24:58

I foresee a knee jerk anti-treehuggy killers backlash on this one... and issues with the quote of the LaForest guy who thinks immigration to the promise land is what constitutes "old". Ole Cactus Ed called the burning of the juniper the sweetest odor in the world. Bet a lot of the Tahoans would love to throw that tree into their cabins' fireplace. The climbing community could force Kinder to belay only from trees with 10 inches or less diameters... Sharia Law style punishment. Or just take a finger. Either way, he's still gonna climb 5.14.

Holyoak - 11/04/2013 12:06:20

Sure...great...he cut the tree down and apologized. Move on. As if this even freaking matters in the real world. Climbers take everything wayyyy too seriously. THE SPORT IS CLIMBING UP ROCKS. It's playing in a playground. When was the last time you picked up garbage in an actual playground. Never. Get over yourselves hippies.

John - 11/04/2013 12:05:30

What needs to be remembered it that it is a tree they will be around fine him and move on. Death threats what idiots you would really kill someone over a single tree. Fire kills thousands of them and out of the ashes 10000 more have the nutrients to live. Kinder buy some trees get permission and go plant them. Then climb on without fear the people threatening you probably cant get far from their couch.

Frank - 11/04/2013 11:47:31

If he did not recognize the tree as a protected species it is understandable. What needs to be taken from this is perhaps a forestry person should be contacted regarding the possible removal of trees. The DNR has never been to busy to answer a question regarding the natural resources in their areas. This man does not deserve death threats or threats on his life! To those sending him hate: What message are you sending when, as someone from the community, you threaten someone else from the community? Please lets see this as a mistake and learn from it...

Doug - 11/04/2013 11:09:15