The Ethics Of Tree Spiking

To spike, or not to spike?

Emily Dioptase
3 min readJan 9, 2021


Several large trees jutting upward.
Photo by Arnaud Mesureur on Unsplash

Disclaimer: As the title implies, this article is written from a perspective of ethics, and not one of legality. Spiking trees is illegal, and this article is not meant to actively encourage any group or individual to break the law. The purpose of this article is to encourage critical thought, and neither I nor Medium are responsible for any actions taken due to said thought.

The practice of spiking trees is controversial, to say the least. Some people view spikers as destructive terrorists, while others view them as righteous vigilantes. I must warn you that I believe the latter category is correct, but if you fall into the first camp, please continue reading to broaden your horizons, or at least understand the opposing argument more.

So, what is tree spiking? According to Wikipedia, it is the act of “hammering a metal rod, nail or other material into a tree trunk.” The intent is to damage saw blades used to cut trees, so as to prevent deforestation. This practice gained significant notoriety with the release of Dave Foreman and Edward Abbey’s Ecodefense, a book which, among other things, taught readers how to spike trees. While other methods may occasionally be used, the ones taught in Ecodefense are by far the most widespread.

Ecodefense clearly lays out the morals of environmental activism, the most prominent being that all activism should be “nonviolent resistance to the destruction of natural diversity and wilderness.” This ethical principle is further shown by how the book recommends against spiking near the bottom of trees due to potential safety risks to the people cutting the trees, instead telling readers to spike higher up, which will only effect the sawmills, but will almost never lead to injury. I will not go into any further detail, for what should be obvious reasons, but you can read more of Ecodefense for yourself if you are curious.

Some people may question if spiking is safe for the tree. The spike itself is clearly not of much harm to the tree, or the practice likely would have died down quickly. However, some chemicals are. According to the field notes of the Basic Spiking Techniques chapter in Ecodefense, “Most lubricants are petroleum derivatives, all of which are poisonous to trees. Vegetable oils are nearly as toxic.” A bit later in the same section, it states “medical advisers argue that rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide would be . . . harmful to the tree.” So, if a spiker makes the mistake of lubricating or sterilizing their spikes, they could cause more harm than good, though if they just stick to the basics of hammer and nail, they should be fine.

Now, all of this in mind, an argument could be made for small businesses being harmed by spiking. While I am anti-capitalist and believe that smaller businesses are simply a lesser of two evils, I will entertain the argument regardless. The truth is, most spikers will follow the word of Ecodefense and target trees which are being sold by the Forest Service, most of which goes to big businesses. Most of the time, small businesses need not fear spiking, unless they live in Meares Island.

Overall, when done correctly and ethically, spiking is a victimless crime. The only things that will be hurt are machinery, which can be replaced. As well, I would argue that it is morally good, due to disrupting the deadly machine that is capitalism (and also saw blades I suppose) while encouraging the protection of forests.



Emily Dioptase

Controversial in the most boring way imaginable.