SPICKLER, James (b. 1973), wildlife biologist, researcher and professional climber who has worked with the Institute for Wildlife Studies on the Bald Eagle reintroduction program since 2002, and on the Peregrine Falcon reintroduction program since 2013.
In 2006, Spickler climbed and videoed the world's tallest known living tree, a coast redwood dubbed "Hyperion", in Prarie Creek Redwood State Park. It is just over 380 feet tall.
In the News~
September 30, 2012 [The Times-Standard]: “Climbing for cats; World-class tree climbers moonlight rescuing felines. The call comes in almost weekly to the Arcata Fire Department. A distraught cat owner tells the dispatcher that their feline friend is stuck up a tree and won't come down. Then the dispatcher calmly and apologetically explains that the department can't dispatch a ladder truck to help retrieve the cat and often suggests that the owner put out a can of tuna instead. "It's not uncommon for any agency to get this call," said Arcata Fire Chief John McFarland. "But, with the economic situation the way it is, I can't in good faith expose a firefighter to an injury for a cat that's probably going to come down anyway." While the stereotypical image of a neighborhood firefighter fetching a wayward feline from a tree seems to be a thing of a past in this age of crimped budgets and liability concerns, Humboldt County cat owners still have someone to call. In fact, some of the best tree climbers in the world are happy to help. Wildlife biologist Jim Spickler and botanist Giacomo Renzullo are offering their services through a website, www.catinatreerescue.com, that connects arborists and other world-class tree climbers with cat owners in need. "We do it more for the owners than the cats," said Spickler, who is actually extremely allergic to the animals. "There is nothing better than coming down a tree and handing a cat to its owners." It's something the pair has only gotten the opportunity to do a handful of times. They attribute the low number of rescue opportunities to the fact that their site is not yet very well known. While the website now boasts climbers willing to provide cat rescue services in 30 states and nine countries, it started as the brain child of Seattle's Dan Kraus. An arborist and champion tree climber, Kraus rescued his first cat in 1999 when he received a random call from a woman who was terribly worried about her cat, which had been up in an 80-foot-tall tree for about five days. Kraus said the woman had been turned down by the local fire department, and had started calling arborists from phone book listings. Kraus — the 2005 International Tree Climbing Champion — said he was happy to help, and soon found a passion.
He said he so enjoyed helping the woman — and the cat — that he printed up some fliers and dropped them off at local veterinarian offices. The calls came flooding in, and Kraus said he's performed at least a rescue a week ever since. "It's kept me pretty busy," he said, adding that he figured there had to be a similar need in other areas, so he started the website. Renzullo and Spickler, who have worked together for about 12 years, said they were excited about joining the website's directory and lending their skills to the cause. The service also seems to put a proverbial feather in their caps for the pair's resumes, which boast some pretty unique experiences. The pair were both featured in a National Geographic article with Humboldt State University professor Steve Sillett, and can be spotted in a large centerfold in the magazine that shows them — Renzullo in red and Spickler in yellow — climbing a massive 300-foot redwood in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. While the two hold down day jobs — Spickler as a wildlife biologist specializing in amphibians and reptiles, and Renzullo as a botanist and arborist -- it's their unique climbing skills that have sent them all over the world, helping stage photo and film shoots in jungles and forests throughout Central America, Australia, Asia and, of course, the North Coast. "We don't really have an office job," said Renzullo, an associate biologist at Eco-Ascension Research and Consulting, where Spickler serves as the chief biologist. The pair are partly in demand because of their light-impact climbing techniques which are a far cry from the spike-booted tree climbing that likely comes to mind for most folk. "Our whole approach is to be as low-impact as possible," Spickler said. "Unlike rock climbing," Renzullo added, "we're really climbing a rope — not a tree." The pair start any tree ascent by first threading a rope through its upper branches. When plucking a cat out of a 60-foot tree in someone's backyard, this can usually just be done with a weighted throw bag attached to some fishing line. When climbing a 300-foot redwood, it becomes a bit more complicated. For the tallest trees, Spickler said, the pair uses a crossbow to shoot an arrow attached to a string of fishing line to thread the line over a load-bearing branch. Then they use that fishing line to thread up a heavier rope that they can ultimately use to climb. The whole endeavor is part art, part science, the pair explains. One needs to know when to take risks, when to play it safe and be able to adapt on the move. Dead branches -- known as "widow makers" -- are a constant concern, as they can be knocked loose by the rope and bring a climber crashing down to the ground with them. "Every tree is different, and you take a different approach," said Spickler, who has been climbing for more than 30 years. "Yeah," Renzullo added. "And if it's sketchy, you know it. We all enjoy our lives, and we want to stay in one piece." But there have been some close calls. Spickler recalls the time the two were in Borneo, attempting an unassisted trek through the forest canopy in which they would travel for miles without ever touching the ground. They were about 200 feet up, Spickler said, when he swung into a tree and landed plumb in the middle of an insect nest. Getting bitten repeatedly and about to black out, Spickler said he was contemplating simply jumping. "I'd almost rather take a 200-foot digger than get stung to death by these insects," Spickler said, adding that he remembered he had a can of Off insect spray in his pocket. Spickler used it to buy himself enough space to get to safety, where he promptly wretched his guts out, he said. So far, there have been no close calls on the cat rescue front. In fact, there haven't been many cat rescues at all. The pair has only received four calls, all from the same family looking to have its kitten plucked from high up in a Sunny Brae redwood tree.
Kraus said he imagines Renzullo and Spickler's services will be in higher demand once word spreads about what they are offering. McFarland agreed.
"The fact that they're even offering this service is tremendous," McFarland said. "We need to make it known to fire dispatchers that these guys are out there, because I'm sure dispatchers would like to have someone to refer these calls to." Spickler said there are plenty of accomplished tree climbers just waiting to help out. "There is a community of folks — scientists — up here who would love to help people with their feline issues," he said.”