Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt Tree-Sit In Protest
On Earth Day 1999, two of the world’s leading recording artists/social activists, Bonnie Raitt and Joan Baez, climbed high into the canopy of what is perhaps the world’s most famous redwood to honor Julia Butterfly Hill. Julia has been keeping a 180′ tree-top vigil on a plywood platform to stop MAXXAM/Pacific Lumber Company from cutting down the well over 1000 year old redwood tree renamed Luna. The redwood grove she is trying to protect along with tens of thousands of acres of other critical redwood habitat was not saved in the recently signed and much-criticized Headwaters agreement between the government and Charles Hurwitz’s MAXXAM Corporation.
Julia has not touched the ground since she ascended the ancient tree Luna on December 10, 1997. On Saturday April 24, her vigil reached 500 days. Her treesit is next to a massive mudslide caused by a MAXXAM/Pacific Lumber clearcut that destroyed and damaged over 30 homes in the town of Stafford, CA.
Raitt and Baez decided to lend their support to Butterfly’s vigil by climbing the steep two mile mountain in Stafford, CA (250 miles north of San Francisco), and then used a pulley system to get up the tree onto one of the two plywood perches in the branches of Luna. The pulley system was installed by local environmental activists together with the United Steelworkers of America, who are currently locked out of their jobs by another one of MAXXAM’s affiliates, Kaiser Aluminum.
The Steelworkers have joined with Headwaters Forest activists in a struggle against a common foe–MAXXAM. “It’s incredible to see labor unions and environmentalists getting together to stop the corporate mentality that destroys both jobs and the environment,” said Raitt.
At the California Music Awards (the BAMMIES) held in San Francisco this past March, Raitt was given the Arthur M. Sohcot Award which recognizes a group or individual who through dedicated public service and/or professional activity has contributed to the betterment of the community. The Award was presented by two other activists/musicians – Tracy Chapman and Joan Baez.
Raitt announced that night that she would take the award to Julia Butterfly in the tree and present it to her for her courage. Raitt, a long time Headwaters activist, invited Baez to make the pilgrimage with her over Earth Day weekend.
“Visiting Julia Butterfly was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life,” said Baez.
Raitt added, “To experience Julia’s commitment and love for these forests in person was a life changing event. She was literally shining.”
Answer by Julia Butterfly to the commonly asked question why she is still up there:
“With the last minute passing of the Headwater’s Forest Agreement between Federal and State authorities and the Pacific Lumber, MAXXAM Corporation, mant people have been led to believe that the forest issues here on the Northcoast is over. Others are trying to figure out exactly what to believe; seperating truth from fiction and so-called science from actual biological needs for forest and watershed survival and integrity. In the midst of it all, I am still being asked, “Why am I still up here?”
The Luna tree-sit and I continue as do many other activists because the Headwater’s Forest Agreement is based on politics and profit instead of the true needs of all interconnected species. Steep slopes and streams still lack necessary protection, Luna and this hillside along with thousands of other acres just as magnificent and vital are marked to be destroyed, and devestating clear-cutting and subsequent herbicide spraying practices are locked into place for the next 50 years under this deal. There is also a 700 acre parcel within the Headwater’s Forest that was given to Pacific Lumber to log which seriously jeopordizes the health of the forest and the species that recquire it intact in order to survive. On top of all of this, the local communities are continuing to suffer devestation of water quality, air quality, and property value by our governments refusal to include their serious needs in the final agreement. Obviously, we still have much work to do.
We are continuing to call upon our legislative leaders to enact laws that will provide for the true sustainability of life for all species as well as to implement emergency rules for the areas that have been seriously impacted by the continuous and blatant destructive logging practices here on the north coast.
Please get involved NOW! We have the power to change our world because it is not an issue of can we make a difference, rather it is we do make a difference. Everything we do, say, and think shapes our reality. It is time that we join our bodies, minds, hearts, spirits, and voices and call for peace on the Earth and peace with the Earth. Please get involved in whatever ways you can, but please, do it now. The legacy of all life depends on it. Thank you. Love and Light, Julia Butterfly.”
Dancing in the Treetop
The rutted dirt logging road steepens as we push higher up the forested mountain, hundreds of marchers moving to the deep rhythm of dozens of drummers. It’s more like rock climbing than hiking, and often difficult to keep from slipping. Hands grab for shrubs and boulders to hang on to. But always, we’re careful not to drop the packages of food or water most of us are carrying for the young woman living in the tree.
That woman is 24-year-old Julia “Butterfly” Hill, whose feet haven’t touched the ground in over six months. From her perch high in a 1000-year-old redwood giant, her view takes in the Eel River Valley, where steam rises from Pacific Lumber’s Scotia sawmill. She climbed into this tree last December, with the short-term goal of just protecting one tree and its close neighbors from joining the stacks of lumber piled high in the mill yard. But now she’s become a symbol of the struggle to halt the destruction of California’s last primeval redwood rainforest. We who struggle up this mountain are coming to help — and to honor her remarkable commitment.
An hour ago, at the rally for Julia Butterfly and the tree she calls “Luna,” we were warned that it would be a difficult two-hour climb, not for those out of shape or with small children. We were asked to think twice before starting, but the vast majority of the crowd was for it.
There were more than enough volunteers to carry a month’s food and water up the mountain for Julia. Molly, my college-student niece from Colorado, carried a bottle of water for her. Luckily for me, Molly also carried some of my camera gear. If not for her youthful energy I might have heeded the repeated warnings and not even have attempted the climb.
But after several rousing speeches, a crowd of about three hundred started the trek, accompanied by the booming drums. The first part was easy and level, but soon the road veered sharply uphill and became steeper, then narrower, then steeper still.
We also had been told that morning we could be arrested. “If you go up the hill you’re trespassing,” warned a young woman wearing a “peacekeeper” armband. “Sometimes Pacific Lumber doesn’t like that. We don’t expect any security or cops, but if they show up keep cool and let us negotiate with them.” To add to the level of paranoia, big trucks loaded with redwood lumber from Pacific Lumber’s mill roared past the rally site next to the highway with air horns blaring, acrid black smoke roiling from exhaust stacks.
The peacekeeper briefed us on the nonviolence code that is a regular part of Earth First! actions in this Northern California region. Everyone repeated the nonviolence code aloud: “Our attitude will be one of openness, friendliness and respect for all people and the environment. We will use no violence, verbal or physical towards any person. We will not damage any property. We will not bring or use firearms or any weapons. We will not bring or use alcohol or illegal drugs.”
Now after more than an hour of climbing, our clothes were boggy with sweat and our tired minds wandered. Would we round a bend in the trail and come upon a line of deputies in riot gear, holding long cotton swabs drenched in pepper spray?
We pushed ourselves onward, and finally, two exhausting hours after we started, there was shouting and commotion at the head of the column. People pointed up toward the sky. It was the first sight of Julia’s tree, Luna.
We had gained over 1500 ft. in elevation, most of it near the end of the climb. We had covered only about a mile as the crow flies, but we weren’t flying. If anybody had asked me, I’d have estimated we walked four miles and climbed 3000 ft. But now we had reached the top and stood before our goal.
Luna, a 200 foot tall, 14 foot diameter Coast Redwood, grows on land now owned by Pacific Lumber Company, in turn owned by Texas corporate raider Charles Hurwitz and his Maxxam Corporation. Since the 1985 hostile takeover financed by a dubious junk bond deal, Pacific Lumber has nearly tripled the rate of cut on its 200,000 acres — including the 60,000 acre Headwaters Forest, the largest remaining unprotected old-growth redwood forest left on earth. Earth First! activists discovered and named Headwaters more than a decade ago, and they and others have been trying to preserve what’s left ever since.
“I am here for all of the forest, including the Headwaters Forest,” Julia said recently. “What we’re saying is they’ve already taken 97 percent (of the original virgin redwood forestland), and we don’t have room for them to take any more.” She has made it clear that she is not opposed to all logging — just irresponsible logging.
No better example of irresponsible logging can be found than the “Stafford slide,” which started a few hundred yards from Luna. On January 1, 1997, a gigantic avalanche of mud, stumps and debris rolled down the mountain, snapping off fully grown trees in a miles-long path of destruction that wiped out the tiny hamlet of Stafford at the bottom. The mudslide destroyed seven families’ homes, but because an alert resident heard the sound of trees toppling and warned neighbors, no one was injured. Most of the residents were employed at the Scotia sawmill two miles north, but now many are suing the company for negligence.
This was all connected to why Julia Butterfly is still in her redwood after six months. Soon after the disaster the California Department of Forestry approved Pacific Lumber plans to clearcut additional steep slopes right next to the huge slide. Earth First! activists vowed to use non-violent tactics to block that new logging, and Julia Butterfly’s record-breaking tree-sit in Luna is the result.
This day, June 10, is exactly six months after Julia moved into the tree. We gathered that morning, some 400 people in all, by Highway 101 at Stafford. We stood on a deep layer of soil and rock that had been part of the slide. Pacific Lumber had graded it flat and planted it with grass for erosion control. A light, chilly drizzle fell from gray skies as Darryl Cherney began the rally by speaking about the main issues behind the Luna tree-sit.
He was fuming about the still- pending Headwaters Forest acquisition deal brokered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Under that deal, the state and federal governments would give $380 million and tax breaks to Maxxam Corporation and Charles Hurwitz in exchange for only a fraction of Headwaters. “In exchange for all that we get only 1/10 of Headwaters; we get 7500 acres instead of over 60,000. And with that deal Luna gets cut down. With that deal the Elk River watershed, which is flooding every year from the logging, gets massacred. With that deal Owl Creek gets cut down. With that deal 5000 acres of old-growth in the Mattole and Bear River watersheds gets cut down,” Cherney said as the crowd shouted, “No!”
“In other words, in exchange for saving 7500 acres Charles Hurwitz gets to log 193,000 acres down to the bone, plus he gets $380 million. That sucks, because Charles Hurwitz is a corporate criminal who deserves to be indicted rather than have dollars thrown at him. He trashed a Texas S&L in 1988, and all the taxpayers — that’s you and all your relatives and friends throughout the entire United States — had to bail Charles Hurwitz’s bank out for $1.6 billion. The federal government has two lawsuits against Hurwitz right now to try to regain some of that money.
“Why are we going to give him $380 million when he already owes us $1.6 billion? We’ve already bought Headwaters Forest. In fact we already bought the entire holdings of Pacific Lumber Co. when we bailed that bank out for $1.6 billion. We don’t need to buy Headwaters because we already own it,” Cherney concluded.
Two weeks earlier, Julia Butterfly had written from her treetop aerie to California legislators urging them to oppose state funding of the Headwaters Forest acquisition deal. In part, she wrote: “Pacific Lumber was … convicted of criminal violations of the California Forest Practices Act, and … is awaiting sentencing. Pacific Lumber has committed over 250 violations of these laws since 1995. Since this company repeatedly breaks existing laws, how then can we expect them to provide a (habitat conservation) plan that will properly safeguard critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, and also for them to adhere to these laws?”
After Cherney, Robert Parker, a media coordinator for the Luna tree-sit, told the crowd that the point of today’s rally wasn’t just to honor Julia Butterfly, but to inspire everyone to follow her lead. “Julia’s an example of how one person with true commitment and with love in her heart can make change in this world. Each and every one of us needs to make that same commitment, whether it be a day, a week, or six months. Yesterday, the local paper, the Eureka Times-Standard, ran an editorial that said today would be a good day for the protests to end. I disagree; I think today would be a good day for the protests to begin!” The crowd howled approval.
Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart called Julia “a true warrior fighting for what she believes in.” He said he was there to join with others to amplify Julia’s message and the message of the Headwaters (and also, “to take her some good rhythm”). “If we don’t do it now, it’ll be too late,” he said. “We’re not just beating drums. It’s about raising power. We’re taking it up to Luna and we’re turning spirit into form. When you leave here tell your people what you’ve done; spread the word.”
Now two hours later, Mickey Hart and the drummers form a circle near Luna and continue weaving their rhythm songs.
All eyes peer upwards. The main top of Luna had ben blasted away by lightning long ago, perhaps centuries ago, and a crown of big branches had grown outward, then upward from the top of the shattered trunk. Julia’s platform is supported on these branches, 180 ft. above the ground.
What follows next is memorable. As the drummers drum, Julia Butterfly climbs from her platform to the very tip of the tallest branch of the ancient tree. Holding on only with her legs and bare feet, she sways her torso, head, and arms, dancing to the rhythm, the cheers, the exuberant wolf-howls of the throng. A brisk and chilly wind blows her long dark hair straight out, giving the impression that she’s part of the tree and its foliage.
With the wind and the drums it’s impossible for her to be heard by the crowd on that mountaintop, but a few hours earlier, the highest point of the morning rally were her comments via cell phone through the PA system. After saying the rally meant a lot to her and her support team, she said, “I’m changed for the rest of my life because of this experience, in amazing and very incredibly powerful and positive ways.
“People ask if I’m excited about the six months. What I’m excited about is that we now have six months of people continuing to join hands, hearts and minds to work together. It’s up to every one of us who cares and respects life to stand together to stop the destruction. We have to work together to make sure the future is beautiful and sustainable for all.
“People have been asking me, ‘Julia, what’s going to bring you down from there?’ I really thought about it, and what I want to come down to is a world where no more clearcuts are allowed. What I want to come down to is a world where cutting on steep and unstable slopes like this one is no longer allowed, because it’s not only wiping out habitat for wildlife, it’s wiping out habitat for people as well, and that’s wrong. The world that I want to come down to no longer allows the cutting of old-growth forests to continue, because that is fueled purely by greed of corporations like Maxxam, and has no basis in need. It’s purely greed driven. I am here, and many others are here, to stand up against destruction caused by greed.
“Corporate power and government are working hand in hand to just take more and more, so they are left with everything and we are left with nothing. A lot of people feel fear. They are afraid to take a stand because their power has been taken away, and they feel powerless. But as loud a voice as these corporations and this government have, it will not be heard if we stand together as one voice to be heard, and join our voices and join our bodies in commitment to stand against this destruction, and bring the power back to the people and back to the land to which it belongs.
“I love you all very, very much. Thank you for honoring this action. Thank you for honoring me, and thank you for rejuvenating your commitment to help save the lives of our old-growth forest.”
Who is this Julia Butterfly and how did she get where she is now?
Earth First! activists often choose a “forest name” to shield their identities because they do nonviolent direct action on logging company property, which could expose them to trespass charges or lawsuits.
Julia Hill chose the name Butterfly, and like her namesake she has undergone a metamorphosis. She grew up in a deeply religious family as the daughter of a traveling evangelical minister who later settled in Arkansas. Her parents taught her to have very strong convictions and stick by them. She doesn’t follow any organized religion but says she believes very strongly in the spirituality of the universe.
In 1996 she suffered nearly fatal injuries in an auto accident. During nearly a year of medical treatment and recovery, she had time to reassess her purpose in life. Two weeks after being released by her doctors, she headed west on a journey of self-discovery. She had no particular destination, but her first sight of the redwoods overwhelmed her with awe. “When I entered the great majestic cathedral of the redwood forest for the first time,” she has written, “my spirit knew it had found what it was searching for. I dropped to my knees and began to cry because I was so overwhelmed by the wisdom, energy, and spirituality housed in this holiest of temples.”
She spent some time alone hiking the Lost Coast, a remote and nearly roadless area of the Humboldt County coast. On a trip into Garberville for supplies she learned about the plight of the Headwaters Forest. Later she prayed for guidance about what direction her life should take, and about that she wrote, “I felt complete peace in my decision to do what I could to save these awe-inspiring forests. I went back to Arkansas where I had my wreck, settled my lawsuit, sold everything that I owned, said good-byes to the closest friends I’ve ever had, and came back out west determined to do whatever I could to be of help.”
When she arrived back in Humboldt County it was November and the winter rains had started. When she phoned the Earth First! contact number she was told “Action Camp is closing, we don’t need you.” But she persisted and learned there was a pepper-spray rally that day in Garberville. She joined in the rally, and from there made her way to the Earth First! base camp in Stafford. A few days later she heard a call for people to sit in the Luna tree, so named because the tree-sitting platform had been set up on the night of a full moon. She quickly volunteered, “excited to at last be doing something.”
She hiked to the top of Stafford Ridge and learned to climb the giant redwood using rock-climbing gear. She spent a week in the branches learning the ways of tree-sitting. But after returning to base camp for a day to clean up, she fell ill for more than two weeks. She had just recovered when word came that loggers were about to begin cutting near Luna. On December 10 she and a companion decided to go to Luna and sit for a while to hold down the fort. “Two weeks turned into three, and after three I thought, ‘I’m so close to a month I might as well stay.'” When she had been up two months, a photographer visiting her suggested she try to hold out for 100 days. At the time, she says, having suffered through terrible winter storms, she could not imagine lasting that much longer.
Earth First! has long used the tactic of occupying trees in the loggers’ path, but no one has stayed up in such a “tree-sit” longer than Julia.
When she started her sit in Luna last December, Julia Butterfly expected to stay up about two weeks before letting another forest defender take her place. But now she has endured more than half a year of living 180 ft. off the ground on a six-by-eight foot platform no larger than a queen-size bed. She survived the winter’s record-setting rains and howling El Nino storms that shredded her tarp shelter, covered her with sleet, and tossed her platform around so violently that she feared for her life. She made it through the sadness of watching loggers chainsawing the forest around her and the ear-shattering noise and wind blast of giant logging helicopters hovering over her and hauling away the logs. She outlasted the efforts of company security to block her support team and to harass her from her perch with all-night spotlights, air horns, and amplified taunts.
As a result of her record-breaking accomplishment, Julia is getting her message out to the world. Following a breakthrough feature article by San Francisco Examiner writer Eric Brazil on February 12, she has attracted media like CNN, The London Times, Newsweek, People and European television. More join every day. In this era of cell phones and beepers, Julia gives several telephone interviews daily, and a few intrepid reporters and photographers have climbed to the treetop platform for face-to-face talks and pictures.
With experience she has become media savvy. Julia says many interview questions tend to be about shallow human interest and gee-whiz aspects of her feat rather than why she’s doing it. But she has learned to find a way to redirect the spotlight aimed at her and point it to what’s important. For example, although she now refuses to answer questions about personal hygiene, she often was asked how she goes to the bathroom. She replied that she does it just like everyone else, but she just doesn’t have the same technology. But then she would expand her answer to add that it may be true she is lacking a comfortable bathroom, but what about the seven Stafford families who lost their entire homes as a result of the logging-caused mudslide?
Though a newcomer to forest activism when she began her tree-sit, she has spent considerable time reading a large mass of environmental literature, including the writings of the late Judi Bari, one of her greatest heroines. She told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat: “Reading and learning about her while I’ve been up here has given me the strength to do this. I can’t believe the courage Judi Bari showed in the face of threats, a car bombing and finally cancer. I know the same fire that burned in her burns in me, But I can only hope to be a voice like her.”
Some dismiss Butterfly’s feat as a mere publicity stunt, but if so it’s a spectacularly successful one. And it’s no meaningless stunt because in every case in the past the lumber company has cut down trees as soon as tree-sitters have abandoned them. Butterfly’s deep commitment to preventing that fate for her adopted tree has caused her to endure physical and psychological ordeals that would have made a quitter of a lesser person.
In a live online chat hosted by Time Magazine, someone asked Julia why she would waste five months saving one tree when she could save many more with other work. Her reply: “My being in this tree stretches far beyond this one tree. Part of our hope in saving the last of the old-growth forests is making people aware of the destruction of the remaining three percent. By my being here, the world is now beginning to hear of the destruction of these ancient forests.” She added that, “Unfortunately … the media does not deem important a story about the last of these ancient forests and the animals that require these forests to exist … so it has taken my staying up here this long and going through what I’ve been through in order to help this story reach the world.”
Her stand has drawn more media attention, and more sustained attention, than anything else Earth First! has done in over a decade of efforts to prevent the logging of the ancient forest. Julia wrote in an essay recently that, “Luna and I, with the amazing efforts of a wonderful support team, stand together in defiance of the destructive practices of corporate greed and paid-off politicians. Luna is our beacon of hope and truth. In all her majestic glory she has become our platform to the world. From her branches we are making people aware that the destruction of the environment is a direct reflection of the destruction of our lives!”
As the late afternoon of June 10 comes, the drummers have finished and we begin preparing for the long downhill climb. On the ridgetop the wind has died down and there is a sample of the forest quiet that Julia experiences every day. She shouts to be heard across the distance, “This is the most incredible day of my entire life. You’re in my heart for the rest of time. Thank you!”
“I Feel so Blessed to be Here”
Julia Butterfly spoke with the Monitor by cell phone on the evening of June 15. The wind was strong and the sound of flapping canvas was loud and continuous. Julia said she had to hunker down inside her sleeping bag in order to hear the questions at all.
Monitor: How did you feel about the June 10 rally and drum-in that celebrated your six-month point?Julia: There was so much love that day! I just felt really thankful to be a part of so many people that really, really care. And, even the people who were just there because of (Grateful Dead drummer) Mickey Hart, maybe we planted some seeds in them to care a little bit more and maybe do something to help stop what’s happening.
Monitor: What motivates you to continue your tree-sit? Julia: I feel that what’s happening to our forestland and what’s left of it here is very, very critical. I feel that all of us need to look inside of ourselves and find what we do best, offer it in service to the Universe, and use it to help save the forest.
But, further than that, I feel personally compelled that not only do I have to do everything I possibly can, but then do a little bit more. And the reason for that is that we have less than 3% left of our old-growth forests, and it’s a part of a rainforest. I get my strength from knowing that if I don’t give everything I’ve got, and then a little bit more, then I haven’t given enough to help stop this. It’s at that point where it’s crucial and it’s critical. That’s really where I get my strength to continue on and my feelings that I need to continue on, and that the world’s listening. I’m doing my best to give them the truth.
The media tends to twist things and manipulate things, but the truth is shining through even in the middle of it, because I’m getting responses from people. They’re letting me know that they’re getting the picture even if the media isn’t giving it to them. And so I know that that’s the first step, getting them to open their eyes and their minds and their hearts. And then the next step is encouraging them to action. I just feel that I offered myself to the Universe, and I feel like the Universe called me to be here right now. That it’s still asking me to be here.
Do you have any specific goal in mind? I didn’t at the beginning. I didn’t even know what a tree-sit was when I first came up here. I’ve learned a whole lot in six months. In the beginning I was just fighting to save Luna, because that’s all I saw being able to do. There was even a point where Earth First! didn’t want this tree-sit to continue, because they didn’t feel like they had the resources, and they didn’t feel like it was safe enough. And I said I’m sorry but I won’t come down, and you don’t have to use your resources to help me. I don’t care but I won’t come down. I’m not going to let Luna fall in disgrace. So in the beginning that’s all I saw was being able to save Luna.
But now as more and more people are getting behind this thing I’m realizing that every time a new person joins us, whether it be through letters to Congress or all the different things people can do, that our power to save more than Luna rose. In the beginning, one of the first sound bites I ever learned — because I’ve had to learn to speak in sound bites sometimes — was that the destruction that’s happening to our environment is a direct reflection of the destruction of our lives.
So I had to think about what kind of demands I can make — we can all make — that tie those two things together. What I — we — came up with is:
Number one, no more clearcutting of old-growth forests because we have less than 3% left, and there’s no more room to compromise or deal any more because they’re already done it, they’ve already taken it all. Yeah, we’re saying they can’t have any more, but that’s because they’ve already taken more than their share.
Number two is no more cutting on steep, unstable slopes because it destroys habitat for humans and wildlife alike.
Number three, no more clearcutting. There’s nothing sustainable for the environment or for the economy.
Number four, no use of herbicides, because herbicides do nothing but hurt the land and the people.
Number five is restoration for the forests and for the communities.
My basis for saying no to all of the first four is that all those are fueled by a corporate greed. They don’t have anything to do with need, and they have everything to do with greed. The fifth thing, restoration, deals with the need, not only of the environment but of the economy. That’s where restoration fits in.
How do you feel about passing the six-month mark; does that sort of strike you as a milepost or marker point? Any specific feelings about passing that point? No. People ask me “Are you excited about Mickey Hart and all these people coming to celebrate?” I really had to think about it, and I never came up here for me, you know. I came up here for the forest. What I felt is positive about the six months is what I said earlier; I feel fantastic about all those people who are committed, and for those who possibly aren’t, I know that they had a seed planted.
Really, I never, ever in my wildest imagination thought that I was going to live in a tree for over half a year, and live through all these things that I’m living through, including this crazy wind while I’m talking to you. I’m having to hold my left ear shut real tight while I have the phone pressed tightly against my right ear to even barely be able to hear you.
Are you in a shelter, like a tent? It’s a platform covered in tarps. So it’s kind of like a tent, but it has a lot of cracks and crevices where the wind just picks up the tarps and just flaps them like crazy.
So that’s my take on the six months. When I first came up here I thought I was coming for two weeks to a month. I remember when I was on day 70 or so and a photographer came up and said, “Julia, you know the world record is 90 days. You ought to go for a world record.” He was just sort of joking. And I started laughing hysterically, because at 70 days I thought, “My God! I can’t do this much longer.” And I said, “There’s no way I can make it 100 days! What are you talking about?” You know? No way! And here I am at close to 200.
It’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished — all of us working together — in six months. But it’s amazing how much further we still have to go.
How many people are directly involved in supporting your tree-sit? We have a problem with words, sometimes. So when you say directly … in the last month there are three people that I’m talking on a daily basis to, and they’re people that I can count on to call with any need or idea and they would be right there.
To clarify my question, then, if you were putting together a tree-sit in that sort of location, doing what you’re doing, how many would you need on the team to keep it going? For a month we’ve been doing it with three people. But the thing is to have a really core, intense group, and then other people who have time off and on to come in and help alleviate the stress. But when you get too big of a group — for just a tree-sit it’s not that big of a deal — but when it’s a tree-sit that takes on the proportions that this one has, with the media and everything, it gets too chaotic with too many people. We’re doing a lot things like strategizing, and so if you get too many people you get too many varying opinions and it takes too long to come to a conclusion and make decisions. Also it varies depending on location; whether you have a base camp near the tree-sit or you have to drive or hike miles.
I was just talking to your spokesperson and asked him how many were involved, and he said they were having a meeting. He counted six people there. There are a lot of people involved. There are people way down in Southern Humboldt that are doing their part to make this action happen from miles and miles away.
So how did it make you feel to see all those people coming right up to see you on the tenth? I have two things to say. Those things in our Universe that are the most incredible are usually those things which we have no real words to describe. My second answer is that it was really, really windy and cold that day for me up here in the tree. All the love and energy I felt flowing from that group wrapped me like the warmest blanket I’ve ever been in in my life. I was really blessed.
I saw you right up on the tip top, so you were pretty well exposed to the wind there. It’s my favorite place to go though. It’s so empowering and so … I wish I had a way to get every single person in the world on that spot, feeling what I felt, what I feel when I go up there. Because the destruction in our Universe would stop. It would come to a screeching halt. It was one of the most life-altering experiences I’ve ever had the first time I went to the top of Luna. It’s just incredible, incredible. Your mind, the way you think changes. The way you feel changes. Just everything changes.
People were given the opportunity to bring you supplies up the hill when they came. Did they bring you enough to last a while? Oh yes! We were talking about the fact that our supply crew had gotten a lot smaller recently and someone suggested it. I said “I bet it wouldn’t hurt to try.” They brought me enough stuff that I could last up here for months. I would have to ration water a bit more than I’m doing, but I have enough dry good supplies, non perishables, that I could last for quite some time.
So you’re not considering coming down anytime soon? No. I feel so blessed to be where I am, because as the spotlight keeps shining on me, it’s hard but I’m doing my best to take that spotlight and shine it on what’s important to me. So I feel that it’s still important to a lot of different people for me to be up here. I get to tell the world about Elk River and Freshwater and Mattole and Stafford and what’s going on with Alaska right now. They’re the other end of this same forest. And what’s going on in Eugene and Portland. I get to talk about all of those people just because of the fact that I climbed up the tree and refuse to come down, and after a few months they finally started getting interested.
What I’d like to come down to is a world where those demands that I told you earlier, at least in this area were met.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share? A lot of people look at me almost as a mythological creature or something. But the magic and the power of Luna tree-sit lies in each and every one of us. And all we have to do is tap into it and recognize that every one of us has the power within ourselves to make incredible change. The corporate and political power has made us feel like our voice and power has been taken away from us. But the power of the individual, the universal power that lies deep within each and every one of us, can outweigh any other force out there if we just grab hold of it and run. That’s what I’ve really been trying to encourage people to understand is that the Luna tree-sit, the Julia Butterfly, everything that people are connecting with is already inside of them. All they have to do is look inside and find it.
You had a birthday while you were up there haven’t you? Yes, February 18th I turned 24.
What did you do on your birthday? I called my very best friend in the whole world. When I was 14 and she was 13 we made a pact. Her birthday is the 20th of February, and we made a pact that for the rest of our lives we would do our very best to celebrate our birthdays together, no matter where we were in the world. This was the first birthday since then that I’ve not been with her. So I called her back to Arkansas where she was living, and that’s the one thing I did for me for my birthday was touch base with my really wonderful, incredible friend that I had to leave behind when I made my choice to come out here and fight for the forest.
I don’t want to keep you up too late. Are you a night owl or a day person? Well, both, but tonight I’m not going to be sleeping until the wind stops. It makes too much noise to be able to sleep.
You must have had a lot of sleepless nights then. Oh yeah, especially for the two-and-a-half weeks in the wintertime when the weather got really bad and I almost died. There were many, many nights when I didn’t get any sleep.
Tell us a little about that. When was that? End of January, beginning of February, when the really fierce storms hit. I had gusts close to 90 miles per hour up here and it collapsed part of my fort. It was throwing me a few feet in every direction. It ripped major, major branches off from all around me. It ripped the tarps and was blowing sleet in on top of me. I thought I was going to die, because everything was breaking off and getting ripped off and blowing out, and I was getting thrown all over the place.
Do you wear a safety harness? No, because a safety harness this high up wouldn’t do any good, and because my platform is nestled in these branches that grow out of the trunk where it was struck by lightning and blown off.
So the biggest problem was the platform was making it hard for Luna, because the natural way for a tree to deal with the wind is to bend with it, and the platform was making it really hard on her. I had to apologize to her because I was up here to help her not to hurt her. But when your fear is that a branch is going to break, if you’re safety harnessed into one of the branches that breaks, you’re gone. The platform has about eight different spots where it sets. So it would take two or three branches breaking before I would be at a point where I couldn’t hold on any more. So if a branch broke I could immediately get down out of the platform. That would have exposed me to the elements, but I would be able to move freer without being safety harnessed in. So that’s why I didn’t do it. I just held on for dear life. (laughs)
But that was one of the most amazing moments of my life. There was two-and-a-half weeks solid of storms. It never stopped. During the day it would slack off a bit, occasionally. But that night it was the culmination. It was the worst night, when tornadoes came off in off the ocean in Shelter Cove and tore everything apart.
I thought I was going to die, and I grabbed onto Luna, and I was just like “Luna,” — you know I talk to everything in life; I talk to the air, to the water, anything that’s a part of life I talk to. And I grabbed onto Luna and I said “Luna, I’m terrified I’m going to die!” And I said, “I want to be strong for you and I want to be strong for the forest, but I can’t even be strong for me right now. I don’t know what to do. I’m flippin’ out.”
I was telling her, “If I’m going to die, I can’t think of a better way to die than living and fighting for what I believe in, because that’s so much better than the way most people die in our society. But I don’t want to die.” And she spoke to me! It was incredible, because she told me something that no one who was up here could have said better to help me through.
And she said “Julia, think of the trees in a storm.” And as the picture came into my mind, she started talking and she communicated with me. And she said “In a storm trees allow themselves to be blown with the wind, Julia. And those trees and those branches that try to be to strong and stand up straight, they break.” And she said, “Now is not the time for you to be strong or you’re going to break. You allow yourself to be blown with the wind. Let it flow, let it go. And you know that I’m going to do my best to hold us both up here and we’re going to make it through.”
People say, “Julia, you know, that makes you sound crazy.” And I’m like, yeah, but if anyone just stops and thinks about how powerful an image and a statement that was, they can all relate. I know they can. And there’s nothing anyone could have told me up here that’s more perfect to help me through.
After she told me that, that was the final release that I gave to the Universe. I gave my life to the Universe that night. I said, “You use me as a vessel completely to be a part of making this world a better place. And when I die I will die doing what I know is right. From that point it has been just a complete and total change.
One Year In An Ancient REDWOOD Tree
Forest activist Julia Butterfly Hill, 24, has endured El Nino storms, helicopter harassment, a 10 day siege by company security, and the sorrow brought about by witnessing the destruction of a forest for nearly one year. Yet Butterfly continues to persevere. Perched high atop a 1000 year-old tree known as Luna, hers is the latest story in a decade long struggle to save the last of the ancient redwoods.
Butterfly has been 180 feet atop the redwood tree she calls Luna since December 10, 1997. Near the clear-cut at the origin of the massive mud slide which destroyed seven homes in the town of Stafford on New Years Day 1997, she’s shattered tree sit records while achieving press coverage in a way that has brought the plight of our ancient forests to the world – the New York Times, ABC News, and London Times have all sent reporters to visit her, she has been interviewed for European television and innumerable radio talk shows. She has also recently been featured in People Magazine (April 6, 1998) and Time Magazine (May 11, 1998).
Although Butterfly is relatively new to the Headwaters Forest campaign, having arrived in November 1997, she has become one of America’s most inspiring spokespersons for the protection of our forests and watersheds. Carrying on in a tradition began decades earlier in Northern California’s redwood forests, Butterfly exemplifies the central role of women in today’s environmental movement – combining a strong understanding of the current political aspects of the forest controversy with a deep spiritual connection to the forest and the tree she has called home.
“We are currently at a critical point in the history of the ancient forests,” says Julia. “Rooted deeply in love and respect, standing in solidarity, we are reclaiming power for the land and the people to which it belongs. We are a beacon of hope for our forests and community.”
That spirit of resistance and hope, along with deep spiritual convictions has brought Butterfly into the heart of the Headwaters Forest issue. Located on California’s north coast near the town of Eureka the Headwaters Forest complex and surrounding land contains the last and largest remaining unprotected groves of ancient redwood trees on Earth.
Under a recently filed Habitat Conservation Plan Charles Hurwitz’s Houston based Maxxam Corporation, owner of Pacific Lumber Company and Headwaters, proposes to harvest almost half of it’s remaining ancient trees, while continuing to operate on unstable slopes such as the one where Luna exists. Not only has her action saved Luna from a similar fate for the present, Butterfly’s tree occupation has come to symbolize the resistance of a community to irresponsible logging and serves as a plea to all people to stop the harvesting of old growth trees. Her sacrifice is living proof that the actions of one person do make a difference.
One Year and Beyond
As activists continue forward in the campaign to protect Northern California’s majestic forests and watersheds, the resolve of those working to sustain the tree-sit grows daily.
Still high atop Luna remains Julia Butterfly. Still food and supplies are delivered day by day, mile by mile, up into a tree which would not exist had it not been for the dedication of a small group of determined activists and the support of a community.
The Spirit of Luna lives on, inspiring each of us to find the strength within ourselves to do everything that we can to save the one of the last wild places left in our country, the magnificent Ancient Redwood forests.
THROWING A PARTY FOR BUTTERFLY
December 10, 1998
EUREKA POLICE CHIEF ARNIE MILLSAP HAS A LONG MEMORY.
He remembers 30 years ago when the Grateful Dead, the most successful touring band in history, played in Eureka and he was a young officer working crowd control. And he remembers last year when private security hired for a Forest Aid concert at the Eureka Municipal Auditorium was in his words “inadequate.”
That’s why he denied a permit to promoters of a Forest Aid concert featuring two former members of the Grateful Dead unless they promised to hire nine additional police officers.
The concert will be held instead at the Mateel Community Center in Redway tonight. Joining Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum and Bob Weir and Friends for the Tree of Life concert are eco-groovy singer/songwriter Alice DiMicele and a band called KVHW led by Steve Kimock, who played guitar for the Dead reunion band the Other Ones.
Organized by Bill Graham Presents of San Francisco and People Productions in southern Humboldt, the event is in celebration of the one-year anniversary of the day Julia “Butterfly” Hill climbed a redwood tree on Pacific Lumber Co. land near Stafford to protest old-growth logging. She hasn’t come down yet and the length of her protest is again drawing national media attention.
“This is the third year we’ve done a Forest Aid event,” said Bob Barsotti, vice president of Bill Graham Presents.
“Each year it’s been for a different aspect of the Headwaters struggle: First it was for the Trees Foundation and the Northcoast Environmental Center; the next year we did a show with Bonnie Raitt and the money was divided between four or five different groups. That was actually a tour where in four dates we made over $100,000.
“This year we were working on a number of ideas and they were all falling through. Then Julia called up Mickey Hart and said, `Hey, Mickey, I’m going to be up here for a year as of Dec. 10, how about doing a show?’ He said, `Great idea!’ So she actually was the impetus on this one.”
Hart predicted that some people will complain that musicians have no business getting involved in politics. But, he said, “We’re the artists, the poets, the ones who mirror what’s going on in society. We have to make a stand.
“This is a precious forest,” he said. “There is an ecosystem here just teeming with all kinds of life and it has its own rhythm. We’re here to say to Charles Hurwitz and Maxxam that you cannot violate this rhythm. Corporations cannot take our greatest treasures from us. We’re going to stop them; at least we will try. We’re not going to let them rip this away from us without a fight.”
The two previous forest shows were held at the Eureka Municipal Auditorium and the plan was for tonight’s to be there as well.
“They have a policy where anything that goes into the Muni has to be approved by the police,” Barsotti said. “The first time we did this two years ago, I got a call saying they did not want us to do it. I sat down with Chief Arnie Millsap and convinced him that I knew what I was doing, and we weren’t going to let anything get out of hand. He was concerned that there would be protests outside, and I convinced him that it was a fund raiser, not a rally.”
According to Barsotti, the last two shows went off without any problems. The main complaints came from neighbors who said concert-goers were relieving themselves in their backyards. So last year portable toilets were rented and more security was provided outside.
When he was turned down this year, Barsotti said, “I called the chief and asked why. He said, `We’re really worried about this show. There’s a lot of tension up here. We’ve got a situation here with a lot of people out of work and we’re afraid of a violent situation. So we’re going to require that you hire eight officers and a sergeant and it will cost you $3,000 or $4,000.'”
Millsap said the decision was solely based on the inadequacy of the security at last year’s event.
“Politics don’t enter into it,” he said. “My job as chief of police is to keep the peace in the community and enforce the law. When we have groups that use city facilities and they don’t provide crowd management, we’re going to require additional resources be allocated to make sure that laws are obeyed and that there is no damage to property.
“No matter what’s going on at the Muni we get complaints about traffic, parking, the noise. When large numbers of people crowd into that building and large numbers are outside milling about, it creates a disturbance factor.”
Millsap is well aware that Grateful Dead shows are known to attract a crowd that enjoys hanging out many come to concerts without tickets for just that purpose.
“You want some history?” he asked. “Thirty years ago I went through the same darn thing with the Grateful Dead. Look back in the archives of the Eureka paper and you’ll see there was a big bust at the Grateful Dead dance. I was an officer at the time.”
The concert on Jan. 20, 1968, was billed as “the Quick and the Dead.” It featured Quicksilver Messenger Service along with the Grateful Dead.
“We had people all over the outside and so many inside the fire marshal was getting the hiccups,” the chief recalled. “We had people selling and using marijuana that night. I caught one guy selling LSD tabs. After that we wouldn’t allow the Grateful Dead to come back to Eureka. But this has nothing to do with that incident. This is a different group, different times.”
With both sides eager to avoid confrontation, Barsotti made plans to take the show elsewhere. He didn’t have to look far. Community leaders in Southern Humboldt offered use of their facility even though the annual Winter Arts Fair takes place at the Mateel over the weekend. With just 700 tickets available in the smaller hall, the show sold out almost immediately. In retrospect, Barsotti said that the change in venue may be for the best.
“It turned this back into what it should be, which is a celebration of Julia’s year up in the tree.”
The move to the Mateel also opened up a unique opportunity. The show will be broadcast live on KMUD public radio and via the Internet through KMUD’s website.
It’s been a busy week for Hill with media interviews and visitors, many wondering when she will come down.
“My word from the very beginning was that I was not going to allow my feet to touch the ground again until I felt that I had done everything I possibly could. That still holds,” said Hill via her cellular phone.
“I never set forth any specific conditions that had to happen before I came down. I talked about things I’d love to see happen. I came forward with terms for a resolution with Pacific Lumber, a comprehensive conservation easement where both sides could win, and I got attacked for making nonnegotiable demands from one side and attacked from the other side, saying I was negotiating with a company that can’t keep its word.”
Hill brushed aside rumors that she is suffering physically from her self-imposed confinement.
“I’m doing wonderfully as far as my health goes. That’s not an issue. There’s been all kinds of rumors. I’m not pregnant, I don’t have six toes, I have never eaten corned beef at the Scotia Inn, I’m not marrying a Highway Patrol officer.”
Woman Strikes Deal And Ends Two-Year Vigil In A Tree
BUTTERFLY TOUCHES EARTH
Environmental activist Julia “Butterfly” Hill is claiming victory in her battle to save the 600-year-old redwood that was her home for more than two years.
In a agreement, Ms Hill and her supporters pledged to pay $50,000 to Pacific Lumber to make up for lost logging revenue. The company agreed to spare Ms. Hill’s redwood and a 2.9 acre buffer zone around it. The company also said it would donate the $50,000 to Humboldt State University for forestry studies.
Hill ended her tree-sitting protest on Saturday, December 18th, 1999, lowering herself from her perch 18 stories high in the branches of the redwood she called Luna.
“I understand to some people, I’m just a dirty, tree-hugging hippie, but I can’t imagine being able to take a chain saw to something like this. Before anyone should ever be allowed to cut down trees like this, they should be mandated to live in it for two years,” a sobbing, euphoric Hill said shortly after kneeling and kissing the ground at the tree’s massive trunk. “I understand that we all live under different valuesystems,” she said. “But I just don’t understand why anyone would want to cut thesetrees down.”
Several activists, friends and supporters were on hand to congratulate Hill with hugs and kisses.
In her 6-by-8-foot treetop abode,Hill spent her days reading, writing poetry and cooking vegetarian food with supplies hoisted up to her bysupporters. She kept fit by climbing and used a small bucket for personal hygiene.
On December 10, 1999 Julia Butterfly Hill, 25, had reached her two year mark of sitting high atop the 600+ year old redwood tree now known as Luna. She climbed 180′ up into a tarp covered 6′ x 8′ platform on December 10, 1997, in an effort to protect Luna and the hillside on which it stands, as well as to protest the federally brokered Headwater’s Forest Agreement and the destructive and illegal logging practices of the MAXXAM/Pacific Lumber Company. Butterfly had called for permanent protection of all remaining old-growth forests and critical habitat for endangered species. “Things of real value in life are worth going to any length in love and respect to safeguard,” said Butterfly. Julia had maintained her vigil with the assistance of a dedicated support group that brought her food, water, supplies and mail.
During her quest to protect the forest, Julia Butterfly had accomplished much toward her goals. The story of her historic action has been extensively covered in all forms of the national news media, the alternative press and the international press from every corner of the world.
Other achievements include:
* Panelist on U.N. Commission for Human Settlements, World Gathering, Nairobi, Africa, May 1999
* Musician Bonnie Raitt dedicated her “Lifetime Achievement Award” to Julia Butterfly Hill at the 1999 BAMMIE Awards and then ascended Luna with Joan Baez to present it to her.
* Visited by thousands, including actor Woody Harrelson, musicians Ben Harper and Mickey Hart, Buddhist monks, and Native Americans. First tree-sitter to have reporters climb tree.
* Regular commentator on Outdoor Life Network’s environmental news show: The Thin Green Line
* Addressed 8 million school children on forestry issues on Channel 1, a cable network
* Received The Bioneers Award for Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Activism, Nov. 1998
* Nominated “Most Admired Woman,” Good Housekeeping Magazine reader poll, September 1998
* Keynote Speaker (via cell-phone), Environmental Law Conference; Ancient Forest Conference (1999)
* Member, Board of Directors, Earth Day 2000 Campaign
* Received “Defender of the Woods Award” painting from Native American political prisoner, Leonard Peltier, April 1998
* United Steelworkers make Julia an honorary Steelworker and repeatedly visit Luna; Local #713 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners present Julia a “care package” (1999)
* Received Honorary Doctorate Degree of Humanities from New College of California, Sept. 1998
* Julia Hangs 7′ “target” banner to protest bombing of Yugoslavia (current)
* Survived El Nino rains and 90 mile/hr.winds (97-98) and La Nina 10 degree cold and a 1′ of snow (98-99).
“I believe the outward landscape is a manifestation of our inner landscape,” said Butterfly whose continuous vigil had been in a timber harvest plan adjacent to the massive mudslide caused by MAXXAM/Pacific Lumber’s clearcutting practices. On New Year’s Day 1997, this mudslide destroyed 7 families’ homes, damaging and threatening dozens of others, in the town of Stafford below. “MAXXAM/Pacific Lumber’s response to this horrifying tragedy was to offer the families a couple of thousand dollars and continue cutting right above their heads. This area is a magnifying glass of all that is wrong not only with the Headwater’s Forest Agreement, but also the role of corporate mentality in our world today,” said Julia.
“The Headwaters Agreement and associated Habitat Conservation Plan is based on the premise that only a bare minimum needs to be protected for endangered species recovery, and from the beginning it has failed to require what is biologically necessary to accomplish even that,” Hill stated. “Thousands of acres of old growth will be sacrificed and tens of thousands more of seriously devastated land will go without needed restoration, eliminating the potential for new jobs, all while Charles Hurwitz laughs his way to the bank with $500 million in hand,” she said. Hurwitz, president of PL parent company Maxxam, is still the subject of an Office of Thrift Supervision trial regarding a $1.6 billion debt to the American taxpayers as a result of a federal bailout of his failed United Savings Association of Texas. Hill states that Luna, the tree she had occupied since December 10, 1997, and the surrounding steep and unstable hillside are representative of the many areas that the Agreement falls to adequately protect.
Julia Hill chose the name Butterfly while in her childhood years and like her namesake she has undergone a great metamorphosis. She grew up in a deeply religious family as the daughter of a traveling, evangelical minister that later settled in Arkansas. In 1996 she suffered nearly fatal injuries in an auto accident. During close to a year of medical treatment and recovery, she had time to reassess her purpose in life. Two weeks after being released by her doctors, she headed west on a journey of self-discovery. She had no particular destination, but her first sight of the ancient redwoods overwhelmed her with awe. “When I entered the majestic cathedral of the redwood forest for the first time, my spirit knew it had found what it was searching for. I dropped to my knees and began to cry because I was so overwhelmed by the wisdom, energy and spirituality housed in this holiest of temples.”
After living two years and eight days on a small tarp-covered platform nestled in the upper boughs of an ancient redwood named Luna, Julia “Butterfly” Hill’s bare feet touched the ground December 18 as she triumphantly ended her world record protest.
Her tree-sit ended only after reaching an agreement with Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation, the landowner, to permanently protect the tree and a 200-ft. radius buffer zone from logging. Hill said that the agreement fulfilled her vow not to touch the ground until she had done all she could to preserve the ancient tree whose life had already spanned a millennium.
Media representatives were kept to a minimum at the base of the tree, which grows on a mountainous ridge overlooking the Eel River Valley at Stafford. An NBC-TV crew recorded the slender, barefoot 25-year-old’s tearful return to Earth and shared the footage with all major TV networks. Videographer James Ficklin, who made an award winning documentary about the tree-sit, provided this eyewitness account:
“In one of the most emotional moments of North Coast forest activism history, Julia’s feet touched the ground; she then fell to her knees and collapsed in a ball, weeping. After a long moment, she rose back to her knees, lifted her arms up towards the tree and cried out. ‘We did it!’ When she rose to her feet she was hugged profusely by her ground support crew followed by her father. There was not a dry eye among them.”
Julia and her ground crew linked arms in a circle around the 15-ft diameter trunk of the old tree. Gazing up at Luna from the ground for the first time in daylight, Julia exclaimed, “She’s even more beautiful than I thought.” But her voice choked with emotion as she went on, “I understand all of us are governed by different values. I understand that to some people I’m just a dirty tree-hugging hippie. But I can’t imagine being able to take a chainsaw to something like this.” Then she quipped, “I think before anyone could be allowed to cut down something like this they should be mandated to live in it for two years.” There was laughter all around the circle.
Concerns whether Julia would be strong enough to walk after her long ordeal were soon put aside as she fairly danced barefoot down the steep trail. Along the way she commented on the impacts of continuing logging, and paused where the trail skirted the top of the massive New Year’s Eve 1996 mudslide that had destroyed or damaged seven families’ homes in the hamlet of Stafford far below. She scoffed at Pacific Lumber’s contention that the disastrous slide was not a result of the company’s clearcut logging on the steep slopes above the town, but that it was solely due to unusually heavy rainfall that year. She said she had spent two years observing first hand how the foliage and even the pattern of bark on the tree slowed the falling raindrops, lessening its impact on the soil. The ferns and underbrush help gather up the moisture, she said. “All of those little things that get destroyed when they clearcut are part of keeping that from happening,” she said pointing at the gaping slide. “I don’t care how much they pay a scientist to tell me otherwise. I lived it for two years. I saw it with my own eyes.”
It was that slide that resulted in Julia’s tree-sit. When Earth First! Headwaters Forest activists heard chainsaws on the slopes above Stafford the following October, they hiked up to investigate and found a new logging operation under way. By moonlight they discovered the Luna tree, and a young man named Daniel free-climbed a smaller redwood growing from Luna’s roots, then spent the next several days occupying the hollow top of Luna’s broken-off trunk. Loggers felled the tree he had climbed, effectively leaving him no way down, and they threatened to fell the big tree with Daniel in it. But a nocturnal rescue party used rock climbing gear to ascend Luna by the light of the full moon and rig up the tree-sit platform. That’s when Luna got her name. A succession of temporary tree-sitters followed, the last of whom was Julia Hill, a new arrival at the Earth First! base camp. She had no idea then what she was beginning.
Julia Hill was an unknown 23-year old Arkansan on a journey of self-discovery when she ascended Luna on December 10, 1997, expecting to spend 2-4 weeks helping out with the tree-sit. But she went on — “one day at a time,” as she often said — to endure the stormiest, coldest winter in Northern California’s recorded history. She withstood harassment with all-night spotlights and bullhorns wielded by company security. And she survived buffeting by a giant logging helicopter hovering close overhead in an attempt to drive her down with wind blasts over 100 MPH.
As she stubbornly refused to give up her perch 180 feet above the ground, and the days became months, reporters began seeking her out for interviews. Learning quickly from gaffes in early interviews, she metamorphosed into a thoughtful and eloquent spokesperson for preserving the scant remnants of the once vast ancient redwood forest ecosystem, a message she has now taken to the major TV network talk shows. Visitors to her treetop nest included not only reporters, photographers and TV crews from near and far, but singers Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt, who did a benefit concert for Julia’s Circle of Life Foundation early in December in the Southern Humboldt town of Redway. The 800 tickets sold out in 20 minutes. Julia became a frequent guest on radio talk shows nationwide, and became a regular treetop correspondent for a cable TV show.
Reaching the base of the trail leading from Luna, Julia and her group held a press conference. The site, next to Highway 101, the “Redwood Highway,” was precisely where the horrific mudslide had buried several homes three years earlier. A flower-bedecked table with a dozen microphones was set up in front of a like number of cameras from every major TV network, their cables strung to two satellite trucks ready to beam the news instantly to the world. Although she has become known to millions globally through cell-phone media interviews, speeches and radio programs, Julia was amazed at the many cameras and microphones pointed at her, and she shyly exclaimed “wow” several times as she approached. As Julia reached the table she remarked that she hadn’t sat in a chair in years, and joked that maybe she could face away from the cameras and talk via a cell phone as she had done nearly every day of the past two years.
She began by saying that although the media has focused on her alone as a symbol of the struggle to preserve the redwoods, there are many more who deserve the credit: her stalwart ground and media support teams, the local communities that donated food to sustain her, and the many national and international supporters for the protection of Luna. “I feel that each and every person was vital in that protection.”
Asked what was her goal, she answered: “When I first climbed up there I wanted to do something for the forest. When I came out here in the summer of ’97 I entered the ancient redwoods for the first time, and I had a life-altering experience. There’s no way to be in the presence of these ancient beings and not have a new understanding of who we are as people walking on this Earth. And a few weeks later I found out that they were being destroyed.” She knew she had to do something, she said, “and the first thing that I came across that I could do was sit in a tree. If nothing else, my body could gain a reprieve for an over 1,000-year-old redwood tree. I climbed up into the tree, and I told some friends on the ground I’ll see you in a few weeks, and that was two years ago. During those first few weeks I came to the understanding that I needed to do more, that I had a very deep sense from the very depths of my being that we must do more … to stop the clearcuts, to stop the mudslides. I decided that I would give my word to not touch the ground again, no matter what, until I had done everything I possibly could to make the world aware and get this area protected. And we did it!”
As for what’s next for her, she said she feels most fulfilled serving a cause greater than herself, and hopes to continue leading a life of service. The next step, she said, would be getting into a car, “and that’s going to be really intense. Check back with me after that,” she laughed.
Stafford resident Lonnie Vones spoke up, saying “Julia, I lived here right below you for two years. I have four small children, and you did what PL wouldn’t do; you probably saved our lives. Thank you!” Julia thanked him and took the opportunity to explain to the media how the tree-sit was started to call attention to destructive logging practices that cause mudslides that destroy family homes:
My hope today is that Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation recognizes that we have to do things differently; that we can’t keep clearcutting, we can’t keep dumping herbicide and diesel fuel, we can’t keep cutting on steep hillsides that slide away and destroy people’s homes; that there’s something greater than a profit, and that’s life. We have to begin recognizing the intrinsic and vital value of life that no amount of money can ever replace. And to me that’s what this tree-sit has been all about.
My hope is that Pacific Lumber, in agreeing to this protection, has seen that no matter what our differences we can find our common ground, and that we as people can learn to work together to find solutions. There’s a lot of conflict, and there’s a lot of problems; there’s a lot of anger, and frustration and sadness in our world. And all of those energies try every day to make us give up and lose hope. But I’ve learned the lesson of not letting go of hope. I’ve had to let go of everything else in my life, but hope and love are the two things I’ve refused to let go of.
I really believe that today is the day when we see the power of love, and we see that, yes, we have hope, especially when we come together. Each and every one of us absolutely can make a difference … but when we come together, when we join our hearts, and our minds, and our spirits, and our bodies, the sky’s the limit. And we can do things like protect ancient trees so they can stand for another millennium.
Julia said that the past few weeks of negotiations with Pacific Lumber had been difficult. The talks had actually begun last March, and by mutual agreement they had been kept private, until a couple of weeks ago when there was a leak to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and it became a page one story. Both sides denied leaking the details. The two sides had long before reached the basic agreement to protect the Luna tree and buffer area, and even agreed on the amount of compensation involved. But apparently PL was worried that it would be seen as giving in to tree-sitting as a tactic, and that others would be encouraged to try it. Reportedly PL asked for a provision in the agreement whereby Julia would refrain from advocating tree-sitting or from criticizing the company, and another condition would require her to forswear any economic gain from her tree-sit. These conditions were aired publicly by Maxxam’s Houston public relations spokesperson, and it angered Julia that PL/Maxxam would try to limit her right to free speech and that they suggested that her motivation was financial. Although she has a book contract to write about her experience in a book to be released by Harper in April, 2000, titled “The Legacy of Luna,” Julia said she had already agreed to turn over all proceeds from the book to her non-profit foundation. In fact, a portion of the advance money received went toward the fee asked by PL/Maxxam in return for protecting Luna. She adamantly refused to agree to the new conditions, and she prevailed.
As part of her agreement with Pacific Lumber to preserve Luna, Julia and her supporters agreed to pay a fee of $50,000 to the lumber company for a deeded covenant, recorded with the county like a land title, restricting the company’s use of the tree and the 200-ft. buffer area. The company refused Julia’s request that the money go to benefit its employees, but it agreed to donate it to a forestry research program at Humboldt State University. Julia agreed to come down from the tree within seven days, and never again to tree-sit on PL property or to enter it without permission. But she won the right to visit Luna as often as she likes, with advance notice to the company. Both Julia and PL agreed to release written statements, each saying something good about the other, to the media once she had left the tree. The money was paid and legal documents were filed with the Humboldt County Recorder on Friday, December 19. Julia expected to take several days to prepare herself to leave Luna, but a leak from the county office set off a whirlwind of media queries that led to the quickened descent and press conference the next day.
In connection with its coverage of Julia’s descent, CNN polled its audience, asking people which was more important, the preservation of ancient trees or logging jobs. There were 10,972 responses, with 81 percent voting for trees and 19 voting for jobs. But Humboldt County remains polarized, with many families dependent on logging income.
When it became known that negotiations were underway, a full-page ad began appearing daily in the Times-Standard, published in Eureka, the Humboldt County seat:
Please Pacific Lumber, do not let her win. Do not give in to eco-terrorism. Our society cannot last if we let bandits seize our property. If you agree with this, call Pacific Lumber Company at 764-2222. The true redwood friends, Tom Becker, spokesman.
Letters to the editor of the Press Democrat have also shown anger towards Hill’s action. “Julia Hill broke the law. She should have been taken down two years ago and arrested. Trees are a crop. Get over it, Butterfly,” wrote a subscriber. Other letters to the Albion Monitor and other media have emphasized that she was criminally trespassing on PL land.
She also received some criticism from the left, with some Earth First!ers decrying the precedent of paying money to PL, reminding people that it was Earth First!ers who put up the Luna tree-sit and named it, and that EF!’s basic belief is “No compromise in defense of Mother Earth.” They argued that if Julia was ready to come down from Luna, there were plenty of EF! treesitters willing to take her place, so there was no need to make a deal with PL.
But long-time Earth First! organizer Darryl Cherney had a more positive view: “It feels good when we can bring closure to an issue, and it’s rare…. It’s rare that somebody like Julia comes into our presence…. A reporter asked me was this worth $50,000, and I said to him that Luna was worth more than that, the publicity that Julia attained was worth more than that, and bringing Julia home alive and in one piece was worth more than $50,000.”
It’s hard to argue with success. As S. F. Examiner writer Eric Brazil wrote in a Dec. 16 analysis headlined “Julia Butterfly, the ultimate tree-hugger, defeats Hurwitz & Co:”
Hill has become everybody’s favorite wood nymph, a global celebrity able to command more reportorial microphones and telephones and cameras than any other living environmentalist. Her teleconference with two dozen reporters last week (on the second anniversary of Julia’s ascent) generated yards of ink and minutes of air time. Sunday’s New York Times Magazine gave her a full page — including a stunning color photo of her barefoot, clinging to a tree branch — to explain, in her own words, what she’s up to. All this presents Pacific Lumber Co., which owns “Luna,” the redwood that Hill has commandeered, with a world-class public relations headache.
Julia wasted no time taking advantage of the media spotlight to get the word out about the redwoods. By sunset Monday, two days after her descent, she arrived in New York City for a round of TV talk shows, beginning Tuesday morning with a spot on the Today show. The segment began with footage of her descent and the scene at the foot of Luna, and as the narration continued, clips from the activist video documentary, “Luna the Stafford Giant,” showing Julia at home atop Luna, cooking meals on a one-burner camp stove, talking on a cell phone, and climbing friskily about on Luna’s upper branches. It also showed scenes of the big helicopter buzzing her.
Then the scene switched to Julia in the studio, deftly fielding questions from the host and staying firmly on message. Asked if she had wanted to become an icon for the environmental movement, Julia replied, “What I wanted to do was get the word out. If we’re going to make change in the world, the first thing we have to do is inform each other. The second thing we have to do is inspire each other to realize that we can make a difference, that our actions can change the world. One person can make a difference ….” Asked what’s the next action for Julia, she answered, “To continue to do everything I can to spread the word to people that our forests need our help, and to ask people to re-look at the way we treat the Earth and each other, and find healthy, respectful ways to become more in balance. And that’s the purpose of the publicity, to spread the word; we have to make each other aware that yes, we can do it.”
Asked how she liked sleeping in a bed and taking a shower for the first time in two years, she laughed and said, “For the last two days I’ve felt like a little child. Everything is overwhelming. My eyes have been really big and I’m just trying to take it all in. One of the greatest lessons I learned in the tree was to never take life for granted again. So no matter how great something is or how small, it is absolutely wonderful to be alive.”
In a telephone interview with KMUD radio Wednesday December 22, Julia said that in addition to the Today show, she appeared five other major TV programs Tuesday, and made arrangements to be on others this week. Appearances on Good Morning America and the David Letterman Show were in the works, but the dates were not firm.
Asked how she is being treated in New York, she said that she had been told by many that network TV people are “numb” to most of the stories they cover day after day, and are used to celebrities and news makers. But the friends traveling with her tell her that at every appearance they see media workers get up from their computers and offices and go to the studio or the nearest TV to watch what’s happening on the set. “People are waiting for me after it’s over saying ‘I want to shake your hand; I want to say thank you for the most inspirational story we’ve ever had come through our newsroom.’ It just makes me cry every single time. That was my hope that we would accomplish with this agreement; that we would reach people’s hearts, even the people who seem to be numb, and give them hope, and through that to inspire them to realize that they can do something too.”
Julia said she was glad to be doing outreach, getting her message out in the hectic media beehive of Manhattan, but there is little doubt where her heart lies. When asked where she planned to live, she replied with laughing understatement, “I think I’ve put down roots in Humboldt County.” Her plans are to go south from New York to spend the holidays with her family, then to return to Southern Humboldt for the new year. She plans to hold an open house at the community center there to meet some of the many people who have supported her in so many ways over the past two years. Her father, Dale Hill, a former traveling preacher and now a reporter for the Garberville Independent, moved there about a year ago to be near her. Of him, Julia said that he had raised her to have strong principles and to stand by them no matter what the adversity. Obviously, she learned that lesson well.
KMUD News and KZYX News contributed to this article
Photos: It’s been 20 years since Julia Butterfly fought Big Logging — by living in a tree
The public-shaming genius made international headlines and inspired a generation of eco-crusaders.
On December 10, 1997, the barefoot environmental activist Julia “Butterfly” Hill climbed up a 600-year-old, 200-foot-tall redwood tree in a remote corner of Northern California, and stayed there for 738 days. A native of Arkansas, Hill had teamed up with Earth First!, a group of by-any-means-necessary, redneck-hippie eco-warriors best known for its legally dubious “monkey-wrenching” protest tactics. Hill, however, brought a Zen-like mysticism to the movement, and her motivation for occupying the tree, dubbed “Luna” (“anyone that would climb this high is a lunatic,” she later explained), was as much about spirituality as it was politics. “There’s no way to be in the presence of these ancient beings and not be affected,” the exhausted 24-year-old told a group of reporters after descending the tree in December, 1999. “There’s something more than profit, and that’s life.”
People had been tree sitting before Julia Butterfly came along. But Hill ushered in a new sense of urgency and determination, the likes of which were completely irresistible to the press. Between riding out torrential El Niño storms and freezing winds from her precarious 8-by-8-foot plywood perch, she conducted radio interviews via solar-powered cell phone, and hosted reporters and photographers willing to make the two-hour climb to her rustic penthouse. On Earth Day in 1999, Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt even dropped by. Baez called the visit “one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.”
Neighbors living downhill from Luna have often credited Hill with saving their homes from impending mudslides exacerbated by heavy logging in the area. But not all locals were so enamored. Hill’s standoff added fuel to long-simmering resentments pitting Humboldt residents and lumberjacks, who saw the meddling hippie and her legion of international supporters as a threat to their way of life. In September 1998, while Hill was almost a year into her occupation of Luna, David Chain, a fellow Earth First! activist, was killed by a logger-felled tree after a confrontation in nearby Headwaters Forrest. “I understand non-violent protest,” a Humboldt pharmacist named Merilyn Ross told the Ukiah Daily Journal after the incident. “But I’m not so sure Gandhi would have sat in a tree for two years — not over whether to cut the tree down.”
In fact, Hill’s and Chain’s brand of nonviolent protest is exactly the sort of thing Gandhi would have done. And Butterfly, despite her local reputation as an outsider naif drawing unwanted attention to a company town, was carrying the flame into a distinctly modern moment. The late ’90s are remembered, amidst their pre-millennial anxiety, for the innocent optimism of a time when the internet still felt like a path towards human connectivity, goodwill, and understanding. Hill’s use of a cell phone to communicate with the rest of the world is significant (consumer mobile technology was still in its infancy) as was her relationship with the media, which showed a sophisticated strategy for wielding power through the press. Her protest worked: Luna was spared the chainsaw (though nearby redwoods continue to be cut). When Hill finally came down, wobbly kneed and ecstatic, she said “it was so cold and wet this morning, I had to laugh, because I was so thankful that I don’t have to sit through another winter.’’
The activist’s home consisted of an 8 x 8 ft. plywood platform and tarps to keep out rain. Her partners in the Earth First! environmental advocacy group supplied Hill with provisions and protection during her two-year stint as a tree sitter.
Luna, Famed Ancient REDWOOD Tree, Cut By Assailant
Tree had been home for two years to activist Julia Butterfly Hill
The small hamlet of Stafford, California is the site of a landslide that originated on PL/Maxxam land that destroyed seven families’ homes.
Stafford is also home to the Stafford Giant, an ancient redwood tree now known to the world as Luna. The tree was named Luna by forest activists who used thelight of the full moon to rig a treesitting platform 180 feet high in the redwood in October, 1997.
On December 10, 1997 Julia Butterfly Hill climbed into the tree to protect the magnificent redwood and to help make the world aware of the plight of the ancientforests. From her perch she carried out a tremendous amount of outreach to politicians, religious leaders, school children and citizens worldwide.
After two years of risking her life, Julia, with the help of members of the US Steelworkers of America and other forest activists, successfully negotiated thepermanent protection of Luna and a nearly three-acre buffer zone. The tree was protected by a Deed of Covenant, similar to a conservation easement that is held bythe land trust Sanctuary Forest.
The Luna Preservation Agreement, signed by Julia Hill and PL/Maxxam Corp., was designed to protect Luna in perpetuity so the tree could live for anothermillennium. On Thanksgiving weekend it was discovered that a critical cut had been made into Luna by a large chainsaw.
The perpetrator made one deep and precise cut that went through a significant portion of the tree. While the tree is still alive and standing, Luna is extremelyvulnerable to a windstorm. Judging from the precision of the cut and the fresh sawdust, the criminal action appears to have been committed by an experiencedtreefaller within the last few days. Julia Butterfly was devastated to learn of the injury to Luna, “Luna is the greatest teacher and best friend I have ever had.”
I gave two years of my life to ensure that she could live and die naturally”. But two years is nothing compared to the thousand years she has lived, providing shelter,moisture and oxygen to forest inhabitants. “It kills me that the last 3% of the ancient redwoods are being desecrated“.
Hill described the vandalism as a personal blow. “I feel this vicious attack on Luna as surely as if the chainsaw was going through me, Words cannot express the deep sorrow that I am experiencing but I am ascommitted as ever to do everything in my power to protect Luna and the remaining ancient forests.” Circle of Life Foundation and Sanctuary Forest are researchingwhat can be done to stabilize the critically injured tree.
There is a criminal investigation at the crime site for clues as to who may have committed this spiteful and malevolent action against this permanently protected tree.The forests surrounding Luna are sacrifice zones that were not protected under the Headwaters Forest Agreement.
Other sacrifice zones include the old-growth Douglas fir forests on Rainbow Ridge in the Mattole River watershed. Police convoys are actively trying to stop forestactivists from defending these forested steep slopes that are slated to be clearcut during this rainy season.