Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Remember Butterfly?

The New York Times  Mike McPhate CALIFORNIA TODAY DEC. 20, 2016

Julia Hill, known as Butterfly, lived in the top branches of a towering redwood tree in Humboldt County in the late 1990s. Credit Andrew Sawyer for The New York Times 

In the 1990s, Humboldt County was deeply divided over the cutting of its ancient redwoods.
Environmental activists chained themselves to trees, blocked logging roads and held sit-ins at the offices of the Pacific Lumber Company, which had extensive timber holdings in the county.

But perhaps no protest captured wider attention than that of the 23-year-old Julia Hill, known as Butterfly, who ascended the misty heights of a redwood that had been marked for cutting and stayed there, on a small plywood platform, for two years.

It was this week in 1999 that Ms. Hill finally came down from her 180-foot perch after a deal was reached to permanently protect the tree (which she named Luna).

The redwood tree nicknamed Luna was reinforced with brackets after someone cut it with a chain saw in 2000. Credit Stuart Moskowitz 

For 738 days in the tree, also known as the Stafford Giant, Ms. Hill survived on supplies hoisted by supporters and endured at times harsh weather, illness and loneliness.

She proved an effective campaigner, writing letters and taking interviews. The news media gravitated to the story and helped make her an emblem of the anti-logging movement.

Ms. Hill said she was moved to act while on a spiritual quest that led her to Humboldt County, where she was entranced by the towering trees.

“We have to stop the rape of the forest,” Ms. Hill told The Times via walkie-talkie a few months into her treetop residency. “We have to stop putting the almighty dollar above the environment.”

In the years since Ms. Hill concluded her protest, the timber wars of Humboldt County largely settled into a truce. In 1999, state and federal officials reached a $480 million deal with Pacific Lumber to preserve about 10,000 acres of forest. The company also agreed to tighter logging restrictions.

Luna, where Ms. Hill took up residence, still stands today, if wounded. About a year after her protest, someone hiked into the forest and made a 19-foot gash in the tree with a chain saw.

The tree was later reinforced with brackets. Apart from some dieback near the top of the tree, it appears to be healthy, according to Stuart Moskowitz, an environmentalist in Humboldt County who visited the tree last year.

Ms. Hill has continued to work for environmental causes. On her website, she also advertises life-coaching services.

California Today goes live at 6 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com.

The California Today columnist, Mike McPhate, is a third-generation Californian — born outside Sacramento and raised in San Juan Capistrano. He lives in Davis. Follow him on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and attended U.C. Berkeley.

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