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Up a Tree. Still? 

Environmentalists have all but won their fight to save the Headwaters Forest. Somehow, that's not enough to bring Julia Hill down from her treetop perch.

Wednesday, Nov 11 1998
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With every interview, Butterfly's natural shyness fell away, and her personality solidified. Media reaction was universal. The most cynical reporters came down from the tree shaking their heads at how the interview almost seemed like a spiritual encounter. She was naive and idealistic, yet so articulate. It was like spending time among the Amish. Was this woman crazy, or was she for real?

The tree has become her live/work office. Butterfly talks on the phone constantly -- giving interviews, lecturing to universities, and appearing on panel discussions. She cooks meals on a propane stove and bathes with a sponge. When the day slows down, she writes poetry, draws in a sketchbook, and sews little pouches. She prays every day. Once a week she talks to her mother.

Some of her stranger and more comical interactions occurred in the tree itself as she held conversations with loggers who were clear-cutting the hill around her. Talking the issues with them didn't work. When the loggers hollered mean comments to her, she responded by singing them a song from her childhood. PALCO employees stood there in their hard hats, holding chain saws, staring up at this barefoot woman in a tree who serenaded them with:

Love in any language
Straight from the heart
Pulls us all together
Never apart
And once we learn to speak it
All the world will hear
That love in any language
Is fluently spoken here

She remembers another occasion, when she engaged a group of loggers in debate about old-growth forests. From their perspective, old-growth trees are just going to fall over and die anyway. Butterfly tried to explain to them that the trees are part of a delicate ecosystem, and they need to fall into the soil naturally because they provide habitat for endangered species, and nature has a reason for trees falling into the soil.

The loggers started up their chain saws and ignored her.
Butterfly wondered how she was going to get to these guys. And then it came to her. She waited until the chain saws stopped, and called down to one of them:

"Do you have grandparents?"
"Yeah. What of it?" he answered.
She asked if they were alive. The logger replied that they were.

"Why don't we just kill them?" yelled Butterfly. "They're just gonna fall over and die anyway!"

"He got so angry!" she laughs at the memory. "He was like, 'F! U!' and started his chain saw. And I knew it had hit home, because that's really what they're saying. There's not a difference between our elder grandparents, human or in nature. They're all important."

It's difficult to paraphrase her words because she speaks so much like a preacher. The cumulative effect is much more powerful than a quick soundbite. She claims that a few PALCO employees have actually quit their jobs after speaking with her. One day, after listening to her talk, a crew of grumpy loggers were moved sufficiently to take off their hats to her. In return, she bowed to them and started crying.

Butterfly has had less success in connecting with the hierarchy of Pacific Lumber Co., but she keeps writing letters to PR person Mary Bullwinkle (nicknamed "Hoodwinkle"), CEO John Campbell, and ... Charles Hurwitz?

Butterfly digs around her platform and produces the letter she recently mailed to the billionaire president of Maxxam, Inc.:

Dear Mr. Hurwitz, With love, all beautiful things are possible. Love can transform hurt into healing, destruction into rebirth, and even enemies into friends. I love you. Julia Butterfly.

"They won't write me back," she says. "I want to keep planting seeds in them."

On the last day of the California legislative session, a deal was finally struck to save the Headwaters. On Sept. 19, Gov. Pete Wilson signed into law a bill known as AB 1986, which appropriates $245 million to purchase 7,500 acres of Pacific Lumber's 60,000-acre old-growth redwood groves. Add to this amount the $250 million the Clinton administration is setting aside for the Headwaters, and the entire deal totals nearly half a billion dollars.

The land will be set aside for public use and will probably become a park.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Wilson proudly announced the results. PALCO was happy to change its image from a greedy corporation besieged by activists and lawsuits to a conscientious company concerned for the future of the redwoods.

But the people you'd think would be most happy were devastated. In a sense, the activists had won, but they felt defeated. People were depressed and demoralized. Some hadn't taken a day off for months. Many wept openly. Butterfly prayed.

The movement quickly regrouped and planned its response to the deal. Activists organized a massive direct-mail campaign and a series of public hearings to educate people about the inadequate, long-term environmental impact of the purchase. The final hearing will be held Nov. 16 in Eureka.

Now that the purchase appears set, EPIC is consumed with checking the fine points of the Habitat Conservation Plan and Sustained Yield Plan, a lengthy report attached to the deal that describes how the land and species population will be managed. In return for selling 7,500 acres to the government, PALCO receives this HCP/SYP for all 200,000 acres it owns in Humboldt County. In other words, once this plan is OK'd by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other government agencies, PALCO will be granted permits to legally log all of its holdings, even those with endangered or protected species, without hassle from activists.

Buried in the 2,000-page document, activists say, is the intent of PALCO to liquidate a majority of its old-growth redwoods within the next five years.

According to EPIC President Paul Mason, a draft of the HCP/SYP is circulating for public review. It can be amended or changed, but once the document is approved by the California Department of Forestry and other agencies, that's it. On March 1, 1999, the money will change hands, and the HCP is locked in for 50 years.

About The Author

Jack Boulware

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