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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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Page 5 of 6

If the deal passes next March? Mason shrugs. EPIC will file another legal action, and he'll go back to law school.

"I'll come back, and it'll still be going on."
Butterfly says the Headwaters deal is "horrible." Though victory seems apparent, she refuses to come down. Her parents taught her to stick up for what she believes in, and even though the deal is done and her hillside is already logged, she believes that the longer she stays in the tree, the more it helps raise awareness.

"It's never over unless you give up, and I'm not giving up," she says. "The word I gave to Luna and to the forest and to the people was that I was not going to allow my feet to touch the ground, no matter what, until I felt I had done everything I possibly could to make a difference."

In the weeks that followed the announcement of the Headwaters purchase, Humboldt County experienced a chain of events that defined bizarre. Now that the fight was finally over, it was as if the pent-up energy had nowhere to go.

On Sept. 17 a young Earth First! activist named David "Gypsy" Chaim was killed while protesting logging near the Grizzly Creek redwood grove. Earth First! claimed that PALCO was violating logging restrictions at the time, and his death could easily have been avoided. PALCO claimed Chaim was trespassing, and that it was an unfortunate accident. The death is still under investigation.

In early October, Humboldt County residents picked up their local paper and read the headline, "Protest Takes Disgusting Turn." According to the article, activists had crept into a logging area during the night and smeared feces all over PALCO equipment. Readers were nauseated. The activist community was embarrassed. Earth First! organizer Josh Brown is quick to correct the record:

"There was one crap taken," he says. "A newer activist just lost it. In a fit of anger, she took a dump on the seat of a loader." (The activist and her friend were soon asked to leave Earth First!.)

Another unusual incident occurred in October. Two more people climbed up trees in protest. This time they weren't activists, but a cafe cook and a brewery worker, Roger Levy and Nate Madsen. Both are local residents fed up with PALCO's brutal clear-cutting of Maple Creek, an area that had been left undisturbed by PALCO loggers for nearly 100 years.

Also in mid-October, the California Department of Forestry cited PALCO twice more for sloppy logging practices, including clear-cutting trees along a protected zone of Freshwater Creek. And on Oct. 27, a U.S. District judge threw out a lawsuit brought by Earth First! activists who had been swabbed in the eyes with pepper spray by police and sheriff's deputies. Shortly thereafter, at a news conference in Sacramento, an independent panel of scientists openly criticized PALCO's environmental management plan as inadequate and greedy.

Throughout this protracted denouement, Butterfly has stayed on her platform, praying every day, answering questions, and writing letters. She can't think much about the future, because she's so involved in the present. She has the potential to be a brilliant politician, but the idea disgusts her. Marriage is a completely foreign concept. Why focus your love on only one person, when there are so many things to love in the world? She does admit that she will probably not live in the tree the rest of her life.

The media attention has tapered off. PALCO has finished logging the ridge, leaving Luna alone, and last spring CEO John Campbell said, "We've decided to leave her in the tree."

As the window of public comment for the environmental management plan winds down to the deadline of Nov. 16, the activist community of Humboldt County is organizing another rally for mid-December. This time people won't be picketing the PALCO plant, or chaining themselves to Rep. Frank Riggs' desk. This rally will celebrate the one-year anniversary of Julia "Butterfly" Hill, the woman who won't come down from the tree.

And Butterfly has no intention of coming down. Despite the weather and PALCO's best efforts, she's had a peaceful year, probably one of the most spiritual years of her life. She has met and spoken with hundreds of people and made many new friends. She broke the previous world's record for tree-sitting after 43 days. Living among the branches of Luna has given her an opportunity to live the life of a tree-hugger -- literally. During one heavy day of logging near her, she wrapped her arms around the trunk and felt its sap ooze from the bark.

Butterfly doesn't seem to care what people think of her motivation or how it must change with the closing of the Headwaters deal. An internal clock drives her every move. Things happen when they happen, no matter how peculiar it may appear to the outside world. Now that the debate is essentially over, her once-symbolic presence in a tree seems a less political and more personal statement. She isn't living on such a transcendental plane that she doesn't know she must come down from Luna, but she feels she can't descend until she has done everything in her power to ensure the protection of the trees. Even if the world's media has moved on to other stories.

But when she does eventually lower the rope and set foot on the forest floor, life will be very different for Julia "Butterfly" Hill. For one thing, she will have to learn to stand up on her feet and navigate the two miles down the slope of the ridge.

"This hill's pretty intense,"she says, "and my strength has moved to my upper body, so unless I can find a way to walk down the hill on my hands, it's going to be an interesting experience

About The Author

Jack Boulware

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