View From a Tree: The Satya Interview: Julia Butterfly
By Louis Gedo
On December 10th 1998, Julia Butterfly Hill celebrated
her one-year anniversary living on a platform in a 1000-year old
tree named Luna in the last remaining old-growth forest near the town
of Stafford, California. Hill is protesting the clearcutting of the
remaining old-growth forest in the continental United States by Pacific
Lumber, a subsidiary of MAXXAM Corporation, and has lobbied both
and the California State Legislature to save the remaining forest. As
the rain beat down on Hills canopy high above the forest floor, Louis Gedo talked to her by cellphone about her year, what she
is fighting for, and her view from the tree.
How have Lunas surroundings changed since human impact?
Im in an area that over a number of years has been cut on numerous
occasions. Lunas original surrounding ecosystem was destroyed over
a few hundred years. But it was not completely destroyed since there was
no clearcutting. Technology at that time didnt make it possible
to get the logs off of the hillside, it was just too steep. But technology
started coming in, and now were left with only three to five percent
of the original old growth forests in this country. At the rate I see
the forests being destroyed around me, I would guess were closer
to three percent. Were trying to hold on to the last little fragments
of the original old-growth forests that three-quarters of this country
used to be covered in.
What is it like to witness the cutting down of a tree, or many trees?
My very first morning up here, they started cutting down all the trees
around me. There are still some left, but they took a lot. They started
with the trees that were literally growing out of Lunas trunk. They
call them suckers or feeders. Humans have decided that were here
to manage and control nature. We forgot that nature is here to help us,
were not here to help it! Nature was doing just fine before we came
along. The loggers think that the suckers should be cut down anyway because
theyre affecting the growth of the tree. So they started with those,
and then started cutting the rest around me.
It used to take a few days to cut down a tree as big as Luna. When it
takes that long to kill something, you tend to think a lot more about
your actions. Now people have seven-foot chainsaws and can go through
a tree the size of Luna in a matter of hours. So the first thing you have
to deal with is this incessant buzzing of chainsaws. Hour after hour.
The whole process is one of noise and destruction. This caused all the
wildlife in the area to disappear for two months. As I sat here and watched
these trees being destroyed, I felt like a part of myself was being destroyed.
I feel the connection of all life very deeply. After the chainsaws, in
came the enormous cargo helicopters, and that was like being in the middle
of a war zone.
How are you able to get up to where you are? Im assuming its
difficult for the authorities to get up there or else they probably wouldve
Well its funny, because Pacific Lumber destroyed their ability to
get me when they cut the baby trees off Luna. Thats how we initially
got up. Now we get up and down with a rope (which I have control over)
attached to a harnessa lot like rock climbers do. The reason its
difficult for Pacific Lumber to get to me is because the method of climbing
its employees use is called girth-hitching, which requires someone to
take a chain or a rope, wrap it around the tree, attach it to them, and
shimmy up. The problem is that its not possible for a single person
to use this method for a tree thats 15 feet in diameter.
The company did however attempt to scare me out with numerous tactics.
It has sent a helicopter to hover 75 feet over my headway too closetrying
to rip my tarps off. The authorities warned me about it to try and scare
me down, but that only helped to prepare me. They put a 24-hour security
watch on me with spotlights so I couldnt get supplies. When that
didnt work they started blowing airhorns all night. That got really
intense because, at that time, the worst of the winter storms were starting
to hit. They were causing hunger and sleep deprivation which made it
for me to think clearly and deal with the intensity of the hail, wind
and rain. These men were trying to terrorize me. But the lower they stooped,
and the more terrorism they tried, the worse they made themselves look.
The world got to see what kind of company they really belonged to. So
I believe that they ultimately gave up because they made themselves look
Can you tell us more about some of the strenuous natural conditions
Well, as it turned out, I picked the worst winter in Californias
recorded history to sit in a tree. Lots of hail. Lots of rain. And lots
of intense wind, which was the hardest to deal with. Most of the big trees
around me that provided a protective bufferzone against the wind
had been chopped down. I spent more than one night wrapped in a tarp,
getting hit with sleet, hail, and rain. On the worst night, there were
70 to 75 mile-an-hour winds, with 90 mile-an-hour gusts. Huge branches
were being ripped off the tree all around me. A branch from above me
and collapsed half of the fort and I was blown three feet back. It was
an amazing experience on all levels.
What threats to the surrounding communities do companies like Pacific
Lumber pose if they continue to destroy the forests?
Clearcutting, which is not sustainable for the environment, is also not
sustainable for people. Because when they take away natures way
of dealing with things, then they have to come in with mans way
of dealing with thingswhich, as we all know, is not very respectful.
Once these corporations clearcut these areas, they dump diesel fuel and
napalm on them to set the scrub brush, twigs and branches on fire to facilitate
a controlled burn. Since theyve taken away natures way of
dealing with invading brush and plants, they have to dump pesticides on
the land so nothing will grow back except for what they want to grow back.
Through those processes theyve destroyed all the nutrients and minerals
in the soil. So they have to come back once again with chemical fertilizers
to replace what had been there naturally. This whole process is a massive
poisoning that doesnt just remain in one spot. It washes down the
hillsides, goes into the streams, peoples drinking water, and the
backyards where their children play. These corporations have also taken
away natures ability to deal with steep slopes and excessive water
and this results in mudslides. As we know, mudslides have caused, and
continue to cause, a great deal of destruction, sometimes resulting in
What New Years resolutions can you recommend for the average
person, so that we can begin to see a change?
I ask people to think on every levelwith the mind, heart and spiritand
to act accordingly. We need to use our money for change. We need to be
willing to make small sacrifices, like spending our dollars on local or
sustainable businesses that protect the environment, local communities,
and indigenous peoples. Lets reuse everything we can: our paper,
our envelopes, our containers, and so on. Lets start looking at
things in this world that are called alternative, like hemp,
small businesses, organic and recycled products, and start making them
the norm. If every one of us uses our dollars and our energy to do those
simple things we will most certainly see change. We can do it merely by
deciding were going to. We also need to remember the oppression
of people like Leonard Peltier who, for 22 years, has been sitting in
prison for a crime he never committed. Hes one of many.
What would it take to make you come down from Luna?
Prayer. Prayer is what led me up here and prayer is what will lead me
down. Unless, of course, Pacific Lumber decides to do the right thing
and saves Luna. I came forward with a comprehensive conservation plan,
in which the company would be provided a small monetary reimbursement
along with a big tax break just to protect this area. We need to start
looking at it as an alternative that should be a norm in our society.
Its a way to make money for protecting an area rather than
destroying it. I provided it to the company and came forward with
it publicly. But they denied it.
No matter when I come down, my activism is never over. My activism is
a lifelong pursuit of reaching out to people on every level I can possibly
think of. The rest of my life is devoted to providing information, inspiration
and action to bring about positive change for a more positive world.
For more information on Julia Butterfly Hills protest, contact:
Luna Media Service, P.O. Box 1265, Eureka, CA 95502. Tel.: 707-839-8974.
Email: lunanews@ humboldt1.com or check their website at: www.lunatree.org.
Louis Gedo is a New York City-based animal activist.