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January 1999
The View From a Tree: The Satya Interview: Julia Butterfly Hill

By Louis Gedo

 


On December 10th 1998, Julia Butterfly Hill celebrated her one-year anniversary living on a platform in a 1000-year old redwood tree named Luna in the last remaining old-growth forest near the town of Stafford, California. Hill is protesting the clearcutting of the last remaining old-growth forest in the continental United States by Pacific Lumber, a subsidiary of MAXXAM Corporation, and has lobbied both the company and the California State Legislature to save the remaining forest. As the rain beat down on Hill’s 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 Luna’s surroundings changed since human impact?
I’m in an area that over a number of years has been cut on numerous occasions. Luna’s 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 didn’t make it possible to get the logs off of the hillside, it was just too steep. But technology started coming in, and now we’re 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 we’re closer to three percent. We’re 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 Luna’s trunk. They call them suckers or feeders. Humans have decided that we’re here to manage and control nature. We forgot that nature is here to help us, we’re 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 they’re 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? I’m assuming it’s difficult for the authorities to get up there or else they probably would’ve by now.
Well it’s funny, because Pacific Lumber destroyed their ability to get me when they cut the baby trees off Luna. That’s how we initially got up. Now we get up and down with a rope (which I have control over) attached to a harness—a lot like rock climbers do. The reason it’s 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 it’s not possible for a single person to use this method for a tree that’s 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 head—way too close—trying 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 couldn’t get supplies. When that didn’t 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 hard 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 so bad.

Can you tell us more about some of the strenuous natural conditions you endured?
Well, as it turned out, I picked the worst winter in California’s 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 buffer–zone 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 fell 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 nature’s way of dealing with things, then they have to come in with man’s way of dealing with things—which, 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 they’ve taken away nature’s 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 they’ve 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 doesn’t just remain in one spot. It washes down the hillsides, goes into the streams, people’s drinking water, and the backyards where their children play. These corporations have also taken away nature’s 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 death.

What New Year’s resolutions can you recommend for the average person, so that we can begin to see a change?
I ask people to think on every level—with the mind, heart and spirit—and 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. Let’s reuse everything we can: our paper, our envelopes, our containers, and so on. Let’s 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 we’re 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. He’s 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. It’s 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 Hill’s 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.


 


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