Julia Butterfly Hill lived in a giant 1500-year-old redwood tree named Luna for 738 consecutive days from December 1997 to December 1999. She ended her revolutionary action after reaching an agreement with Pacific Lumber Company to spare the tree and a 200-foot buffer zone surrounding it. Sanctuary Forest, based in Humboldt County, CA, facilitated a negotiation between Julia, from her perch 180 feet in the canopy, and the Pacific Lumber Company that included a $50K payment for lost logging revenue, which was later donated to research for sustainable forestry. Sanctuary Forest became the trustee of a conservation easement to protect Luna and continues to protect her to this day.
Julia Butterfly Hill was only 23 years old and had no grand goals or experience as an activist when she agreed to participate in a 'tree-sit' action while attending an environmentally inspired festival. Yet, her accidental activism brought saving trees to the world's attention and contributed to the decline of logging ancient forests. Her story speaks loudly to each one of us about our personal power. Her example gives us a model to realise that our lives and unique expressions can be a gift to benefit the world.
Julia's father was an evangelical minister, and her family was always on the road, living in a camper until she was ten, rarely staying in one place for two years. She grew up playing outside and felt at home in nature. After a severe car accident and a period of recuperation in her early twenties, Julia had a revelation that her life had been out of balance. "I had been obsessed by my career, success and material things. The crash woke me up to the importance of the moment and doing whatever I could to make a positive impact on the future."
Julia took a trip west to a Reggae festival/fundraiser to save an old-growth forest, where she connected with a group of "tree sitters" on the northern CA coast who were protesting the clear-cut logging of redwoods by the Pacific Lumber Company. She learned that only 3% of the ancient redwood ecosystem remained. She visited an old-growth forest, was awed by the redwoods' wisdom, energy and spirituality, and wanted to make a difference. An introvert and nature-lover, living in a tree for a week or two seemed like something she could do.
"Earth First! was doing tree-sits to call attention to the urgent need to protect ancient trees, and they needed someone to stay in a redwood tree so the loggers couldn't cut it down; because nobody else volunteered, they had to pick me. On December 10, 1997, I put on the harness and ascended Luna, 180 feet up. What I thought would be three or four weeks in the tree turned into two years and eight days. I returned to the ground only after the company agreed to protect Luna and the surrounding grove."
Julia has said that a bond developed between her and Luna, and she received strength from the wisdom from the tree. She marks her life simply: before tree, during tree and after tree.
After the highly publicised experience with Luna, Julia has continued her activism in various ways, as a writer (bestseller The Legacy of Luna and One Makes the Difference handbook), defending rights of nature, social justice and co-founding several environmental organisations as well as inspiring films, books and music. One of Julia's projects, ‘What's Your Tree?’ challenges individuals to find a passion that guides their lives so they can be in service and so inspired that they can't help but make a difference.
"The role of the revolutionary artist is to make the revolution irresistible.”
Her two-year tree-sit in the canopy of a giant redwood can be seen as non-violent civil disobedience that blossomed into public art and Julia into a revolutionary artist. We are in awe of her service to trees and to nature.
Adapted from an earlier blog by TreeSisters volunteer, Marriott Sheldon
Top photo by Tracey Barnett