By Eric Brazil OF THE EXAMINER STAFF
Thursday, February 12, 1998 ©1998 San Francisco Examiner
STAFFORD, Humboldt County -- After 64 days living near the top of a
200-foot- high redwood, through storms and a siege aimed at dislodging
"Butterfly" says she is so attuned to her host that she believes she has
felt its tears with her bare feet and body.
Butterfly's pantheistic embrace of the tallest, thickest, oldest redwood
in a 200-acre patch of forest is the focal point of Earth First's
sustained effort to halt old-growth logging on California's North Coast.
The 23-year-old Arkansas woman, who adopted the name Butterfly as a nom
de protest, has become a pain in the neck for Pacific Lumber Co., which
had hoped to turn the tree in which she sits into finished lumber worth
close to six figures.
Company workers have turned spotlights on her, honked at her through air
horns, tried to interdict her supply lines, and, Earth First contends,
buzzed dangerously close with logging helicopters. All the while, the
skies have dumped the worst storms in years on her head.
So far, though, Julia Butterfly prevails. Pacific Lumber Co. is
temporarily stymied. So the tree she calls "Luna," also known as "The
Stafford Giant," has a reprieve.
"My spirit led me here, and I mean to stay with it," she said in a
walkie-talkie interview Tuesday as light rain fell through a drifting fog
on the 1,700-foot ridge above the Eel River south of Stafford. "We have
extended the life of this beautiful tree through the winter."
>From her 8-by-8-foot platform aerie -- higher than a football field is wide --
Butterfly can see the Pacific Ocean, the Scotia sawmill of Pacific
Lumber Co. and a helicopter logging operation, all exemplifying the forest
practices that she is protesting with her marathon tree-sit.
"This protest is more than symbolic," said Patrick "Fisher" Mulligan,
one of 10 members of the Earth First crew that planned and is sustaining
the marathon tree-sit. "Here, we're slowing PL down, stopping them from
killing this tree" and denying the company a quick profit.
Finished old-growth redwood lumber is worth $800 to $4,000 per 1,000
board feet, and Luna contains an estimated 20,000 board feet.
Pacific Lumber, a subsidiary of Houston-based Maxxam Inc., owner of most
of the world's privately held old-growth redwoods, including Headwaters
Forest,which lies north of the tree-sit, has been relentlessly criticized by
environmental activists during the '90s for alleged overcutting and
cavalier logging practices. The company was flayed with bad press in
January, when news broke that Humboldt County deputies had smeared pepper
spray on the eyelids of anti-logging demonstrators. So its public response
to Butterfly's tree-sit is measured and subdued.
The company intends to convert Luna to lumber, but "we're obviously not
going to cut that tree down while there are people in it," Pacific Lumber
spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkel said Wednesday. Company helicopters are also
unable to haul out half a dozen logs ready for the mill because they're
in a 150-foot buffer zone around the tree-sit.
"In the past, we've had some of our climbers go up and remove their
gear, and that entices them to come down," she said. "We're looking for
ways to entice them down."
Tree-sitting is a standard Earth First protest technique, but the
Stafford tree-sit is a special effort, the highest and longest ever
It began in early October, when a team of activists hiked up the ridge
carrying the platform in pieces, sent a free-climber to the top,
reassembled and occupied the platform before the company discovered the
trespass. All this happened during a full moon; hence, the name Luna.
Stafford has been an environmental battle zone since Dec. 31, 1996, when
a massive mudslide that began in the vicinity of a just-completed Pacific
Lumber timber harvest destroyed or damaged 10 homes. It is also Earth
First's base camp. Several Stafford residents are suing the company for
Butterfly's tree-sit is just to the west of and slightly above the
mudslide's point of origin, and it stands out against the ridge line.
"Jumpshot," a member of Butterfly's support team, calls the tree "a fist
in the sky."
"For a week they tried to starve us down," Butterfly said. "We were
under siege. Their security set up a base camp under the tree, but we had
plenty of supplies to outlast them.
"They also buzzed the tree with a helicopter," she said. "It was
terrifying. I'd never experienced anything man-made with so much power and
feeling so dangerous," she said.
Bullwinkel said that Butterfly's account was false in fact, that there
had been no intentional buzzing. In any event, "she's willing to sit up
there nonstop during a storm," Bullwinkel said. "I don't see much
difference other than that the (helicopter) crews are being extremely
cautious and careful."
Butterfly's intransigence exemplifies Earth First's battle cry, "No
compromise in defense of Mother Earth." But she is a far cry from the
rough and rugged, backpacking and mountain climbing stereotype
created for Earth First by its founders.
Daughter of an itinerant minister, who settled his family in Arkansas
after a peripatetic mobile-home life, Butterfly spent two years in
college, worked in retail, ran a restaurant, tried telemarketing and made
jewelry before taking off on a vision quest that led her to Humboldt
County's Lost Coast.
Briefed on the old-growth fight by an acquaintance, she visited Earth
First's base camp in the fall, volunteered to learn climbing -- and found
her life's work as an eco-warrior.
"I was scared at first, and then I just started paying attention to the
tree, drawing strength from the tree," she said. "I could see all her
scars and wounds, from fires and lightning strikes. I was making a
The tree is so old that huckleberry and salmonberry bushes and ferns
grow amid its branches.
"Eventually, I took my shoes off so I could feel the tree and started
free climbing around," she said.
When Pacific Lumber started logging the steepest part of the ridge and
hauling logs out by helicopter, "I found myself crying a lot and hugging
Luna and telling her I was sorry," she said. "Then, I found out that I was
being covered by sap pouring out of her body from everywhere, and I
realized, "Oh, my God, you're crying too.' The sap didn't begin pouring
out until the logging started."
Butterfly's conclusion: "Trees pass information on how to hold up
hillsides and how to grow, and they also know how to communicate
Butterfly attributes her name to "an extreme spiritual experience with a
butterfly when I was a child" -- it rested on her hand during a long,
trying walk. A chatty, cheerful woman, she has had several companions
during her tree-sit but went through the worst of last week's storms all
"It was like riding a roller coaster," she said. "I was laughing
hysterically; it was exhilarating, it was terrifying. It was something I
lived through, and I'd prefer not do to it again. I was completely beaten
and exhausted by the roar and the noise, but I still enjoyed the fact that
I was up here in this beautiful, amazing, powerful tree and that I was
still alive when the morning came."
A vegan -- except that she eats honey and wears wool -- Butterfly said
she was much stronger now in her upper body than when she first climbed
her tree, "but I think I may have a little trouble when I get down. My leg
muscles may have atrophied a bit." Her biggest physical complaint: "I am
freezing up here."
Aloft, in her sleeping bag, beneath multiple layers of tarpaulin, she
reads by candlelight ("The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey, "The
Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera and Earth First journals)
writes poetry and tape records her thoughts. There may be a book in her
experience, one of these days, she said.
She writes: It is a desperate picture that these branches frame, I want
tostrike out at the ones to blame, But that won't heal this sadness too
deep to name. Butterfly plans to spend her birthday aloft. She will be 24
©1998 San Francisco Examiner
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