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.

And they have a point. Forbes magazine may call Hurwitz one of the most powerful people in corporate America, but he also runs a sloppy lumber company. The state suspended PALCO's license last winter for repeated violations of forest practices laws and renewed the license on a conditional basis for 1998. Hurwitz and Maxxam have paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought against them by former PALCO shareholders and retirees. Other lawsuits are still pending, including one by the victims of the Stafford mudslide on New Year's Day 1997.

Although activists despise Hurwitz's practices, he is, for them, the perfect villain. Within five years, activists pre-

dict, Hurwitz will milk all the money he can from PALCO, then dump it and move on to another investment, leaving clear-cut hillsides and a decimated Humboldt County in his wake. (PALCO did not return phone calls from SF Weekly for this article.)

Fighting against a billionaire has prompted grass-roots movements to devise clever strategies. The Web site www.jailhurwitz.com offers a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Hurwitz. Some redwoods activists have purchased shares of Maxxam common stock so they can attend the company stockholders' meetings to propose that the organization sell all its Headwaters forest properties.

But the activists' most effective methods have been the most basic. It's very difficult and dangerous for a logger to cut down a tree if a human being is sitting in it. And no tree-sit has been more successful than the one that involves an attractive 24-year-old woman.

Julia Hill grew up in Arkansas, but spent much of her youth traversing the country in a 32-foot trailer driven by her father, a nondenominational preacher. Hill and her two brothers were home-schooled and forbidden to speak any slang in the house. She remembers growing up basically around adults. Children were expected not to speak until spoken to. But Hill was always headstrong. She rebelled against button-down religion by dressing up in weird clothing with her older brother. The two once attended church in Jonesboro, each wearing one cowboy boot and one tennis shoe.

After a miserable time in public high school, Hill went straight into college, working three jobs, including a little modeling. Someday, she figured, she would buy some land, start a community farm, and adopt children. After two years she dropped out of school, and opened a restaurant/club with her father, who had left the ministry.

At this point, while Hill was bartending and saving money, her life changed forever. She says she encountered a stalker who attempted to kill her, and she had to go into hiding and move to another town. Soon after, she says she got in a terrible car accident. The steering column was shoved into her head and pressed against her brain. Delicate surgery reconstructed her skull. She was so badly injured, she says, she couldn't even form words.

"I began stuttering. I fell over all the time. I would drop things. I would get flashes where my whole body would feel like it would light on fire. And then I'd throw up and pass out. All these crazy things."

For the next 10 months she recuperated and thought about taking a spiritual journey around the world. Her family wasn't surprised; she had always had the wanderlust, always seemed to be traveling or camping somewhere. When she learned that some friends were headed to California, she hitched along for the ride. When they reached Humboldt County and pulled off the road into the redwoods, she wandered off by herself. She says she was so overwhelmed by the magnificent trees that she fell to her knees and began to weep.

She returned to Arkansas, sold all her possessions, bought camping gear, and came back to California.

In the fall of 1997, a tall young woman with long hair showed up at the EPIC office, asking how she could help in the fight to save the trees. Julia Hill looked around for the Earth First! base camp, but it was closing for the rainy season. Somebody suggested she check out the annual Headwaters year-end rally, which was being held in the small community of Stafford. She stepped off a bus into the crowd and learned about a tree called Luna.

Activists had already been sitting in the tree for several weeks. After Earth First! discovered PALCO was clear-cutting old-growth redwoods on a ridge above Stafford, a group hiked up and chose to sit in the biggest old-growth tree it could find -- its trunk was 16 feet in diameter. One evening a team hoisted up a plywood platform and lashed it to the branches. That night was a full moon, and so they named it Luna.

The day Hill arrived, activists were wandering through the rally, looking for a volunteer to sit in Luna on a more permanent basis. Hill immediately raised her hand.

"I was so excited," she says. "I didn't even know what it meant. I just knew it had something to do with the forest."

As is the tradition among Headwaters people, she chose a forest name, and Julia Hill became Butterfly. Activists taught her how to ascend a rope using a sliding prussik knot. The first time up, she stayed in the tree for six days. When she came down to take a shower and clean her clothes, she hitched a ride with Josh Brown, one of the core organizers of Earth First!. They drove and talked for 45 minutes, and she described her car wreck. Brown listened to the grisly details in awe.

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