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.

The land will be set aside for public use and will probably become a park.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Wilson proudly announced the results. PALCO was happy to change its image from a greedy corporation besieged by activists and lawsuits to a conscientious company concerned for the future of the redwoods.

But the people you'd think would be most happy were devastated. In a sense, the activists had won, but they felt defeated. People were depressed and demoralized. Some hadn't taken a day off for months. Many wept openly. Butterfly prayed.

The movement quickly regrouped and planned its response to the deal. Activists organized a massive direct-mail campaign and a series of public hearings to educate people about the inadequate, long-term environmental impact of the purchase. The final hearing will be held Nov. 16 in Eureka.

Now that the purchase appears set, EPIC is consumed with checking the fine points of the Habitat Conservation Plan and Sustained Yield Plan, a lengthy report attached to the deal that describes how the land and species population will be managed. In return for selling 7,500 acres to the government, PALCO receives this HCP/SYP for all 200,000 acres it owns in Humboldt County. In other words, once this plan is OK'd by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other government agencies, PALCO will be granted permits to legally log all of its holdings, even those with endangered or protected species, without hassle from activists.

Buried in the 2,000-page document, activists say, is the intent of PALCO to liquidate a majority of its old-growth redwoods within the next five years.

According to EPIC President Paul Mason, a draft of the HCP/SYP is circulating for public review. It can be amended or changed, but once the document is approved by the California Department of Forestry and other agencies, that's it. On March 1, 1999, the money will change hands, and the HCP is locked in for 50 years.

If the deal passes next March? Mason shrugs. EPIC will file another legal action, and he'll go back to law school.

"I'll come back, and it'll still be going on."
Butterfly says the Headwaters deal is "horrible." Though victory seems apparent, she refuses to come down. Her parents taught her to stick up for what she believes in, and even though the deal is done and her hillside is already logged, she believes that the longer she stays in the tree, the more it helps raise awareness.

"It's never over unless you give up, and I'm not giving up," she says. "The word I gave to Luna and to the forest and to the people was that I was not going to allow my feet to touch the ground, no matter what, until I felt I had done everything I possibly could to make a difference."

In the weeks that followed the announcement of the Headwaters purchase, Humboldt County experienced a chain of events that defined bizarre. Now that the fight was finally over, it was as if the pent-up energy had nowhere to go.

On Sept. 17 a young Earth First! activist named David "Gypsy" Chaim was killed while protesting logging near the Grizzly Creek redwood grove. Earth First! claimed that PALCO was violating logging restrictions at the time, and his death could easily have been avoided. PALCO claimed Chaim was trespassing, and that it was an unfortunate accident. The death is still under investigation.

In early October, Humboldt County residents picked up their local paper and read the headline, "Protest Takes Disgusting Turn." According to the article, activists had crept into a logging area during the night and smeared feces all over PALCO equipment. Readers were nauseated. The activist community was embarrassed. Earth First! organizer Josh Brown is quick to correct the record:

"There was one crap taken," he says. "A newer activist just lost it. In a fit of anger, she took a dump on the seat of a loader." (The activist and her friend were soon asked to leave Earth First!.)

Another unusual incident occurred in October. Two more people climbed up trees in protest. This time they weren't activists, but a cafe cook and a brewery worker, Roger Levy and Nate Madsen. Both are local residents fed up with PALCO's brutal clear-cutting of Maple Creek, an area that had been left undisturbed by PALCO loggers for nearly 100 years.

Also in mid-October, the California Department of Forestry cited PALCO twice more for sloppy logging practices, including clear-cutting trees along a protected zone of Freshwater Creek. And on Oct. 27, a U.S. District judge threw out a lawsuit brought by Earth First! activists who had been swabbed in the eyes with pepper spray by police and sheriff's deputies. Shortly thereafter, at a news conference in Sacramento, an independent panel of scientists openly criticized PALCO's environmental management plan as inadequate and greedy.

Throughout this protracted denouement, Butterfly has stayed on her platform, praying every day, answering questions, and writing letters. She can't think much about the future, because she's so involved in the present. She has the potential to be a brilliant politician, but the idea disgusts her. Marriage is a completely foreign concept. Why focus your love on only one person, when there are so many things to love in the world? She does admit that she will probably not live in the tree the rest of her life.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.