From atop Redwood tree, activist makes plea against deforestation

The Earth Times
July 16-31, 1999
From atop Redwood tree, activist makes plea against deforestation

Julia 'Butterfly' Hill.

Ninety-seven percent of the once vast and majestic redwood forests of the world have been destroyed. Within the small remaining area, known as Headwaters forest, atop a 1,000-year old redwood tree resides an insistent woman who refuses to allow the destruction to continue. For over one and a half years Julia "Butterfly" Hill, as she is known, has refused to leave the treetop, defying the lumbering project that would tear her tree down and the .rest of what little remains of this ancient, old growth forest along the California coast in Mendocino county.

"I gave my word to this tree, the forest, and to all people, that my feet would not touch the ground until I had done everything in my power to make the world aware of this problem and to stop the destruction," says Butterfly in a press release by Earth First, a California-based environmental organization.

At ground level, another woman advocates around the clock on behalf of the redwoods. Redwood Mary was recently in Brooklyn, New York, as part of her nation-wide campaign to inform the public about the destruction and need for protection of the world's remaining 3 percent of old growth redwood trees. This included making presentations and conducting a five conference with Butterfly via her cell phone.

According to Redwood Mary, the battle is as immense as the redwoods once were. Pitted on one side is the federal government and a private corporation called Pacific Lumber Company, and on the other, environmental organizations such as Earth First.

According to Redwood Mary's presentation, the story of destruction in this area starts in 1986 when Maxxam Corporation purchased Pacific Lumber Company which owned the land. Maxxam, which had previously been known to practice sustainable forestry, began cutting down old growth trees and clearcutting hillsides, say these activists, resulting in the polluting of streams, destruction of species habitats and mud slides which have destroyed residential homes.

The government became involved at this point, making a deal with the lumber company to buy some of the land for preservation. The deal between Federal and State authorities and Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation offered Maxxam $480 million for less than 16 percent (10,000 acres) of the forest. According to Butterfly, the deal appears to be based on the premise that only a bare minimum of this forest land needs to be protected for endangered species like the spotted owl, marbled murellet and coho salmon to recover in the area. But no environmental impact study was ever conducted to ensure that everything necessary for the survival of the species was being done, said Butterfly. While some government leaders consider the deal a step toward sustainability, most environmental groups consider it an unacceptable band aid solution. They believe a buffer zone of 60,000 acres is needed in order to protect the habitat of the endangered and other species.

Logging is profitable business. Each redwood tree such as Butterfly's "hostage" summons a price of around $35,000, said Redwood Mary. The private sector argues that logging provides needed resources and jobs for communities. Environmentalists, however, argue that the biodiversity of natural forests cannot be recreated. According to Butterfly and Redwood Mary, an individual can make a difference in this fight. The key to making a significant impact on the preservation of the environment lies in ensuring a sustainable balance of consumption by being a "conscious consumer," they said, one who takes responsibility for what one buys and who one buys it from. According to these environmental activists, the family that controls the logging company is the same family that owns the clothing conglomerate of Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic. In keeping with this belief, Earth First has been involved with protests against Gap. The message they advocate is for a world where the survival of ecosystems and natural resources has priority over profit and material consumption.

In a report compiled by Redwood Mary for the 17th UN Commission on Human Settlements she states ,'multinational corporations are practicing unsustainable forestry and have been logging at an unprecedented rate. The worst of our environmental destruction has been the result of our vain persistence to ignore our interconnectedness with nature."

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