Also known as: Julia Hill, Julia Butterfly Hill
Birth: February 18, 1974 in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, United States
Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Thomson Gale, 2006.
Entry updated: 10/04/2006
Beginning on December 10, 1997, Julia "Butterfly" Hill lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree for 738 days. The platform upon which she sat was approximately six by eight feet and nearly 200 feet above the ground. Hill kept her vigil to save the tree and the Headwaters Forest that stretches 400 miles from southern Oregon to the Big Sur coast, south of Monterey Bay, California.
The daughter of a preacher, Hill was born in Arkansas, and after recovering from an automobile accident that nearly ended her young life, she decided to travel. Her plan was to search for enlightenment in Asia, but when she reached the West Coast, she discovered her cause. Wrapping up her affairs in Arkansas, she returned to join a group of young activists from Earth First! who were attempting to save the great redwoods of northern California. When she arrived in November, just as the cold rains were beginning to fall, she was told that the camp was closing and she was not needed. A few days later, a call went out for people to sit in a 200-foot redwood the activists had named Luna, and Hill volunteered.
After learning to climb using rock-climbing gear, Hill spent one week in Luna, then came down to clean up. She was recovering from a two-week illness when word came that loggers would soon be cutting in the area. When she went back up, Hill thought she might be in the tree for as long as a month, but the time stretched on. Her tree-sit gained attention when she exceeded the previous record of forty-two straight days, and by the time she had been there for one hundred days, the world knew that Hill was not merely sitting in the tree; she was living there to protect Luna and its forest from destruction.
While in Luna, Hill was visited by other environmentalists, including celebrities like actor Woody Harrelson, singers Joan Baez and Bonnie Raitt, and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, and she spoke to politicians and others on her cell phone. The media made camp at the base of the tree to document Hill's progress.
Hill cooked, ate, slept, and wrote poetry and journal entries. She wore layers of clothing in cold and wet weather and exercised by doing sit-ups and push-ups when she was not climbing. She read and listened to a hand-cranked radio. Hill suffered the smoke of burning napalm, a ten-day siege by company security, helicopter attacks, verbal abuse by critics and loggers, rain, frostbite and loneliness. During one two-and-a-half-week period, she endured storms that never let up, and on the worst night, tornadoes came in off the ocean to wreak havoc in the forest.
When Hill was six months into her vigil, Nicholas Wilson wrote in an article for the Albion Monitor Online that Luna "grows on land now owned by Pacific Lumber Company, in turn owned by Texas corporate raider Charles Hurwitz and his Maxxam Corporation. Since the 1985 hostile takeover financed by a dubious junk bond deal, Pacific Lumber has nearly tripled the rate of cut on its 200,000 acres, including the 60,000-acre Headwaters Forest, the largest remaining unprotected old-growth redwood forest left on earth." Wilson noted that irresponsible logging caused the "Stafford slide" on January 1, 1997, an avalanche of mud, stumps, and debris that slid down the mountain, breaking off trees and destroying the tiny community at its base. Hill came down on December 18, 1999, after striking a deal with Pacific Lumber/Maxxam Corporation. When she touched ground, she fell down to weep among the roots of the giant tree. On that day, she said, "I understand to some people, I'm just a dirty, tree-hugging hippie. But I can't imagine being able to take a chain saw to something like this."
The company agreed to spare Luna and create a three-mile buffer zone for the sum of fifty thousand dollars, which had been collected through donations, the sale of T-shirts, and book royalties. The money was given to Humboldt State University for forest research.
Sadly, a year later, Luna was cut nearly halfway through with a chainsaw by persons unknown. Hill's devotion to the symbolic tree had inspired others, however, including employees of Pacific Lumber who fabricated steel braces to stabilize the tree. The rescue of Luna brought together arborists and foresters from around the world who have worked together to ensure that Luna continues to live. Cables were connected to Luna and attached to nearby trees that act as anchors and support.
Hill founded the Circle of Life Foundation in 1999, "to inspire, support, and network individuals, organizations, and communities, so together we can create environmental and social solutions that are rooted deeply in love and respect for the interconnectedness of all life." While living in Luna, she also began her memoir, The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods.
Hill tells of her time in Luna, how she developed cracks in her skin and muscle on the outsides of her feet from gripping branches as she climbed about in the tree. Her fingers became stained the color of Luna's bark, and bits of tree bark were ground beneath Hill's fingernails. A Whole Earth reviewer called the book "poignant, sad, [and] invigorating." Jon Naar reviewed the book in the Amicus Journal, saying that Hill's actions make clear "the urgent need to protect forests and other ecosystems by every means possible, including nonviolent direct action where necessary." Naar called The Legacy of Luna "a timely and important contribution to the glorious history of civil disobedience." Paul Van Slambrouck wrote in the Christian Science Monitor Online that "readers unconvinced that trespassing on private property is the right way to fight logging probably won't be changed by Hill's story, though the Pacific Lumber Company, which had its chainsaws aimed at Luna, hardly looks like a responsible community member as depicted here. But as an unexpected and unplanned journey from point A to point B, Hill's story is compelling and has the ring of truth." A Kirkus Reviews critic called the memoir "a charged first-person account," adding that "it is not necessary to be an environmental activist to find this a compelling portrait of a young woman of remarkable fortitude and dedication."
Hill's story was made into a documentary film by Doug Wolens. Butterfly was shown at film festivals around the country and, in a slightly different version, for the Public Broadcasting Service's P.O.V. program. Wolens interviewed Hill over the two years and spent six nights with her in Luna.
Hill wrote her second book, One Makes the Difference: Inspiring Actions That Change Our World, in response to the many fans and admirers who asked her what they can do. Hill uses anecdotes and tips in showing how one person can make a difference and covers topics that include air pollution, waste reduction, environmental justice, land use, and recycling. She notes that recycling one aluminum can saves the energy it takes to power a television for three hours and advocates the purchase of energy-efficient appliances and locally grown produce. She also provides a crash course in nonviolent protesting and other forms of political action. Library Journal critic Nancy Moeckel noted that, although Hill has no formal environmental training, she "has earned the right to her title."
Hill's activism has extended beyond the borders of the United States. On July 16, 2002, she was arrested and jailed in Equador with seven other demonstrators outside the offices of United States oil company Occidental Petroleum for protesting a proposed oil pipeline that would penetrate a virgin forest teeming with rare birds. The activist also joined with other environmentalists through her Circle of Life Foundation for the "We the Planet" symposium held in Rapid City, South Dakota on September 17 and 18, 2003. Speakers included Winona La Duke, Honor the Earth founder and former Green Party vice presidential candidate, and filmmaker Toby McLeod. They joined the members of the Defenders of the Black Hills and the National Forest Protection Alliance to oppose plans to build a shooting range near Bear Butte, a sacred land to many Plains tribes, and to open up the Black Hills to logging. Hill continues to lend her time, voice, and spirit to environmental causes in the United States and around the world.
Born February 18, 1974, in Mt. Vernon, MO; daughter of an evangelical minister. Addresses: Office: Circle of Life Foundation, P.O. Box 3764, Oakland, CA 94609.
Environmental activist. Founder of the Circle of Life Foundation, San Francisco, CA.