Julia "Butterfly" Hill Stands In A 200-Foot Tall Old-Growth Redwood Tree

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Julia "Butterfly" Hill Stands In A 200-Foot Tall Old-Growth Redwood Tree


By: Gerard Burkhart

Date: 1998

Source: Getty Images

About the Photographer: Gerard Burkhart is a freelance photographer based in Los Angeles, California. His photographs have appeared in numerous publications worldwide, and have been featured as part of three Pulitzer Prize-winning collaborations.


American environmental activist Julia "Butterfly" Hill (1974–) brought attention to the danger that wholesale, profit-driven, clear-cutting of forests by lumber companies presents to the preservation of old-growth rain forests and individual trees—as well as to the environment and the ecosystem as a whole—when she climbed up a thousand-year-old California Coast Redwood tree in the Headlands Forest on December 10, 1997. Hill remained living in the tree, which she named Luna, for two years. She came down from the tree on December 18, 1999 after she reached an agreement with the Pacific Lumber Maxxon Corporation not to fell that tree or to do any logging in a 200 foot radius buffer zone around the tree.

When she first climbed the tree, Hill did not intend to stay for two years. She had been one of many members of the environmental group Earth First! involved in an action, which included sitting in trees, aimed at halting the Pacific Lumber Maxxon Corporation from felling old-growth redwoods. Not only was the clear-cutting destroying ancient trees; it was creating deadly mudslides after the trees were felled.

Hill extended her stay in the tree day by day. As she remained in the tree and attracted worldwide media attention, she became resolute not to descend until she actually accomplished her goal of saving the tree. She lived on a platform, six feet by eight feet, which members of Earth First! had built in the tree. There was another, slightly smaller platform nearby where she kept provisions supplied by her support group on the ground. The platform was covered with a tarp. Her perch was quite precarious, but it did not faze her. She scrambled about 180 feet off the ground easily, usually barefoot because it afforded her a better grip. Her improvised habitat was subject to strong winds and rains. The Pacific Lumber Company made living conditions worse, sending helicopters to hover above the tree, deafeningly loud and causing a commotion of winds that trembled the platform. At night, they set bright lights shining into the tree and broadcast blaring noise, hoping to drive Hill down from the tree by depriving her of sleep. Nevertheless, Hill endured and finally prevailed.



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The agreement Hill reached with the lumber company—to preserve the tree and form a buffer zone—was a compromise. Hill and her supporters paid $50,000 to the company. The company then donated the money to California's Humboldt University to be used for environmental research. Some members of Earth First! objected to such a settlement. Hill, though uncompromising in her action, believed in being flexible when dealing with adversaries, and saw her tree-sit as a clear victory that had generated enormous publicity.

Since coming down from the tree, Hill has continued her activism, creating a group called Circle of Life to continue raising consciousness around environmental issues and by continuing to engage in direct, non-violent action.

Hill represents a familiar, democratic, and necessary figure in American culture, a dedicated individual who pits herself with only the resources of determination and the presence of her own body against a huge, powerful, and seemingly monolithic system and demands a change in the way things are done and the way people think. Her tree-sitting is significant in and of itself as an action against a predatory lumber company in defense of a natural environment and an important ecosystem. Through her act, Hill demonstrated that common people, following their own light, can have the capacity to act effectively. It is a lesson not limited to adherents of one particular ideology or political position but can be applied across a spectrum of beliefs. Hill's tree-sitting reflects not only a particular set of goals, but an attitude toward being a citizen in a democracy. Moreover, despite her dedication to the cause she championed, Hill represents a vision of reconciliation that accepts the humanity of every person even while engaged in a struggle against particular people, values, or policies.



Beach, Patrick. A Good Forest For Dying: The Tragic Death Of A Young Man On The Front Lines Of The Environmental Wars. New York: Doubleday, 2003.

Hill, Julia Butterfly. The Legacy Of Luna: The Story Of A Tree, A Woman, And The Struggle To Save The Redwoods. New York: Harper San Francisco, 2000.

Web sites

Circle of Life. 〈http://www.circleoflife.org〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).

"Julia Butterfly Hill." The Ecology Hall of Fame. 〈http://www.ecotopia.org/ehof/hill/〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).

Wilson, Nicholas. "Dancing in the Treetop." MONITOR. 〈http://www.monitor.net/monitor/9807a/butterfly-profile.html〉 (accessed March 14, 2006).