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Julia Butterfly's "Luna" Redwood Slashed

by Nicholas Wilson

Winter storms could easily topple
Luna chaninsawed
Protected as part of her agreement with Pacific Lumber/Maxxam to end her historic two-year protest, the 1,000 year-old tree was deeply cut by chainsaws around Thanksgiving

PHOTO: Earth Films

Luna, the 1000-year-old giant redwood that Julia Butterfly Hill lived in for two years to save, was severely damaged in a chainsaw attack over the Thanksgiving holiday. The Humboldt County Sheriff's office is investigating the act as felony vandalism. Meanwhile a crew raced an approaching windstorm, working in darkness Tuesday night to install steel braces to reinforce the giant tree in hopes it would not be toppled.

Hill was out of state spending Thanksgiving with family members when she learned of the attack. She said she was too stunned by the news to give interviews, but in a written statement issued by her Circle of Life Foundation she said, "I feel this vicious attack on Luna as surely as if the chainsaw was going through me. Words cannot express the deep sorrow that I am experiencing, but I am as committed as ever to do everything in my power to protect Luna and the remaining ancient forests." She was reported to be on her way back to Humboldt County and was expected to visit the tree as soon as possible.

On Tuesday a crew of experts from Pacific Lumber, California Department of Forestry, Circle of Life and Sanctuary Forest made careful measurements to assess the damage and come up with an emergency plan to save the tree. They determined that the cut was 19 feet long and 30 to 36 inches deep, encircling half the circumference of the tree's trunk and severing more than half the total area of the supporting wood. According to a report from the scene by KMUD radio news director Estelle Fennell, the tree was moving visibly even in light breezes, and there was concern for the safety of the rescue team. An earlier plan to attach cables to brace the tree was scrapped because it was unsafe to climb.

The plan now being carried out is to bolt a series of steel brackets into the wood above and below the saw cut. Then cables will be attached to lace the upper and lower brackets together, and turnbuckles will provide a way to adjust the tension of the cables. The saw cut, or kerf, is about 1/2" wide, and it will be filled in with strong material to keep the cable tension from pulling the gap closed and causing the tree to lean. One advantage of this plan is that it can be carried out quickly, even overnight. Without rapid action, the tree could well be blown down in the approaching storm.

Pacific Lumber vowed full cooperation in the effort to save Luna, and as the sun set on Tuesday company machinists were finishing manufacturing the steel braces that would be installed during the night. PL was also providing full ground support and access to the tree, which grows on a windswept ridge overlooking the central Humboldt County hamlet of Stafford, on Highway 101 two miles south of PL's company town of Scotia. PL spokesperson Mary Bullwinkel said people at the company were "shocked" by the vandalism. "Whoever is responsible for this act should be fully prosecuted," she said on KMUD news.

available from Circle of Life Foundation
The damage was discovered on Saturday by a supporter of Hill's. "Judging by the precision of the cut and the fresh sawdust," a Circle of Life press release speculated, "the criminal action appears to have been committed by an experienced tree faller within the last few days." On the other hand, one of the experts who looked at the damage Tuesday said whoever did it didn't know how to sharpen a chainsaw. No one has been identified as a suspect, but both the sheriff's department and private investigators for Sanctuary Forest -- a nonprofit land trust which has custodial rights to Luna under the contract which spared the tree -- were continuing to investigate.

Although the motive for the attack is unknown, the first anniversary of Hill's December 18, 1999 descent from Luna is approaching, and there are timber industry supporters who wrote hateful letters to the editor back then saying Pacific Lumber should have cut the tree down with Julia in it. In fact, letters to the Eureka Times Standard a year ago ran three or four to one against her. One said, "I think they should tell her anything she wants to hear, then as soon as she's down, cut the tree down and burn it." Another said, "I hope when Butterfly is climbing down the tree to leave that she falls down and hits every branch on the way down and breaks her neck and then it'll be done with and I'll be happy."

Also there is still an ongoing battle in the region over PL's continued clearcutting of old-growth forests, in particular the Douglas Fir stands in the headwaters of the Mattole River, just over the ridge from Luna. Sanctuary Forest's primary mission is preservation of those very stands, and on Tuesday deputies guarded PL loggers in the Mattole as they felled trees in the direction of protesters, according to a caller to KMUD radio. Monitor readers may recall a series of articles about the September 1998 death of forest protester David "Gypsy" Chain when he was crushed by a redwood felled in his direction by a PL logger who had earlier threatened to do just that.

The experts who assessed the damage to Luna on Tuesday said that while the big tree was severely damaged, it may yet survive the attack if their efforts are successful in preventing the wind from blowing it over. They described their emergency bracing as a 'band-aid" that may need to be replaced later by something better. Circle of Life spokesperson Dana Stolz had this assessment Tuesday evening: "From my talks with the crew that's out there right now working in the dark, I think it's pretty likely that she's going to be able to survive some windstorms, and hopefully live and stand strong for years to come."

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Albion Monitor November 29, 2000 (

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