Julia Butterfly Hill

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Julia Butterfly Hill
Hill in 2006
Julia Lorraine Hill

(1974-02-18) February 18, 1974 (age 50)[1]
EmployerCircle of Life Foundation
Known forLiving in Luna, a California redwood tree, for 730+ days
PartnerRaymon Silva

Julia Lorraine Hill (known as Julia Butterfly Hill, born February 18, 1974) is an American environmental activist and tax redirection advocate. She lived in a 200-foot (61 m)-tall, approximately 1000-year-old California redwood tree for 738 days between December 10, 1997, and December 18, 1999. Hill lived in the tree, affectionately known as Luna, to prevent Pacific Lumber Company loggers from cutting it down. She ultimately reached an agreement with the lumber company to save the tree.[2]

She is the author of the book The Legacy of Luna and co-author of One Makes the Difference.

Early life[edit]

Hill's father was a traveling minister who went from town to town, bringing his family with him. Until she was about ten years old, Hill lived in a 32-foot (9.8 m) camper with her father Dale, mother Kathy, and brothers Mike and Dan. Julia is the middle child. While traveling with her family, Hill often explored rivers by campgrounds.[1] When Hill was seven years old, she and her family were taking a hike one day when a butterfly landed on her finger and stayed with her for the duration of the hike. From that day on, her nickname became "Butterfly". She decided to use that as her nickname for the rest of her life.[1]

When Hill was in middle school, her family stopped traveling and settled in Jonesboro, Arkansas.[1] In August 1996, at age 22, she suffered a near-fatal car crash.[3] At the time, Hill was acting as the designated driver for a friend who had been drinking. Her friend's car was hit from behind by a drunk driver.[4] The steering wheel of the car penetrated her skull. It took almost a year of intensive therapy before she regained the ability to speak and walk normally.[5] She said:

As I recovered, I realized that my whole life had been out of balance... I had graduated high school at 16, and had been working nonstop since then, first as a waitress, then as a restaurant manager. I had been obsessed by my career, success, and material things. The crash woke me up to the importance of the moment, and doing whatever I could to make a positive impact on the future.[6] The steering wheel in my head, both figuratively and literally, steered me in a new direction in my life.[7]

Hill embarked on a spiritual quest afterward, leading her to the environmental cause opposed to the destruction of the redwood forests in Humboldt County, California.[8]

Tree sit[edit]

After recuperating from her accident, Hill took a road trip to California and attended a reggae fundraiser to save the forests. A group of "front-liners" had been rotating tree sitters in and out of giant redwoods in Humboldt County every couple of days to stave off Pacific Lumber Co. loggers who were clear-cutting. The trees were on a windswept ridge overlooking the community of Stafford,[9] which is south of Scotia.[10] On New Year's Eve 1996, a landslide in Stafford caused by clearcut logging by Pacific Lumber Company (Maxxam) on steep slopes above the community resulted in most of the community being buried up to 17 feet (5.2 m) in mud and tree debris; eight homes were completely destroyed.[11][12] Organizers wanted someone to stay in the tree for one week. "Nobody else would volunteer so they had to pick me", said Hill.[7]

Originally, Hill was not officially affiliated with any environmental organization, deciding by herself to undertake civil disobedience. Soon, she was actively supported by Earth First!, among other organizations, and by volunteers.[13]

On December 10, 1997, Hill ascended a 1,000-year-old[14] lightning-struck[15] redwood tree to a height of 180 feet (55 m). The tree had previously been nicknamed “the Stafford Giant" because of its proximity to the small community of Stafford.[8] Since the Moon was rising at the time, activists chose to name the tree “Luna” (Latin for “Moon”) to commemorate the event:[16]

An hour and a half after reaching the base of the tree, we got the last of the provisions up. By then it was midnight. Finally, I was able to put on the harness and ascend Luna. It seemed an exhausting eternity before I reached the top. When I finally got there, I untangled myself from the harness and looked around for a place to collapse.[8]

Hill lived on two 6-by-4-foot (1.8 by 1.2 m) platforms for 738 days. She learned many survival skills while living in Luna, such as "seldom washing the soles of her feet, because the sap helped her feet stick to the branches better."[17] She used solar-powered cell phones for radio interviews, became an "in-tree" correspondent for a cable television show, and hosted TV crews to protest old-growth clear cutting.[18] Using ropes, Hill hoisted up survival supplies brought by an eight-member support crew. To keep warm, she wrapped herself tight in a sleeping bag, leaving only a small hole for breathing. For meals, she used a single-burner propane stove.[19] Throughout her ordeal, she weathered freezing rains and 40 mph (64 km/h) winds from El Niño,[19] helicopter harassment, a ten-day siege by company security guards and attempts at intimidation by angry loggers.[5][8]

A resolution was reached in 1999, when the Pacific Lumber Company agreed to preserve Luna and all trees within a 200-foot (61 m) buffer zone.[20][21] In exchange, it was agreed that Hill would vacate the tree, and that the $50,000 she and other activists had raised during her occupancy would be given to the logging company. The agreement also provided that the company would donate that same amount to Humboldt State University for research into sustainable forestry practices.[20]

Vandals later cut into the tree with a chainsaw.[22] A gash in the 200-foot (61 m)-tall redwood was discovered in November 2000 by one of Hill's supporters.[23] Observers at the scene said the cut measured 32 inches (810 mm) deep and 19 feet (5.8 m) around the base, somewhat less than half the circumference of the tree. The gash was treated with an herbal remedy, and the tree was stabilized with steel cables. In 2001, Eureka civil engineer Steve Salzman headed Luna's "medical team" which designed and built a bracing system to help the tree withstand the extreme windstorms with peak winds between 60 and 100 miles per hour (27 and 45 m/s).[24] They were assisted by Humboldt State University professor Steven Sillett.[24] As of spring 2007, the tree was doing well with new growth each year. Caretakers routinely climb the tree to check its condition and to maintain the steel guywires.[25][26] Luna is under the stewardship of Sanctuary Forest, a nonprofit organization.[14]

Post-tree sit[edit]

Hill speaks at the Harmony Festival in 2009

Since her tree sit, Hill has become a motivational speaker, an author, and the co-founder of the Circle of Life Foundation (which helped organize We The Planet, an eco-friendly music tour) and the Engage Network, a nonprofit that trains small groups of civic leaders to work toward social change.[27]

Ecuadorian oil pipeline protest[edit]

On July 16, 2002, Hill was jailed in Quito, Ecuador outside the offices of Occidental Petroleum, for protesting a proposed oil pipeline that would penetrate a virgin Andean cloud forest that teems with rare birds.[28] Ecuadorian President Gustavo Noboa commented, "The little gringos have been arrested, including the old cockatoo who climbs trees."[29] Hill was later deported from Ecuador.[28]

Tax redirection[edit]

In 2003, Hill became a proponent of tax redirection, resisting payment of about $150,000 in federal taxes, donating the money to after-school programs, arts and cultural programs, community gardens, programs for Native Americans, alternatives to incarceration, and environmental protection programs. She said:

I actually take the money that the IRS says goes to them and I give it to the places where our taxes should be going. And in my letter to the IRS I said: "I'm not refusing to pay my taxes. I'm actually paying them but I'm paying them where they belong because you refuse to do so."[30]

Farm sale protest[edit]

In 2006, Hill protested the sale of the South Central Farm in an attempt to save the 14-acre (5.7 ha) farm from developers.[31]

Looking forward[edit]

In an April 2009 interview,[27] Hill pondered what would come next for her:

The tree-sit and action since created this very particular role that Julia Butterfly Hill fulfills. And, because I'm a person committed to growth, to looking for where my edge is, that role is now too narrow for me. But it's hard to figure out what's next because there's this entire reality that's been created around this role that I play. And I'm not discounting that role–I've been able to help communities that I love very much. And at the same time, I'm looking for what's next for me, and it's so easy to stay in that role that myself and this world co-created together. But I just know that there's aspects of it that need to shed.

In popular culture[edit]

Hill has been the subject of several documentaries, interviews, and books, including her own 2000 memoir, The Legacy of Luna, and has influenced numerous musicians:

  • On December 10, 1998, a benefit concert was played at the Mateel Community Center in Redway, California during Julia's "tree sit". Artists performing were Bob Weir and Mark Karan as an acoustic duet, the Steve Kimock Band, and the Mickey Hart Band. Hill took part in the event, reading her poem "Luna" via telephone while the Mickey Hart Band was performing "The Dancing Sorcerer".[32]
  • The character Sierra Tierwater in the 2000 novel A Friend of the Earth by T. Coraghessan Boyle was partially inspired by Hill.[33]
  • Hill was the subject of the documentary Butterfly (2000) broadcast on PBS POV. She is also featured in the documentary film Tree-Sit: The Art of Resistance.[34] Both films document her time in the redwood tree.[35][34]
  • The 2000 twelfth-season episode of The Simpsons called "Lisa the Tree Hugger" was conceived when writer Matt Selman heard a news story about Hill.[36]
  • In Penn & Teller's 2003 first season of their documentary television show, Bullshit, Hill appeared as a Special Guest Expert on the episode "Environmental Hysteria".[37]
  • A film adaptation of The Legacy of Luna, to be directed by Laurie Collyer and star Rachel Weisz, became stuck in development hell, although Weisz actively worked towards getting the project off the ground.[38]
  • Hill and the events were featured in the 2010 Michael P. Henning documentary film Hempsters: Plant the Seed.[39]
  • The main character of the 2017 Swedish children's book Julia räddar skogen (Julia saves the forest) by Niklas Hill and Anna Palmqvist is named after Hill. The book is about a child who occupies a tree in order to hinder the construction of a new highway.[40]
  • In The Overstory, by Richard Powers, the character Olivia Vandergriff, is loosely based on Hill.



  1. ^ a b c d Fitzgerald, Dawn (2002). Julia Butterfly Hill: Saving the Redwoods. Millbrook, Connecticut: Millbrook Press. ISBN 0-7613-2654-5.
  2. ^ "Woman Strikes Deal With Lumber Company to Leave Redwood Home". The New York Times. Associated Press. December 19, 1999. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 20, 2023.
  3. ^ "Butterfly's Tale". Circle of Life Foundation. Archived from the original on April 8, 2008. Retrieved September 11, 2009.
  4. ^ "Julia Butterfly Hill, activist and onetime tree-sitter, answers questions". Grist. January 23, 2006. Retrieved September 30, 2009.
  5. ^ a b Martin, Glen (December 8, 1998). "A Year in the Sky". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  6. ^ Dawn Fitzgerald (2002). Julia Butterfly Hill: Saving the Redwoods. Lerner Publications. ISBN 978-0-7613-2654-0.
  7. ^ a b Oldenburg, Don (October 22, 2004). "Julia Butterfly Hill, From Treetop to Grass Roots". Washington Post. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  8. ^ a b c d Butterfly Hill, Julia (April 1, 2000). The Legacy of Luna. HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-251658-2.
  9. ^ Wilson, Nicholas (November 29, 2000). "Julia Butterfly's "Luna" Redwood Slashed". Albion Monitor. Archived from the original on November 25, 2013. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  10. ^ "Julia Hill and Her Tree sit in Luna". The Redwood Forest: Exploring the Eel River Valley. SunnyFortuna.com. 2013. Archived from the original on February 23, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  11. ^ "Stafford Slide". Living on Earth. Public Radio International. March 16, 2001. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  12. ^ NBC Dateline (February 14, 1999). Interview with Julia Butterfly Hill (video). National Broadcasting Company.
  13. ^ "Julia Butterfly Hill defends California redwoods, 1999". Global Nonviolent Action Database. Swarthmore College. Retrieved March 22, 2015.
  14. ^ a b Martin, Glen (November 28, 2000). "Vandals Slash Giant Redwood / Tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill's former home chain-sawed". San Francisco Chronicle. The Hearst Corporation. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  15. ^ Curtius, Mary (October 22, 1998). "Tree-Sitter Takes Protest to New Heights in Old Growth: Activist lives in redwood owned by lumber company in dispute over logging Humboldt County forest". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  16. ^ Martin, Glen (December 8, 1998). "A Year in the Sky". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 25, 2013. They don't care about their employees, and they don't care about their forests. When they're finished, there'll be no jobs, no trees - just eroded earth. We don't have a problem with sustained-yield logging. But this isn't sustained-yield, and the loggers will ultimately suffer with the rest of us."
  17. ^ Martin, Glen (December 20, 1999). "Tree-Sitter Recounts Life In the Clouds: Julia Butterfly Hill is tearful and triumphant". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  18. ^ Hua, Vanessa (June 18, 2000). "Julia 'Butterfly' Hill's connections". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  19. ^ a b Hornblower, Margot (June 24, 2001). "Five Months At 180 Ft". Time. Archived from the original on March 3, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  20. ^ a b Martin, Glen (November 28, 2000). "Vandals Slash Giant Redwood / Tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill's former home chain-sawed". San Francisco Chronicle. The Hearst Corporation. Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  21. ^ Friedland, Andrew; Relyea, Rick; Courard-Hauri, David; Jones, Ross; Weisburg, Susan (2012). Environmental Science for AP. New York, New York: W.H. Freeman and Company. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-7167-3849-7. Retrieved December 30, 2014.
  22. ^ "Julia 'Butterfly' Hill's Luna is chainsawed". San Mateo Daily Journal. Associated Press. November 28, 2000.
  23. ^ Martin, Glen (November 28, 2000). "Vandals Slash Giant Redwood". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  24. ^ a b Donahue, Paul (Winter 2001). "The Cabling of Luna". The Maine Woods. Forest Ecology Network. Retrieved January 18, 2013. The gravel road up to Luna took us through PL (Pacific Lumber) clearcuts of all conditions - impossibly steep, naked, eroded hillsides where not a single plant had grown since our last visit in June 1999, clearcuts with scrubby orange vegetation killed by herbicide spray, and other clearcuts still black and smoking from the Napalm dropped to burn off the slash. From high on the ridge above Luna we had a clear view of the blight of PL's patchwork clearcuts covering the landscape. Most bizarre of all, the whole time we were working to save a single tree we could hear the roar of a large twin-bladed Chinook helicopter coursing over the steep slopes across the Eel River from us, hauling out huge tree trunks in a PL helicopter logging operation.
  25. ^ How is Luna Today ? Archived August 24, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Luna's Status currently by "Sanctuary Forest
  26. ^ Donahue, Paul (Spring 2002). "Luna - 17 Months Since Being Cut, and Still Doing Well". Retrieved November 25, 2013.
  27. ^ a b c d Berton, Justin (April 16, 2009). "Catching up with ... Julia Butterfly Hill". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  28. ^ a b Martin, Glen (July 19, 2002). "Julia Butterfly deported by Ecuador after oil confrontation". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  29. ^ Martin, Glen (July 18, 2002). "Julia Butterfly in Ecuador jail after oil protest". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  30. ^ Smith, Gar "An Interview with Julia Butterfly Hill: Part 1" The Edge 26 May 2005 [1]
  31. ^ Buncombe, Andrew (May 26, 2006). "A new protest song: Joan Baez - she shall overcome". The Independent. Retrieved September 19, 2009.
  32. ^ "KVHW Live at Mateel Community Center on 1998-12-10 (December 10, 1998)". Archive.org. December 10, 1998. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  33. ^ Daurer, Gregory (December 11, 2000). "T. Coraghessan Boyle". Salon.
  34. ^ a b "TREE-SIT: the Art of Resistance". Forest Ecology Network. Fall 2001.
  35. ^ Cutler, Jacqueline (June 16, 2000). "P.O.V. chronicles woman's crusade to save a tree". The Union Democrat.
  36. ^ Selman, Matt (2009). The Simpsons The Complete Twelfth Season DVD commentary for the episode "Lisa the Tree Hugger" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
  37. ^ "TV.com review of Penn & Teller Episode-Environmental Hysteria". 2003. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  38. ^ Brown, Mick (August 1, 2009). "Rachel Weisz talks about starring in A Streetcar Named Desire". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved September 18, 2009.
  39. ^ "Hempsters: Plant the Seed – DVD Review", 420 magazine, December 21, 2013
  40. ^ McPhate, Mike (December 19, 2017). "When a tree sitter captured the nation's attention". Medium.
  41. ^ Mockingbird Foundation (July 1, 2004). The Phish Companion: A Guide to the Band and Their Music. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0879307994.
  42. ^ Manzano Ben, Alberto (September 21, 2001). "LOS SUAVES – 11. Un Paso Atrás En El Tiempo (2002)". El Almacen Del Rock. Archived from the original on June 22, 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  43. ^ "Casey Desmond - Julia Butterfly Hill". YouTube. Retrieved September 7, 2012.
  44. ^ itsjustmylittlevoice (March 28, 2009). "Butterfly - Idina Menzel (NEW SONG)". Archived from the original on December 12, 2021. Retrieved December 30, 2016 – via YouTube.

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