Published on Tuesday, November 28, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Vandals Slash Giant Redwood
Tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill's Former Home Chain-Sawed
by Glen Martin
An environmental saga that transfixed the world took an ugly turn
yesterday when it was revealed that Luna, a 1,000-year-old redwood that was
home for two years to tree-sitter Julia Butterfly Hill, has suffered a deep
chain-saw cut that could prove fatal.
No suspect for the act of vandalism has been identified, but authorities say an investigation is continuing.
The giant Humboldt County tree was protected under an agreement reached with Pacific Lumber Co. last year when Hill ended her protest. The company agreed to preserve Luna and a 200-foot buffer zone in exchange for a $50,000 payment from Hill and her legion of supporters.
In a statement issued yesterday by the Circle of Life Foundation, an organization Hill helped establish, she condemned the "vicious attack" on Luna.
"I feel this . . . as surely as if the chain saw was going through me," she said. "Words cannot express the deep sorrow I'm feeling, but I am as committed as ever to do everything in my power to protect Luna and the remaining ancient forests."
Reached by phone yesterday at her grandfather's house in Fairhope, Ala., Hill said she was too over whelmed to elaborate. "I just don't really feel like talking," said Hill haltingly. "I'm just trying to work through what is going on."
The gash to the 200-foot-tall redwood was discovered Saturday by one of Hill's supporters. Observers at the scene said the cut measured 32 inches deep and 19 feet around the base, somewhat less than half the circumference of the tree.
Fresh sawdust at the scene and the precise placement of the cut indicates that the vandalism occurred within the last week by someone adept at sawing large trees, authorities said.
A timber faller who examined Luna yesterday said no logger in the course of his work would climb a tree that had endured such a cut, because the tree could fall at any time -- particularly in a high wind.
It remains unclear whether anything can be done to save the redwood.
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA ATTENTION
Hill climbed Luna in 1997 as a protest to the logging of ancient redwood trees by Pacific Lumber, a timber company owned by Texas financier Charles Hurwitz. She stayed in the tree for two years, drawing international media attention from her treetop perch.
By the time Hill descended on Dec. 10, 1999, she had become a global cause celebre -- and had essentially forced an agreement with Pacific Lumber that permanently protected the tree and a buffer zone.
The pact seemed to signal a truce in the North Coast's ferocious timber wars. And to a certain degree, at least, that detente was holding yesterday, with representatives of Pacific Lumber expressing sorrow and anger at the vandalism.
"This is absolutely terrible," said Mary Bullwinkel, a Pacific Lumber spokeswoman. "We want to see whoever is responsible fully prosecuted. We just hope the investigation will find the guilty party."
Speaking by cell phone yesterday from Luna's base, Herb Schwartz, an attorney for Sanctuary Forest, a nonprofit group that oversees the tree and its buffer zone, said he was dispirited by the attack.
EVERYONE 'VERY SICKENED'
"I'm normally an optimist," said Schwartz, ''but I have this very sinking feeling. It's like when something you don't want to happen happens anyway, and you just feel like you're losing control.
"It's like you're saying 'My God, how can I stop it?' But you can't stop it.
I'm up here with representatives from Pacific Lumber and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department, and everyone is very sickened."
Schwartz said that he hoped Luna could be saved, but that no answers would be forthcoming until professional arborists were consulted.
"The cut won't necessarily kill the tree outright," said Schwartz, "but it makes it really vulnerable to toppling, particularly in a big windstorm."
The ridge that Luna sits on is southwest of the community of Scotia, an area that frequently receives heavy winds, particularly during winter storms. In a book Hill wrote about her tree-sitting experience, she described almost being blown out of Luna's canopy by gale-force gusts.
There is no evidence that timber industry workers are responsible for the act, authorities emphasized. But lingering local resentment over the Luna accord and an earlier pact that protected the nearby Headwaters Forest, a 7, 500-acre grove of ancient redwoods, has engendered suspicion among some environmentalists.
BIG CHAIN SAWS INDICATED
"It takes big chain saws and containers of gas and oil to do something like this, and it isn't easy to get up there," said Sharon Duggan, an attorney who helped negotiate the agreement that protected Luna. "Loggers know that.
"The question comes down to who did it. I'm not saying Pacific Lumber or their agents did it, but there are a lot of questions left to be answered. There's a lot of concern that the agreement might have been breached. Pacific Lumber controls access to Luna -- their lands surround it."
Pacific Lumber doesn't own Luna or the adjacent buffer zone and is therefore not directly responsible for the tree, Bullwinkel observed. "Also, people trespass our lands constantly," she said. "We can't stop them all."
At this point, said Schwartz, a meticulous investigation is essential.
"It's complete speculation right now trying to ascertain if the (guilty party) was a professional or an amateur," he said. "I couldn't say, and the professional logger who is up here with us couldn't say. That's a determination we're still trying to make."
Chronicle librarian Kathleen Rhodes contributed to this report.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle