Who is Julia Butterfly Hill?

Diana Bocco

Julia Butterfly Hill is a young activist best known for spending 738 days on top of a tree. Born on 18 February 1974 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Julia Butterfly Hill was only 24 when she climbed a California Redwood tree and set up residence there. The tree, 1000 years old and 180 feet tall, was set to be cut down by the Pacific Lumber Company. Moved by the plight, volunteers from Earth First! and other organizations helped Julia build a small tarp-covered shelter on top of the tree, in which she would spend the next two years of her life.

Julia Butterfly Hill protested attempts to cut down ancient redwoods.
Julia Butterfly Hill protested attempts to cut down ancient redwoods.

The act of civil disobedience that started the legend was inspired by Headwaters Forest activists trying to stop the cut down of hundreds of trees in Humboldt County, California, one of the last remaining areas of wild redwood forest ecosystem in the US. Julia Butterfly Hill was not the first activist to climb the tree. Several people before her had spent hours or days on top of it, and when it was Julia's turn, her idea was simply to continue the fight. However, days turned into weeks, and on day 42, Julia Butterfly Hill broke the worldwide record for tree sitting. Her tree, nicknamed Luna because it was first climbed at night, with only the moon as a guiding light, became a symbol in the plight to protect redwood forests.

While up in Luna, Julia Butterfly Hill endured severe harassment from the logging company, which included horns, bright lights, and strong winds generated from a helicopter. She also survived one of the most severe winters in California history. Julia Butterfly Hill climbed down from Luna on 18 December 1999, after striking a deal with Pacific Lumber Company. According to the agreement, Luna plus a three-acre buffer zone around it, would be forever preserved.

Julia Butterfly Hill has been the subject of several documentaries, interviews, and books, including her own memoirs, "The Legacy of Luna." After climbing down from Luna, she went on a nationwide tour speaking against deforestation, and eventually founded Circle of Life Foundation, which offers tools for sustainable living, activism support, and educational programs.

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