Julia Butterfly Hill: The Story of Luna, Leadership, and Legacy

Yesterday, February 18, 2018, marked the 44th birthday of a woman whose undying courage, passion, and tenacity not only triumphed over an environmental threat, but also proved the strength and effectiveness of activism as a whole.

Julia “Butterfly” Hill was born in 1974, the child of a travelling minister. It’s said that one day while she and her family were hiking near a campground site, a butterfly landed on her finger and stayed there for the rest of the hike. Her family then referred to her as “Butterfly,” and she has kept the nickname ever since. When Hill was a young adult she suffered a nearly fatal car accident and, during her year-long recovery, reconsidered her purpose in life and set out on a path of self discovery.

Her first destination was northern California, where she uncovered a newfound love for the ancient redwood tree forests of Humboldt County. Hill connected with several organizers who were protesting the logging of local redwood groves by Pacific Lumber Co. and decided to join their efforts.

In December 1997, Hill ascended Luna, a 180 ft tall and thousand year old redwood tree, to perform a sit-in protest in the name of civil disobedience. Intended initially as only a week-long tree sit, Hill ended up living in Luna for over two years to prevent the logging company from clear cutting the area.

During her stay at the top of Luna, Hill endured harsh weather conditions, harassment from overhead helicopters, physical pursuits by Pacific Lumber Co. security guards, and verbal threats from furious loggers of the local area. Despite these hardships, Hill persisted. With support from fellow local activists and the radical environmental organization Earth First!, she lived in Luna for 738 days.

And her grit eventually paid off. In December of 1999 a resolution between Pacific Lumber Co. and Luna’s activists was formed. Hill agreed to vacate Luna under the stipulation that a 200 ft perimeter around the tree would be entirely preserved. The logging company settled for this in exchange for $50,000 in compensation, a fund that had been raised by local supporters over the course of Hill’s two year sit-in. In addition, the Earth First! organization donated $50,000 to Humboldt State University, a local state college, for sustainable forestry research.

Throughout their two years together, Hill and Luna created a lasting legacy that has inspired activists all around the world who hear their story. The radical qualities of the sit-in drew in lots of media attention, which highlighted logging companies’ lack of consideration for the environmental implications of their practices. The media coverage also served to educate the public about the importance of forest preservation and sustainable resource production.

The outcome of Hill’s protest was a definite win for the redwoods, though it was also a win for activism in general. After descending Luna in December of 1999, Hill traveled the globe for several years as a motivational speaker. She told her story to audiences all around the world and spoke on the significance of both social and environmental activism. She later wrote a book, The Legacy of Luna, that took the form of a diary log detailing her two years spent at the top of the tree. Hill and Luna’s story shows that small-scale activism can make a big difference and inspired communities across the globe to take action where they live!

Hill’s website: http://www.juliabutterfly.com/-julia.html

Ellie Pumpkin

Ellie Pumpkin is a second year student majoring in Environmental Sciences and minoring in Conservation and Resource Studies. Having grown up in a rural area on the coast of northern California, Ellie has a lifelong love for the outdoors and all of the life it encompasses. She is passionate about both writing and environmental advocacy and is excited to merge those interests in a student organization platform. Aside from trying to survive her lower division STEM classes, Ellie spends her time journaling, finding new music, making a mess in the kitchen, chasing sunsets, or planning her next camping trip. Ellie Pumpkin covers ecology.

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