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"Luna" attack, Mattole logging create rift


November 30, 2000

By John Driscoll
The Times-Standard
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Tree experts, the Pacific Lumber Co. and supporters of activist Julia "Butterfly" Hill worked together to save a vandalized old-growth redwood tree while clashes intensified during PL logging of old-growth fir in the Mattole River Valley.

Wednesday morning, Hill visited the tree -- her home for two years -- that had been cut with a large chainsaw by a vandal or vandals probably within the past week. She viewed the huge metal stitches that arborists used to stabilize the 200-foot-tall tree and praised the PL employees who helped assemble the hardware.

Resting her hands on the trunk of the massive tree nicknamed "Luna", Hill said, "I'm sorry I couldn't be here to put myself in front of the chainsaw that hurt you."

Later, Hill denounced PL's logging practices, particularly of old-growth Douglas fir in the Mattole. Conflict has been brewing there during a three-week vigil and five protesters were arrested Tuesday on charges of trespassing and resisting arrest.

Claims of loggers felling trees with protesters nearby may be backed up by videotape reportedly taken at the scene. The short tape The Times-Standard viewed did not show the tree actually falling. However, the protester was near the tree for about three minutes while a man cut a large tree with a chainsaw.

"I'm really surprised that people haven't been hurt or killed out there," said Josh Brown of Earth First, who also claimed that police stood idly by while fallers felled trees near protesters.

The Humboldt County Sheriff's Department has stepped up efforts against the activists in the woods and those blocking gates. The Sheriff's department would not answer the allegations after several calls Wednesday.

Activist David "Gypsy" Chain was killed during a logging protest two years ago when a tree being felled landed on him.

California timber falling law states that people in the vicinity of a tree being cut need to be warned and out of reach of falling trees. Fallers must stop saw motors when giving the warning.

After speaking with Mattole logging supervisors, PL spokeswoman Mary Bullwinkel said that activists have been playing a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, leaping into the path of trees about to be felled, and apparently videotaping the feat.

"We obviously are operating on our state-approved harvest plan and are adhering to the guidelines of our (logging rules)," Bullwinkel said.

Protesters are trespassing to disrupt a plan that the California Supreme Court refused to stop, Bullwinkel said.

Environmentalists and Mattole citizens were denied a stay by the court this month. Environmentalists have said they want to buy as much as 14,000 acres in the area, including about 3,000 acres of old-growth. How much money, if any, has been raised for this effort is not known and PL maintains that it is not a willing seller, needing logs for its mills more than money.

Last week, PL called into question activists' techniques of blocking roads with rock walls and giant holes, saying that these could cause erosion and damage to salmon-supporting creeks the activists say they are trying to protect. PL said that plugged culverts and altered drainage ditches were potentially very harmful. Activists denied using these tactics.

This week, PL pick-up trucks carrying loggers and sheriff's vehicles driven to the area to round up protesters created ruts that push the limits of the company's logging guidelines, the California Department of Forestry said.

Were they to be more rutted, area forester John Marshall said, the forestry department would consider issuing the company a violation.

Marshall also said that the company would be cited whether law enforcement vehicles or company vehicles were to create significant damage.

Heavier rain Tuesday night and Wednesday will hold off any other logging for 48 hours after the rain stops.

That storm threatened to topple the tree Hill occupied for nearly two years, boasting gusts of 40 miles per hour or more. Tree experts worked under lights into the night Tuesday to brace the tree before the storm hit. Hours before, the tree had been wobbling precariously.

The cut to the tree's 38-foot-diameter trunk is now partly filled with metal plating and held together by large metal braces made of brackets and bolts.

"I've been praying that the person who did this would seek me out," Hill said. "They might not -- but I'd like to ask them why."

The vandal or vandals slashed the 19-foot-long scar into the tree that has been estimated to be 600 to 1,000 years old. The tree and three acres surrounding it are held in trust by the Whitethorn-based Sanctuary Forest, after Hill and her supporters purchased the tree for $50,000.

Hill said that the logging of old-growth in the Mattole is a far more serious concern than the attack on the single tree and said that division will not find an answer to ongoing conflicts.

"The person that cut Luna has enough anger for us all," Hill said.

Time-Standard photographer Shawn Walker contributed to this report.


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