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I'll Fly Away: Julia Butteryfly Hill, sittin' in a tree, S-A-V-I-N-G-I-T.

Branching Out

Julia Butterfly Hill offers no apologies for her eco-celebrity as she brings her green publicity machine to Santa Cruz

By Rebecca Patt

JULIA BUTTERFLY HILL may not be stuck up in a 180-foot-high redwood these days, but the fact that all her 738 days of tree-sitting in the name of environmental activism also won her honest-to-God celebrity cred has given her an entirely different kind of platform from which to keep pursuing her arbor ardor.

This weekend, the famous activist will be in Santa Cruz stumping--ooh, wait, probably not a good word--for the cause at two different events: the GaiaSong Conference in downtown Santa Cruz and the Big Basin Centennial Celebration in Felton.

Hill says she knows the attention focused on her is "a really good tool" for drawing support for her causes, and she's running with it. Despite the fact that she would probably be characterized by her critics as a militant "eco-nut," she comes across as friendly, articulate and anything but unreasonable.

"We live in a completely and totally unsustainable way, and are putting too many demands that this Earth share with us," she says. "Every day we are part of the problem or part of the solution."

Legendary for her 738-day tree sit of the redwood "Luna," and her battle against Pacific Lumber Company to preserve Headwaters Forest, 28-year-old Hill has been one busy butterfly since she climbed down in the winter of 1999.

"What I try to do since the Luna tree sit is highlight the issues that need to be spotlighted," she says. "I work on every issue imaginable because I believe that they are all one."

She's released two books, maintained an extensive speaking schedule, organized activist groups for youth and participated in environmental demonstrations around the world--including one this past July that resulted in her arrest and deportation from Ecuador for protesting the construction of an oil pipeline through fragile tropical forests.

"What's happening in Ecuador is yet again because of unsustainability of the U.S.," she says. "Over half the oil out of Ecuador is coming to California to be refined. The impact is horrific, with the toxifying of the air and the water and what it's doing to the people of Ecuador."

The Santa Cruz Migration

Back in these parts, Hill is the keynote speaker at the Big Basin Centennial Celebration, which runs through Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm in Big Basin's Central Park area and also features music, theater, environmental walks, history displays and more.

She says the celebration of the 100th birthday of Big Basin, which was California's first state park, is also a reminder for constant vigilance because there's no such thing as permanent protection.

"It's a treasure that's in our backyards," she says of Big Basin. "What a joy to be able to celebrate a victory like Big Basin and think about that 18,000 acres if people hadn't protected it."

Hill will also be appearing at the GaiaSong Conference, which aims to empower the public and give local government a nudge with practical solutions for living and building in ecological harmony. The conference brings two days of workshops and speakers to the Santa Cruz Civic Center along with free street festivities and a Green Building Symposium.

"My vision is that the audience will go away knowing what to get, where to get it, and who to get it from," says GaiaSong executive director Stessa Thompson.

The heart of the conference is the activities at the Civic Center on Sept. 14-15. The focus of Saturday is "Sustainable Living and Lifestyles Day," with experts addressing many facets of how to create sustainable communities, from business to agriculture to transportation. Speakers include U.S. Congressman Sam Farr and John Robbins, local resident and author of the internationally bestselling classic Diet for a New America.

Hill is one of GaiaSong's keynote speakers on the 14th, and she'll be making a free appearance that afternoon at 5pm at the Green Street Faire outside the Civic Center. The Green Street Faire happens Sept. 14-15 from 11am to 7pm and also features music, performance art, organic food, exhibits and hands-on demos by green businesses.

The conference also has a political side, with the Green Building Symposium in City Council chambers on Friday, Sept. 13. The symposium will introduce the Santa Cruz Planning Department and City Councilmembers to the San Jose Green Building Council and other green-savvy builders with the goal of stimulating the dialogue to start a green-building program for the Monterey Bay area.

Such a program would establish education and promotion for ecologically sound building practices and make it easier for builders to apply for rebates and subsidies from the state and federal government.

"Santa Cruz is considered a progressive town, yet we don't even have a green building program," says conference publicist Jane Sullivan. "We need corporations and government to start investing and making it affordable for the common man."


Julia Butterfly Hill speaks Sunday, Sept. 15, at 5pm at the Big Basin Centennial Celebration; tickets for the celebration are $5. For Big Basin ticket and parking info, see www.mountainparks.org/festival.html. Tickets for the GaiaSong events at the Civic Center range from $45 to $126, available through Ticketmaster.com and the Santa Cruz Civic Center box office. For more information, contact 469.4242 or see www.gaiasong.org.

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From the September 11-18, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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