Calif. Tree-Sit Redwood Hit By Chainsaw

A chainsaw-wielding vandal has hacked a deep, potentially fatal gash in the base of a 1,000-year-old Redwood tree where environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill staged her two-year “tree sit” protest against logging, an environmental group said Tuesday.

The Circle of Light Foundation, which has campaigned along with Hill to save the 200-foot tree she dubbed “Luna”, said the damage was spotted over the weekend by visitors to northern California’s Humboldt County.

“The perpetrator made one deep and precise cut that went through a significant portion of the tree,” the foundation said in a news release.

Hill ‘Shocked’ by Attack

“While the tree is still alive and standing, Luna is extremely vulnerable to a windstorm. Judging from the precision of the cut and the fresh sawdust, the criminal action appears to have been committed by an experienced treefeller within the last few days.”

With a storm bearing down on the region, arborists and foresters worked into the evening Tuesday to shore up the stately tree, which has been deemed too precarious to climb because of the damage it suffered.

Luna, which became a global cause célèbre during Hill’s protest, now has a 32-inch wide cut stretching some 19 feet across half of its massive base.

Hill, who has continued to campaign on behalf of the Redwoods, said she was shocked by the assault.

“I feel this vicious attack on Luna as surely as if the chain saw was going right through me,” she said in a statement.

Foundation spokeswoman Dawn Griffin said Tuesday that a team of experts was being assembled to look at the damage, with an arborist, an engineer, and a forester slated to come up with strategies for saving the giant tree.

Cut Across 60 Percent of Trunk

“The tree is not dead, but we need to find out how to protect her so she can be given the best chance of survival,” Griffin said.

The attack comes nearly a year after Hill climbed down from the tree’s branches, where she had lived for two years in an anti-logging protest that drew international news coverage about the plight of northern California’s dwindling stands of Redwoods.

Hill ended her protest after Pacific Lumber Co. agreed to preserve Luna and a 200-foot buffer zone around the tree in exchange for a $50,000 payment from Hill and her supporters intended to save the tree in perpetuity.

Now, however, environmentalists say the Redwood may not make it through the severe winter storms that buffet the region about 250 miles north of San Francisco.

While investigators from Pacific Lumber and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department were inspecting the site, environmentalists were weighing options to buttress Luna.

Eric Goldsmith of Sanctuary Forest, the group legally charged with overseeing the tree under the agreement between Hill and Pacific Lumber, said the emergency rescue team had decided to place steel shims — thin plates — in the gap created by the cut to reduce tension caused by the cut.

They also were working to bolt braces over the top of the cut in hopes of steadying the tree.

“The situation is very serious. The vandalism attack did cut about 60 percent of the tree’s base,” Goldsmith said, adding that even if the tree survives the first major storm of the winter season there were others on the way.

“Luna is an ancient redwood tree that has withstood many storms, but this is just a band aid,” he said.