By Becca Lawton
THE THANKSGIVING DAY vandalism of Luna, the 200-foot-tall redwood made home by Julia “Butterfly” Hill for over two years, followed by a week my own trip to Humboldt County. I’d gone to tour a station that measures sediment in Freshwater Creek near Eureka, hoping to learn techniques applicable to Sonoma County streams. While showing me around, the geologist who operates the station confessed, “I wasn’t an activist before I moved here and saw what was going on in the forests.”
What’s going on is continued clear-cutting that delivers sediment to streams at an alarming rate. The geologist and his colleagues sample on several creeks in Humboldt Bay watersheds, and they’ve watched little drainages go silty one by one as the forests above them become patchworked with naked slopes. During certain storms the Freshwater station has measured suspended sediment at concentrations more than twice what the stream’s dwindling population of endangered coho salmon can handle. Extended periods of high sediment in stream water act like sandpaper on the salmon’s gills. The fish suffocate.
Not everyone cares about fish, of course. A quote I read from someone who doesn’t: “I don’t give a good goddamn about salmon. . . . Saving salmon, it doesn’t make sense.” Words perhaps similar to those, albeit about trees, may have been running through the mind of Luna’s destroyer–on a day traditionally dedicated to feasting, communing, and giving thanks.
Creek monitoring included, we have no way to measure the true impacts of clear-cutting deep forests (whether for timber, agriculture, or building), chain-sawing our elder redwoods, and smothering coho. Which brings to mind the Ray Bradbury tale about the big-game hunters who time-travel from AD. 2055 back to the Cretaceous to bag T. rex. The hunters must confine their movements to an antigravity path hovering six inches aboveground so they in no way affect the ancient environment. Of course, one terrified wretch accidentally strays from the path, and after the’ve downed T. rex and returned to 2055, the wretch turns up with the crushed remains of a golden butterfly on one shoe.
The results are disastrous. The butterfly was meant to survive, and losing it from the fragile landscape of the evolving ecosystem transforms the world to a place not worth living in: chemically tainted, oily, and overridden with crude sensibility. A Las Vegas with gloves off.
In the wretch’s own words, Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important. Could it?
Sonoma County writer-geologist Becca Lawton is the author of ‘Discover Nature in the Rocks.’
From the January 4-10, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.