Julia Butterfly Hill: The Woman Who Lived in a Tree for 738 Days

In a world filled with pressing challenges and ever-growing environmental concerns, Julia Butterfly Hill emerged as a prominent figure who captivated hearts and ignited change. Through unwavering dedication and remarkable, almost unbelievable, acts of activism, she etched her name in the history books.

Julia’s story prompts us to question the true extent of an individual’s impact. How much can one person achieve in the face of adversity? And how far would each of us be willing to go for a cause we wholeheartedly believe in?

This is the extraordinary journey of Julia Butterfly Hill. Her story exemplifies the power of conviction and the profound influence one person can have on shaping the world we inhabit.

Photo by Carl-John Veraja

Julia’s Early Life

Julia Butterfly Hill seemed destined for a remarkable journey as an environmental activist. She was born in Mount Vernon, Missouri, in 1974. She was raised in a nomadic family led by her evangelical minister father. 

She developed a deep connection with nature from a young age. It was during a family hike when she was just six years old that a butterfly gently alighted on her finger. It left an indelible mark and earned her the cherished nickname, ‘Butterfly.’

After a near-fatal car accident in her early twenties, Julia experienced a spiritual awakening in California’s redwood forests. 

She was inspired by a group of “tree sitters.” They were protesting the destruction of ancient redwoods by the Pacific Lumber Company. After that, she dedicated herself to environmental activism.

Guided by her newfound purpose, Julia immersed herself in the environmentalist movement. She dedicated herself to preserving these magnificent forests. However, her most notable act of resistance was yet to come.

An Unbelievable 783 Days Spent Living in a Tree

On December 10, 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill embarked on a groundbreaking protest high above the ground. She perched on a platform nestled within the branches of a majestic, thousand-year-old California redwood tree named Luna.

Her mission was threefold:

  1. Halt the deforestation plans of the Pacific Lumber Company 
  2. Expose their disregard for the environment
  3. Raise awareness about the crucial role forests play in stabilizing hillsides

With the support of Earth First!, an alliance of radical environmental groups, Julia endured a remarkable 738 days in Luna’s canopy. This was a feat that shattered world records for tree sitting.

Initially, she expected her tree-sit protest to only last a handful of weeks. However, it quickly grew longer and longer. In the end, she spent two years and eight days without leaving the towering redwood.

Life in the tree presented extraordinary challenges. Julia occupied a modest 6-by-8-foot platform that was shielded by tarps. She communicated with the world via a cell phone.

Julia Butterfly Hill in her treetop home. Photo by Yann Gamblin

Volunteers painstakingly worked to deliver food, water, and supplies to her often, enabling her to continue. She faced relentless weather extremes, battled illness, and encountered numerous attempts to dislodge her. Some even resorted to tactics like floodlights and loudspeakers.

How she found the resolve to continue, day after day, month after month is difficult to understand. Yet, despite the many hardships, Julia’s resilience and determination held strong throughout it all. Finally, on December 18, 1999, now 26 years old, Julia clambered down from the tree.

Her steadfast vigil ultimately resulted in a momentous victory. It secured protection for Luna and its immediate surroundings. They even received a $50,000 donation to Humboldt State University for forestry research.

Throughout her remarkable tree-sit, Julia’s bond with Luna grew deeper. The ancient redwood certainly left an indelible impression on her. While enduring the harsh conditions, Julia claims to have found strength in the profound connection she forged with the tree. She drew inspiration from its enduring presence and unwavering spirit.

Despite the discomfort, fear, and occasional threats she faced, her love for Luna and her unwavering commitment to environmental preservation fueled her unwavering determination to make a difference in the world.

Impacts of Hill’s Tree-Sit

Julia Butterfly Hill’s tree-sit in Luna had a profound impact on multiple fronts. After more than two years of steadfast vigilance, her determined effort yielded a win.

Luna, the thousand-year-old redwood tree, along with a three-acre buffer zone filled with many other trees, received permanent protection. Julia and her supporters also raised $50,000 during the protest. But it was unfortunately given to the Pacific Lumber Company as part of the resolution.

Photo by Yann Gamblin

However, the funds were then donated to Humboldt State University for research in sustainable forestry. This showcased the positive outcome that emerged from this unique agreement.

Julia’s courageous act of civil disobedience garnered global attention. It effectively shone a spotlight on the plight of ancient forests. Her tree-sit drew widespread media coverage. It raised awareness not only for the redwoods but also for broader environmental and social justice issues.

Unfortunately, Luna faced subsequent challenges, including vandalism by some chainsaw-wielding individuals. Measures were taken to preserve and stabilize the tree. The gash inflicted on Luna’s trunk was successfully treated.

As of spring 2007, Luna continued to thrive, showing signs of new growth each year. Today, Luna is under the stewardship of Sanctuary Forest. This is a nonprofit organization and it ensures Luna’s continued protection and care. 

Ultimately, Julia Butterfly Hill’s tree-sit not only safeguarded Luna but also served as a powerful symbol of the ongoing fight to protect ancient forests and the vital ecosystems they sustain.

Julia’s Continued Activism, Today

Following her remarkable experience, Julia Butterfly Hill has remained engaged in environmental activism. She continues to leave her mark and inspire through her writing. She’s written the bestsellers “The Legacy of Luna” and “One Makes the Difference” handbook.

Julia’s dedication to defending nature and pursuing social justice has also led her to co-found several environmental organizations. One is called the Circle of Life Foundation.

And her activism has taken her to many different corners of the globe. In 2002, she was deported while protesting a pipeline that threatened indigenous communities in Ecuador. Also, in 2006, she took part in a tree-sit demonstration at a community farm situated in South Central Los Angeles.

Still, to this day, Julia’s impact reaches far beyond her writing and her protests.

She has toured worldwide, captivating audiences with her storytelling, and sharing the lessons she learned during her 738 days in Luna. She also speaks at university campuses, spent time lobbying Congress, and has even addressed the United Nations.

Julia Butterfly Hill continues to be at the forefront of environmental and social justice issues, advocating for a more sustainable and equitable world.


Julia Butterfly Hill. Accessed May 18, 2023. https://www.juliabutterflyhill.com/julia/.

“Julia Butterfly Hill.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed May 18, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Julia-Butterfly-Hill.

Klein, Elana. “A Woman Lived up a 180-Foot, 1,000-Year-Old Tree for 2 Years to Save a Forest from Loggers.” Insider, April 22, 2023. https://www.insider.com/julia-butterfly-hill-lived-in-tree-2-years-redwood-forest-photos-2023-3.

Sheldon, Marriott. “She Lived in a Tree for 738 Days ~ The Amazing Story of Julia Butterfly Hill.” TreeSisters, July 2, 2017. https://www.treesisters.org/post/story-julia-butterfly-hill.

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