You've got tree

A young woman who's been sitting in a tree for two years is offering billionaire Charles Hurwitz the opportunity of a lifetime. Will he have the wisdom to accept it?

Published December 8, 1999 7:00PM (EST)

Julia "Butterfly" Hill, whose two-year vigil in a giant Humboldt County [California] redwood tree has inspired environmental activists and infuriated loggers, is negotiating with the Pacific Lumber Co. to leave her perch. Neither side would discuss details of the talks, beyond saying that they are hopeful they can reach terms that will allow Hill to come down from the 180-foot-high platform that has been her home since Dec. 10, 1997.

-- The Associated Press, Dec. 7, 1999

Charles Hurwitz, head of Maxxam Corporation, which owns Pacific Lumber, a large logging company that operates in Northern California, is usually described in news stories as a "Texas billionaire." By all accounts he's an extremely savvy, successful, hard-nosed businessman -- a tough guy, no doubt. Perhaps not tough enough to, say, live in the upper branches of a redwood tree for two years through rain storms and wind storms and dark nights, both literal and figurative, and onslaughts of thuggish behavior by the opposition, but -- you know -- tough.

Julia Hill, 25, is maybe not as tough as Hurwitz, but she's about as stubborn as they come and -- agree with her or not -- you can't fail to be impressed by her singular focus, tenacity and commitment. As of this Friday, she'll have been living in a tree, without coming down even once, for two years! (Granted, she's got a cell phone to keep her company.) And she says she won't come down until Hurwitz and his minions promise not to cut down the 1,000-year-old redwood, which she calls Luna.

For its part, Pacific Lumber has done all manner of things to dislodge Hill from her perch -- some of them rather rude (according to Hill's Web site: "starve-out patrols, climbing police, insults, flood lights, helicopter and siren intimidation"). But Hill apparently doesn't scare easy and the company's failed at bringing her down while she's succeeded quite nicely, thank you, at staying up there. It's kind of great when you think about it. And it's a splendid opportunity for Charles Hurwitz.

Think of it, Mr. Hurwitz: It's your company, your land, your tree. And all the lawyers and business advisors and others of their ilk work for you. It's safe to assume that they're advising you not to knuckle under to this young wacko tree hugger.

"It sets a bad precedent, blah blah blah."

"If we let her do it, blah blah blah."

But, hey, the story is you're a billionaire and an independent thinker and a tough guy. So why not tell all the lawyers and business advisors and VPs of this and that and middle managers and what have you that you've decided -- in the spirit of the season, and in the spirit of doing the right thing instead of making the prudent business decision -- to simply give Hill the tree and the 200-foot surrounding buffer zone that she's asked for? Not sell it to her for $50,000 -- as some reports say Pacific Lumber is now considering -- but give it to her.

Hell, make it a 400-foot buffer zone. And take her out to a nice dinner when she climbs down.

It'll be the most fun you've had all year, and it may be only the beginning. It will certainly be a public-relations gold mine, and it's a virtual certainty that the Frank Capraesque movie that gets made based on your act of crazy, but warmhearted, largesse is going to rocket you up to a level of good times that even a billion dollars can't buy.

Should you have any doubt, Mr. Hurwitz, keep these two words in mind: Meg Ryan. Still not convinced? Here's two more: Tom Hanks.

Now pick up the phone and give Hill the good news.

By Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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