Tree Hunger

When Susan Moloney moved to Humboldt County in 1996, she was already a seasoned environmentalist and activist: In 1988, she and her colleagues prevailed against local authorities who had planned to build a solid-waste incinerator in her hometown, New Milford, Connecticut. She now lives off the grid in a 16-by-16-foot cabin, powered by the sun in the summer and by a Pelton wheel turbine in the winter, and has immersed her life in tree politics. I talked to her on the 40th day of a water-and-tea-only fast, which she is conducting in front of the California state Capitol to protest Governor Gray Davis‘ reneging on a 1998 campaign promise to ban the logging of old-growth trees. It was also the first day the mainstream press had given her any attention: The San Francisco Chronicle had run a small story on Page 2. Still, she is not deterred: ”I am in touch with Julia Butterfly,“ she told me. ”Natalie Merchant sent a donation, and Woody Harrelson called.“ She maintains a diary and a Web site at


L.A. WEEKLY: How did you get to this moment?

SUSAN MOLONEY: As soon as I moved to Humboldt County, I was absorbed into the forest movement. I organized, wrote letters, did supply runs for tree sitters, and was a substitute tree sitter a couple of times. In fact, I was ready to go sit in a tree -- I had my backpack packed -- when the thought came into me to go on this hunger strike.

”Came into you?“

I was looking out the window of my cabin, and I saw the words come out of the trees, as weird as that sounds.

Do you think that your fasting is going to get Davis to stop the logging of old-growth trees?

When things need to be changed, it’s never one person or one thing. People are trying everything they can to stop this madness. Tree sits have become commonplace, and that doesn‘t seem to stop it. People don’t take these drastic measures unless all the other options have been exhausted. When people put their health, freedom, safety on the line, it‘s because our political and legal systems aren’t working.

How is it, sitting out here day after day?

Mostly great! Most of the reaction is extremely positive. Especially the kids. I didn‘t expect so many kids to be here on class tours. Kids get it immediately. They know when someone makes a promise they should keep it. I tell them that some of the trees are two and three times the size of these here around me, and they say, ”That’s not right!“

How about your health?

I get tired, I get cold. But I feel good. At the beginning my friends were concerned about my health. Now they‘re supportive. They see that I’m serious and I‘m doing very well. I’ve lost 20 pounds, but my doctor says I‘m fine. I’ve added vegetable broth to what I‘ve been drinking. Apparently I need the sodium.

There has been virtually no press on your fast. Why do you think that is?

I don’t know. I don‘t get it. We did a press conference with Peter Camejo. There were two TV stations and the Sacramento Bee here, but none of them covered it. Finally, today, there’s a Page 2 story in the San Francisco Chronicle.

How long will you continue to stay out here?

I wish I could tell you there‘s a magic number, or that Davis has come out and said old-growth logging will stop. But I just don’t know. All I can tell you is that we don‘t have another year and a half to wait on this issue. Old-growth trees are still being cut in California. I want to see some response from the Governor’s Office. All I‘ve heard from them is via a comment in the Chronicle article where Davis’ spokesman says that I took Davis‘ comment, that he wanted to ensure that ”all old-growth trees are spared from the lumberjack’s ax,“ out of context. I called to ask what the proper context is, but no one will return my call.#

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