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Forest Activist Ends Her Hunger Strike at Capitol

Legislators' agreement to hold a hearing on old-growth trees brings 52-day protest to a close.

November 28, 2002|Eric Bailey | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — On Thanksgiving eve, forest activist Susan Moloney ended her 52-day hunger strike after lawmakers agreed to convene a hearing on the continuing harvest of old-growth trees in California.

Moloney, 40, began her fast on the Capitol steps Oct. 7 to protest what she said was Gov. Gray Davis' refusal to uphold a 1998 campaign promise to spare the state's dwindling ancient trees.

Davis did not back down under the pressure, but Moloney agreed to halt her hunger strike -- which caused her weight to drop more than 20 pounds -- when two top lawmakers pledged to hold a hearing on the issue in January.

"I'm willing to give my life for the forest," Moloney said, "but I'm not willing to give my life for a governor who refuses to keep an important promise."

Moloney, who said she has subsisted on a mix of water, herbal tea, broth and juice, plans to resume her strict vegan diet very slowly, so her digestive system has time to restart. Her first meal: fresh diced papaya.

"I look forward to regaining my strength so we can continue this struggle," Moloney said from outside the Capitol before returning home to Garberville, in Humboldt County, for the holidays. "Gov. Davis has not seen the last of me."

Steve Maviglio, a Davis spokesman, said the governor was pleased that Moloney had ended the strike and appreciated "her passion for what she believes in." Maviglio said Davis looks forward to "engaging in a dialogue" with her and state lawmakers on how best to preserve old growth.

State Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) made the pitch for a legislative hearing intended to push the Davis administration toward more stringent limits on old-growth harvests.

"Old-growth trees are part of California's heritage, part of our rich history," Burton said in a letter to Sen. Sheila Kuehl, a Santa Monica Democrat who agreed to be chairwoman of a special hearing with the natural resources committee, which she heads.

"It's refreshing to know we have allies like this in the Capitol," Moloney said.

She was joined this week in her hunger strike by Julia Butterfly Hill, the tree sitter whose two-year vigil in the branches of redwood ended in 1999. Hill said she welcomed a hearing. As for the governor, she said, "this does not even remotely let him off the hook."

On March 14, 1998, Davis was quoted by the Associated Press as declaring to the state Planning and Conservation League in Sacramento that, if elected, he would ensure that "all old-growth trees are spared from the lumberjack's ax."

Maviglio said Moloney and the media had misconstrued that message from the campaign stump and that Davis had done more for old-growth trees than any other governor in history.

Davis played a key role in the state's 1999 purchase of the Headwaters grove in Humboldt County, sparing 7,400 acres of ancient forest. On Davis' watch, the state has also altered logging rules to require an environmental review before old-growth trees are cut, Maviglio said, and purchased more than 30,000 acres of second- and third-generation forest in Del Norte and Mendocino counties.

Moloney says Davis' pledge was unequivocal and that an estimated 7 million old-growth redwood, Douglas fir and other marketable trees remain in peril around the state.

As executive director of the Campaign for Old Growth, Moloney is continuing to push for a statewide ban on cutting trees older than the state, which was admitted to the union in 1850. The group sought a statewide vote on the issue, but failed to get a measure onto this month's ballot. Now the organization hopes to qualify its proposal for the March 2004 ballot or win approval in the Legislature.

"Cars are considered antiques at 20 years; homes can be registered as historic landmarks at 50," Moloney said. "Yet a tree that is 150 years old can be cut and holds no historical value."

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