Hunger Striker Stands Firm on Trees
Hunger Striker Stands Firm on Trees
After 50 days, woman is still waiting for Davis to agree to
save the state's old-growth forests.
By Eric Bailey Times Staff Writer
November 26 2002
SACRAMENTO -- For 50 days, she is said to have
survived on water and a bit of broth, spending daylight hours in
quiet protest under the boughs of a towering old redwood beside
the state Capitol.
Susan Moloney has waged her hunger strike on the lawn of the Capitol to make a point about trees with the man who presides inside. When he first ran for office four years ago, Gov. Gray Davis vowed to save California's old-growth
forests. He hasn't, as Moloney sees it, and she wants him to live up
to that long-ago campaign promise.
"It is indeed sad we have to do these kinds of
things to get attention," Moloney said Monday.
The governor refuses to be budged by this one-woman protest,
saying through a spokesman that those remarks from the 1998
election stump have been misconstrued by Moloney and the media
and that he has in fact saved plenty of the old trees.
"Public policy is not made by refusing to eat," said Steve
Maviglio, Davis' spokesman. "This sort of thing is a publicity
stunt, not an effort for meaningful change."
So they remained at loggerheads Monday on the cusp of a holiday
known for feasting, not fasting: Moloney, the hunger striker, who thinks every
tree older than the state's founding in 1850 should be spared the
chain saw; and Davis, the governor, whose foes say only big
contributions get big results.
Moloney was joined Monday by Julia Butterfly Hill, the tree sitter
whose epic two-year vigil in the branches of a Humboldt County
redwood ended in 1999 after loggers agreed to sell the tree to a
During a news conference Monday on the Capitol steps, Hill vowed
to spend Thanksgiving week -- and perhaps longer -- fasting with
Moloney to prod the governor toward adopting blanket protection
for California's oldest trees.
"We're tired of the lies and tired of the spin," Hill said. "Now
is the time for Gov. Davis to stop running from his promise."
Over the past 50 days, Moloney said, she has seen her weight drop
more than 20 pounds. At 5-foot-5, she is now a gaunt 107 pounds.
Bones in her hips and shoulders that never showed before now jut
out. A native of New York, Moloney was a computer programmer
until she moved to Humboldt County in the mid-90s and became
an environmental activist. She's now executive director of the
Campaign for Old Growth, a grass-roots group trying to put a
measure on the state ballot to ban axing all trees more than 152
years old. The group tried to get an initiative on the November
ballot, but failed to gather enough signatures. The ballot measure is only the most recent cause in the war to save the North Coast redwoods, which has raged
virtually unabated for more than a decade. With plenty of
tree-sitting activists already in place on private timber tracts,
Moloney began the hunger strike Oct. 7 as a new approach to get
Each workday, she spends several hours in a canvas-backed camping
chair. "It's not a Lazee Boy," she quipped, "but it's not bad."
Overhead is the huge redwood tree dedicated to Gil Murray, a
timber industry lobbyist who was the last victim of Unabomber Ted
Early on, a few passersby gave Moloney a razzing. One even asked,
"Want a hamburger?" Moloney, in fact, is a strict vegetarian.
But mostly, Moloney said, she has heard only kind words of support
and sympathy. Some people come up with tears in their eyes, she
said, asking that she not hurt herself.
Though one Capitol worker claims to have seen Moloney sneaking a
few Cheerios, the activist says she subsisted for the first 40
days only on water and herbal tea. After visiting a registered
nurse, Moloney added vegetable broth and freshly juiced carrot
and apple to her diet.
The worst effect, she said, has been a growing inability to
withstand the foggy fall cold of Sacramento. She tries to
outsmart it with layers of clothing. But she can last only about
three hours outside now, forced to retreat to a friend's apartment
for warmth. On weekends, she usually gets a ride home to Garberville to be with her family, where she said she continues to fast.
Some friends are worried she may be taking this cause too far.
"I've been begging her to quit," said Kent Stromsmoe, a Campaign
for Old Growth activist. "I'm concerned the fast will affect her
judgment. That she won't be reasonable about knowing when she
Moloney, who has started a Web site (www.fastforoldgrowth.org) to
chart her effort, said she has no illusions about carrying on too
long, no desire to compromise her long-term health. She said her
mental acuity remains intact, and indeed during talks she seems
"I can feel it taking its toll in several ways," she said. "But I
also feel very strong about carrying this through."
On March 14, 1998, Davis was quoted by the Associated Press
declaring to the state Planning and Conservation League in
Sacramento that if elected he would ensure "all old-growth trees
are spared from the lumberjack's ax." "His promise is
unequivocal," Moloney said. "He's made excuse after excuse about
it. Now we want him to make some positive movement toward saving
old growth. That's what it's going to take."
She suggests that the governor agree to endorse her group's
proposal to save heritage trees or declare an emergency
moratorium on old-growth harvests. Though the Davis
administration played a key role in forging the 1999 public
purchase of the revered Headwaters grove in Humboldt County,
Moloney said about 7 million old trees remain vulnerable
throughout the state.
Maviglio, the governor's spokesman, said Davis in fact has a
better record of saving ancient trees than any of his
Aside from helping forge the Headwaters deal,
which spared 7,400
acres of redwood and 1,500 of ancient trees, the
administration has altered logging rules to
environmental review before old-growth trees are
Virtually all of California's ecologically
redwood forest is now protected in state or
During Davis' watch, the state has purchased more
acres of second- and third-generation forest in
Del Norte and
"I think we need to judge the governor on what
Maviglio said. "There are activists who won't be
no trees are cut down. The governor has had to
weigh such beliefs
against the thousands of jobs on the North Coast
that depend on
the timber industry."
A week ago, Davis sent his forestry chief, Andrea
Tuttle, out to
talk with Moloney, Maviglio said.
There was no compromising, no agreement by either
camp. Davis is
"absolutely" concerned about Moloney's welfare,
Maviglio said, but
is convinced she has an extremist viewpoint.
Moloney said she figures the governor needs to
hear from people
like her. Though not a big campaign donor, she
represents thousands of Californians who want to
save the trees --
and a lot more who expect campaign-trail vows to
"All I know is he made an important promise when
he wanted our
vote," Moloney said. "Now he seems far more
interested in the
desires of the timber industry than the wishes of
the majority of
people in the state."
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