Moth & the Battle for Planet Earth

Moth isn’t a tree hugger. He’s a tree sitter. More specifically, he works with the feisty activist group Earth First! as “ground support” for tree sits in the redwood forests outside of Arcata, Calif.

Maybe you’ve heard about tree sits. A few years ago, Julia “Butterfly” Hill visited Reno. She described living for two years in an ancient redwood tree to keep it from being hacked down by a lumber company.

Hill’s working in South America now, said Moth, an environmental activist traveling through Reno last week on his way to the Faith and Action Day at the Nevada Test Site. I met Moth, who’s 28, on Saturday at the Reno Peace Summit. He was dressed in layers, long hair held back by a cap and gray nylon pants tucked into his hiking boots—perfect for desert camping.

His first stop in Northern Nevada was Carson City, where he researched Nevada environmental issues at the state library. He’s interested in sage grouse populations, xeriscaping, the Pyramid Lake cui-ui and Gary Webb, the investigative reporter who, in December, reportedly committed suicide in Sacramento. Moth thinks the suicide suspicious.

“I mean, two shots to the head?”

Though the Great Basin’s climate is a far cry from Pacific shorelines, Moth likes it.

“The sagebrush provides a nice shelter from the wind,” he said. Spring at the Test Site sounds sublime. “I understand it’s beautiful, with small flowers that you can’t see driving by at 90 miles per hour.”

Moth travels by bus and thumb. He stopped driving after Sept. 11, 2001. His mantra is “reduce petroleum consumption.”

“I gave away my car,” he said. “And I avoid plastic when I can.”

Moth’s most recent arrest was at a biotechnology conference in San Francisco.

“What was cool was that the day of our protest, Critical Mass got in front of the buses that were taking delegates to the Moscone Center,” Moth said. His eyes lit up. “That slowed them down, and we did a bus blockade. We stopped them for 15 minutes and handed out literature and information.”

Easy to see why these dangerous activists were tossed in the slammer.

Though he was arrested, others gave organic-gardening demonstrations and ended the day by planting a community garden in a low-income neighborhood.

And these ne’er-do-wells call themselves Americans?

Moth evades labels. Though he’s a vegan, his take on hunting and fishing might offend many of his fellow activists. He believes that populations of some species like antelope and sage grouse could be nurtured and managed through sustainable hunting and fishing.

“If it’s done with respect. No over-harvesting or market-harvesting. But this is stuff that’s there already. And people need to eat.”

The Northern California coast is overpopulated with environmental activists, in Moth’s view. He’d like to see more Earth First!-style activism in Sacramento and Northern Nevada. Since I might enjoy getting thrown in jail for handing out fliers, I agreed that Earth First!—a group known for civil disobedience and “monkey-wrenching"—is just the ticket for Reno.

In past years, hundreds of activists have been arrested for civil disobedience at the Nevada Test Site. No violence. No acts of destruction. Just “trespassing"—crossing the Test Site boundary to make a political point.

Last year, sub-critical underground nuclear testing resumed at the Nevada Test Site. On Good Friday, Moth will join dozens of protesters, some who’ve spent “Holy Week” on a five-day hike from Las Vegas, about 65 miles. The Easter weekend event is organized by Nevada Desert Experience and several faith-based groups.

Moth expects to be arrested. He knows the drill.

"They put you in an outdoor pen, then pretty much let you go."