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Logging protester bares all

The Associated Press
Monday November 13, 2000

WESTPORT — Mid-day in California redwood country and the cool, misty calm is unbroken save for a whisper of wind and the gravelly rumble of an approaching logging truck. 

Suddenly, a woman carrying a battered red megaphone steps into the muddy road. With a flick of a zip she whips off her black stretch top and then advances, breasts bobbing gently, waving her arms at the big blue engine towering above her. 

The truck stops. 

The driver has just encountered La Tigresa, otherwise known as Dona Nieto, poet, performer, conservation crusader, and the new, nude thing on the eco-protest scene. 

Paul Bunyan never had to deal with this. 

“They don’t know what hit them,” says Nieto. 

Mother knows ‘breast’ 

If a tree falls in a forest and no one calls the media, as the environmental activist saying goes, nothing happened. If a bra falls in the forest, Nieto has discovered, the media will call you. 

“The traditional means were says Nieto. “We have to move rapidly and we have to move efficiently. I think that what I’ve been doing is both rapid and efficient.” 

Since she began her protests in mid-October, Nieto has been written up by several newspapers, seen on German TV, and talked about by conservative broadcasters Dr. Laura and Rush Limbaugh. 

Nieto, who sometimes protests alone, sometimes with a few other women, is going bare-breasted to represent Nature and put a human face on what is happening to the Earth. 

She is sometimes compared to another tree-minded woman, Julia “Butterfly” Hill, whose two-year treesit in a redwood named Luna caught the attention of a world largely indifferent to the day-in-day-out slog of court papers, Internet alerts and telephone campaigns that are the backbone of the environmental activist movement. 

Paul Mason of the Environmental Information Center, a watchdog of North Coast logging, sighs when he considers how hard it is to get people interested in conservation. But like the loggers she interrupts, he’s intrigued by Nieto’s approach. 

“I think that they are trying to focus on bringing attention to these serious issues in sort of a new and different and surprisingly effective manner,” he says. 

Actress Sherry Glaser, who is working with Nieto on protecting Montgomery Woods, a grove of ancient redwoods they fear is threatened by planned logging nearby, puts it more succinctly: “Breasts get attention.” 


The ‘Bare Witch Project’ 

With her broad smile and wicked chuckle, Nieto can be very funny. She calls her actions the “Striptease for the trees;” a documentary-in-the-making is going by the name the “Bare Witch Project.” 

But she’s serious about her campaign for sustainable logging. 

Among other things she’s focused on cases where, she says, newcomers have bought timberland with the promise they won’t log and then used a provision under the law that is intended to make building a home easier to clearcut as much as three acres apiece. 

Nieto also has protested the logging practices of the Mendocino Redwood Co. and is supporting a boycott against The Gap, founded by the Fisher family, the largest investors in Mendocino Redwood. Activists say the company has refused to ban clearcutting, herbicides and logging of scattered pockets of old-growth timber. Calls to the company by The Associated Press were not returned, although company officials have said in the past they are committed to conserving the land and cutting no more than 60 percent of their growth rate. 

Nieto has her critics. 

“Yes, they’re getting publicity, but I’m not sure it’s the kind of publicity that they really ultimately want to generate,” says Art Harwood, president of Harwood Products, a family-owned sawmill in Mendocino County. 

But Earth First! veteran Darryl Cherney sees Nieto’s Earth Mother approach as “putting the feminine back in the divine” — and starting some interesting conversations. “My feeling is, the destruction of the planet is so severe that we’d be fools not to attempt bold new tactics.”