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Mendo Co Lumber Truck
La Tigresa (Donna Sue Scissors)

Associated Press

WESTPORT, Calif. (AP) -- It's midday 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 onto the muddy road. She whips off her black stretch top and advances, forcing the big blue truck to stop.

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.

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 getting us nowhere fast," 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."

Rapid, indeed. Since she started 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 goes bare-breasted to represent Nature and put a human face on what is happening to the Earth.

She sometimes demonstrates alone, sometime with a few other women, on her campaigns against clear-cutting, the practice of removing every tree from a logging tract rather than selecting only some trees.

"We're not saying never cut another tree again; we're saying leave something," she says.

She is sometimes compared to another tree-minded woman, Julia "Butterfly" Hill, whose two years of sitting in a redwood named Luna captured attention amid the court filings, 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 of Nieto and her supporters.

Sherry Glaser, an actress 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."

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 goes by the name the "Bare Witch Project."

But she's serious about her campaign.

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 legal provision intended for clearing home sites to clear-cut plots as much as three acres each.

Nieto also has protested the logging practices of the Mendocino Redwood Co. Activists say the company has refused to halt clear-cutting, use of 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.

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."

Nieto, born Donna Sue Scissors in St. Louis -- she gives her age as "younger than a redwood tree" -- has performed her poetry and plays for years. She made a CD called "Naked Sacred Spoken Word."

In her half-dozen or so appearances at logging sites around Mendocino County, Nieto has seen loggers stop work, seen one man leap into his pickup and tune his radio -- loudly -- to a Christian music station, and disarmed non-English speaking groups by delivering her keynote poem, "I am the Goddess," in Spanish.

"First they stop because -- `Oh what the heck is this!' -- but then when they listen to what I'm saying, their heads start nodding," Nieto says.

On a recent encounter, Nieto stopped a logging truck bound for a clear-cut site and recited reciting poetry to the smiling driver. "I am the Earth, I am your Mother," went one of the lines.

The logger listened, pulled out a disposable camera to take a few shots of Nieto, and then drove on, still smiling.

"Loggers have a hard time getting angry with her," says James Ficklin, one of two documentary filmmakers who accompanies Nieto on her protests.