"We've tried everything to raise awareness about endangered ecosystems, but they won't listen to the scientists and they won't listen to the people," said Penn, 40, who has a doctorate in geography.
"So we're exploiting the media, taking our clothes off. And look at all of you."
More than a dozen television camera operators, newspaper photographers and reporters encircled the 40-year-old woman on the horse.
"I've got a PhD and no one listens," she declared. "I take my clothes off, and here you all are. So thank you."
And why Lady Godiva?
"It's a lovely metaphor," Penn replied. "A thousand years ago, Lady Godiva rode the streets of Coventry [England] to protest the greed and taxation that was ruining her community. We have to remind ourselves again in the new millennium that greed is once again destroying communities."
At issue is the future of privately owned land on Saltspring with increasingly rare stands of old-growth Douglas fir and Garry oak.
In 1999, an eccentric German aristocrat sold the land to Vancouver-based financiers for a reported $50 million. The property -- more than 4,800 hectares, an area equivalent in size to about 12 Stanley Parks -- covers about one-tenth of B.C.'s most developed gulf island.
Texada Land Corp., which didn't respond Monday to interview requests from The Vancouver Sun, began logging its land in November 1999. Texada's Rob Macdonald has said the company is logging to earn profit from timber sales and to create sites for homes in 10-to-200-hectare properties.
"If you listened to the protesters, you'd think we were clearcutting the whole island," he said last year. "That's not what we're doing. It would be in our complete disinterest to do that. We're creating home sites."
But Penn and other demonstrators insisted that clearcut logging was "denuding" the island, and Penn said islanders have already lost two mountainsides with endangered ecosystems and community forestry opportunities.
Texada Land Corp. was fined $13,000 last September for violations of the B.C. Private Land Forest Practices Regulation, which came into legal force last April. The provincial regulation requires that private owners of forest land must ensure that logging doesn't do such things as destabilize stream banks or occur within five metres of a stream.
Kirk Miller, the chief executive officer of the B.C. government's land reserve commission, confirmed Monday that Texada is the only company in the province fined for violations of the regulation.
He said Texada damaged Tuam Creek while logging and didn't appeal the $13,000 fine imposed by the provincial commission.
Groups who want to conserve the forests on Saltspring have raised about $800,000 in money and pledges through publication of a nude calendar and other fund-raising initiatives, with the intention of buying company land for conservation.
But Bob Peart, a long-term activist who served as executive assistant to John Cashore when he was environment minister, said Texada Land Corp. has rebuffed overtures by asking for many times more than the assessed value of its lands.
"They've been less than cooperative," said Peart, executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and board member of the Land Conservancy of B.C., a non-profit conservation group that tries to save endangered ecosystems through land purchases.
"There's hardly been any concern for the community and community values. . . . They're not respectful of the social reasons why people live on Saltspring."
Penn, who also sits on the land conservancy board, called on the provincial and federal governments to create a new national park on Saltspring with funds from an already announced $30- million Pacific marine heritage legacy fund and a $110-million biodiversity package.
She said Texada Land Corp. should be fair and honourable by only asking for market value, just as Lady Godiva asked for fairness when English peasants were overtaxed.
"We, on Saltspring Island, have basically been taxed to death by this onslaught," she said, stretching the metaphor a little more.
"Ten per cent of our island is being clearcut as we speak. They're going through endangered ecosystems, [but] there's no endangered species legislation and we have no support from the province."