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John Muir is Alive and Well and Living in Stockton

by Bruce Hamilton
National Conservation Director, Sierra Club

(Delivered March 31, 2006, at University of the Pacific, Stockton, California, at the California History Institute’s conference on “John Muir in Global Perspective”)

Thank you.  On behalf of the 750,000 members of the Sierra Club it is a great pleasure and an honor to be here. 

John Muir implored us to do something to make the mountains glad, and I think that having such a distinguished collection of scientists, historians, activists, artists and thespians gathered together in one place to celebrate this tramp’s life, accomplishments, vision, and legacy would make both Muir and his mountains glad.

As I was preparing for this conference I was reminded of the Ballad of Joe Hill, in a slightly different version:

I dreamed I saw John Muir last night
Alive as you and me.
Says I, but John, you’re 91 years dead
I never died says he, I never died says he. 

Yes, John Muir left this life on Christmas Eve 1914, but his spirit and good works live on and are carried out daily by the Sierra Club that he founded in 1892.  The example he set has inspired five generations of conservationists worldwide  -- millions of activists who in turn have preserved hundreds of millions of acres of wilderness and parks and wildlife refuges.

John Muir was not only the Club’s founder and first president, but he also led the Club and set its course in many other profound ways. 

He was the Club’s first lobbyist, traveling to Sacramento and hobnobbing with president’s to secure protection for Yosemite and other wild country.  Today the Club has a stable of 30 staff lobbyists in Washington, D.C., and 80 lobbyists in state capitols from Sacramento to Tallahassee to carry on his work. 

He was our first political director, urging members and the public to hold elected officials accountable.  Today the Club raises and spends about $5 million in each political cycle to help shape elections – encouraging support for friends of the environment and defeat of those who regularly vote to weaken environmental protection. 

He was our first environmental partnerships director.  While Muir was not a hunter himself, he made friends with the most famous hunter of his time – President Theodore Roosevelt – to promote protection of wild country.  Today, the Sierra Club forges partnerships with hunters, anglers, labor, people of faith, environmental justice groups and many other groups who support our common cause of defending the earth. 

He was our also first communications director and publicist – Muir’s articles would regularly appear in the leading regional and national newspapers and magazines of the day.  His books were widely read and highly regarded.  Today the Club produces films, television documentaries, books, Sierra magazine, calendars, special reports, electronic newsletters, blogs, and has an award winning web site that reaches millions of readers and viewers worldwide. 

And Muir was above all a visionary campaign planner.  He was not content to just protect his favorite spot, Yosemite, but he had a vision of a range of light park that would extend from Yosemite all the way south to Sequoia-Kings Canyon.

In so doing he set in motion a century long Sierra Club campaign to preserve the Sierra Nevada. Bit by bit future generations of Sierra Club members and our allies – the spiritual heirs of John Muir – carried out his dream. 

Take Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as examples.  First established in 1890, they have had major additions over the decades, as recently as 2001.  The original General Grant National Park was vastly expanded to include the Kings Canyon watershed in 1940, when the proposed “John Muir National Park” was ultimately named “Kings Canyon National Park.”  Later, the Mineral King area, a major issue for the Sierra Club in the sixties, was finally added to Sequoia National Park in 1978.  Major portions of both parks were designated wilderness in 1984, though still more should be designated.

In addition to fighting to include these areas within the national park system, the Sierra Club also worked to protect the surrounding wild lands to help complete John Muir’s vision.  So we helped establish the Golden Trout Wilderness, the Dome Land Wilderness, John Muir Wilderness, Monarch Wilderness, Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, Ansel Adams Wilderness, Kaiser Ridge Wilderness, and, most recently, the Giant Sequoia National Monument. 

We’re also working to help protect hundreds of miles of free-flowing rivers in their wild and scenic state. 

And we aren’t done.  Working with Senator Barbara boxer and Representative Hilda Solis, the modern Sierra Club is working to protect tens of thousands of additional acres of wilderness in the golden state.

I want to just add a special note here about the battle over Hetch Hetchy Valley restoration, and the valiant fight that Restore Hetch Hetchy is leading, along with partners including the Sierra Club.  Again, it illustrates the tenacity of this movement and the fact that the spirit and ideas and idealism of John Muir never died. 

Former Sierra Club executive director David Brower in his final years was promoting a campaign for what he called Global CPR:  Conservation, Preservation, and Restoration.  There was a lot of damage caused during John Muir’s day from loggers, road builders, miners and “hoofed locust”.  But even more damage has happened since his death.  And the pace has been accelerating on our watch.  So while we work to preserve the last remaining wild places, we also need to work on restoration to put the torn tapestry back together. 

Today, we now are changing the very climate of the world.  The trees and glaciers that John Muir fought so hard to preserve for all future generations may disappear within our lifetimes because we have altered the atmosphere and the weather in dangerous and unpredictable ways.  Within 50 years Glacier National Park may no longer have any glaciers, and  Sequoia National Park could lose all of its Sequoias. 

It is not enough to just work for wilderness and parks and presume they will be saved for all future generations by designation.  We must all work together for smart energy solutions to reverse global warming before the world we cherish is lost. 

I wouldn’t be fulfilling my role as a latter day spokesman for John Muir and his Sierra Club if I didn’t say a word about the local congressman here in Stockton, Rep. Richard Pombo. 

If ever there was anyone who epitomized the antithesis of the values and the ideals held dear by John Muir, it is Richard Pombo.  As chair of the House Resources Committee he has advocating selling off our national parks to balance the budget and pay for tax cuts for the rich and the war in iraq.  While our oil man President, George W. Bush, announces in his state of the union message that we are addicted to oil, Rep. Pombo’s solution is to feed our habit more drugs by opening up the California coast and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil development.  Rep. Pombo sponsored legislation to weaken protection for endangered species, claiming these species on the brink of extinction do not need habitat protected in order to recover.  When the congress was considering legislation to overturn California’s food safety laws, Rep. Pombo voted with the agribusiness and against the interests of California consumers. 

At the Sierra Club booth in the lobby I have left information about the Sierra Club, and about Rep. Pombo’s abysmal environmental record. 

There are also fliers for a public meeting on April 6th here in Stockton at the Howard Johnson on 33 north center street,  at 7 pm.  It’s called “Yosemite for Sale? The Future of the National Parks,”  and features Bill Wade, the chair of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.  It would be great if you could all show up and get involved in holding Rep. Pombo accountable. 

[Update: In a stunning victory for environmentalists, Richard Pombo was voted out of office on November 7, 2006.]

So, returning to thoughts of Joe Hill and that ballad:  here’s how it ends:

And standing there as big as life
And smiling with his eyes
John says, “What they could never kill
Went on to organize!”
Went on to organize!

From Point Reyes to the Everglades
From the tundra to Maine’s firs
Where people stand up for their Earth
It’s where you’ll find John Muir.
It’s where you’ll find John Muir.

So, John Muir is alive and well and living in San Diego, and Toronto, and here in Stockton.  I hope you will all join us and continue our common work to make the mountains glad for our families, for our future and for our good friend and inspiration, John Muir. 

Thank you. 

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