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The Planet

Club Beat

The Planet, October 1995, Volume 2, number 7


  • Environmental Justice in Cleveland
  • Club Chapter's TV Debut
  • Last Chance for the Pacific Salmon
  • Report From the Field: Giant Sequoias At Risk

Environmental Justice in Cleveland

Coalition-building pays off in the battle against environmental injustice, Sierra Club leaders in Cleveland are finding.

A victory came last year, after the Club formed an alliance with residents of two predominantly African-American, low-income communities to fight a planned medical waste incinerator at Cleveland's Mt. Sinai Hospital.

The incinerator proposal coincided with the Environmental Protection Agency's release of a report that found the cancer-causing chemical dioxin was produced by burning medical wastes. Glenn Landers, a staff member with the Sierra Club's Great Lakes Program, held a press conference in front of Mt. Sinai to denounce the hospital's plan.

As a result, Landers and of her environmentalists were invited to meet with hospital administrators. Landers then asked members of She affected neighborhoods to participate.

"I'd just gotten back from vacation when I got a phone call from Glenn inviting me to meet the president of the hospital about a $3 million incinerator planned for my neighborhood," recalls local civil-rights activist and retired hospital worker Kathleen Geathers.

At the meeting, Landers and Geathers were told that the incinerator would likely be built despite the EPA report.

That's when I was catapulted into a fight to stop it," says Geathers, who went door-to- door inviting neighbors to join the Greater Cleveland Coalition for a Clean Environment. Geathers and of her citizens stuffed mailboxes with a fact sheet she wrote outlining the dangers of dioxin, a Cleveland Earth Day Coalition flyer showing the disproportionately high breast cancer rate in the community, and a Sierra Club fact sheet on the connection between medical waste and dioxin.

Coalition members organized public meetings where speakers included Bernice Powell Jackson, executive director of the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice. They collected signatures on a petition calling for the hospital to halt plans for the incinerator. And they kept in touch with local reporters.

The turning point came when Cleveland Mayor Michael White intervened after reading about the effort in a local newspaper.

"The mayor saw an article about the petition drive in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and stopped the permit process for the incinerator in its tracks," says Landers.

Club leaders and the Greater Cleveland Coalition for a Clean Environment have now turned their attention to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Activists say the facility does not provide services for locals but operates four medical waste incinerators in the area, including one that burns radioactive material.

Geathers' advice to Sierra Club members interested in forging similar alliances with inner-city neighborhoods is simple. "Don't try to fight our battles for us," she says. "We need to do it together."

Club Chapter's TV Debut

The television cameraman calls "Quiet on the set!" and cast and crew immediately jockey into position, the news anchors alert for the call of faction!"

No, this is not a behind-the-scenes look at vile evening news, but a glimpse into the making of a Sierra Club chapter's television debut.

The seven episode show, "Mountain & Desert," is the brainchild of Nevada's Toiyabe Chapter. Produced, performed and filmed by Club members and volunteers, this community-access cable program aired in Reno and Sparks during the last 13-week television season.

Chapter Vice Chair Rose Strickland, the driving force behind "Mountain & Desert," says the show--which took hundreds of volunteer hours to produce--educates the general public about environmental issues. "The program combats the Wise Use portrait of 'green devils' by showcasing our side of the news, how to enjoy the outdoors, and how to be conservation-oriented at home," says Strickland.

Each half-hour episode includes environmental news that commercial TV stations didn't cover, says Strickland; an in depth interview on a "hot" conservation topic; a segment called "My Favorite Place" profiling local point of interest; and outings information.

Strickland says that while it's difficult to gauge the impact of the show on television audiences, the chapter received many comments from viewers and experienced an increase in membership inquiries.

"We reached people with our environmental messages whom we wouldn't reach otherwise," she says "because community access stations are everywhere cable TV is, we strongly believe that nearly any group or chapter can do the same to get their message out."

Last Chance for the Pacific Salmon

A new video production titled "Last Chance for the Pacific Salmon" chronicles the threat of extinction for 10 major salmon species including the coho, reports Josh Kaufman of Northern California's Redwood Chapter

The one-hour documentary was co-produced by fisheries biologist Pat Higgins, who presented a slide show and lecture last summer to the chapter's North Group. "When Pat told us he was working on a video, we saw a great opportunity to publicize the plummeting salmon population and formed a partnership that night," says Kaufman. The video makes its debut just after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)--in response to a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund--proposed listing the coho as threatened in most of She Pacific Northwest. The final decision is still pending in federal court.

By far, the most significant factor in the decline of the coho salmon has been destruction or modification--mainly by logging--of its stream habitats throughout California, Oregon and Washington. Any long-term solution on depends on protection of these ecosystems, says Kaufman. "We've always recognized the connection between intact forests and healthy salmon habitat," he explains. "It's no coincidence that the best runs are in the least damaged watersheds."

"Last Chance" details the threat of extinction and promotes solutions such as watershed restoration, community action and political organizing. It also features interviews, dramatic location shots, underwater footage and computer graphics.

For a copy of the video, please send $20 payable to the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter to: Salmon Video, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter, P. O. Box 466, Santa Rosa, CA 95402. All donations cover video costs and help fund the conservation effort.

Giant Sequoias At Risk

Report From the Field

by Ellen Mayou
Houston Group

For the past several years, Ellen Mayou has helped publicize Houston-based MAXXAM Corp.'s destruction of ancient coastal redwood trees in Humboldt County, Calif. This summer, she journeyed to California to take part in an "activist outing" to the ecosystem of the giant sequoia, a close cousin of the coastal redwoods.

I joined Club members from Texas, California, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri in the mountains of California this summer for a weeklong activist outing to Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks and Sequoia National Forest. We were there to see the last ancient giant sequoia trees--and learn how we could help protect them.

The giant sequoia, distinguished by its glowing red bark and huge size, grows only on the western slope of California's Sierra Nevada. By the turn of the century, entire groves of the trees--which grow up to 35 feet in diameter and live as long as 3,200 years--were being felled by loggers eager to reap quick economic rewards. We saw one such grove, dubbed Stump Meadow," that is a vivid reminder of the consequences of uncontrolled logging.

Although current national forest policy prohibits harvesting of giant sequoias, it allows road-building and clearcutting within 500 feet of the remaining groves, affecting the micro climate and underground water flow on which giant sequoias depend.

"Policy isn't enough--we need a law," said Carla Cloer, a guest speaker on the trip and a Sierra Club member who chairs a special task force that works to protect the ancient trees. "Recent history has demonstrated that policy can change Practically overnight."

During the Reagan years, a policy that prohibited logging, road building or any other destructive activity in sequoia groves was quietly overturned. A new policy was implemented that allowed log gin operations within eight sequoia groves. The public might never have been aware of this if a friend of Cloer's, Charlene Little, had not stumbled upon a logged-over portion of a grove during a 1986 hike. Little's discovery led to a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups that managed to stop logging in the sequoia groves--for now. But Sequoia National Forest still faces other threats.

An independent consultant's report found logging in the forest cost the government $6.5 million in 1992 due to below-cost timber and road-building Logging roads themselves cause considerable damage to the grant sequoia ecosystem, which is not protected by Forest Service policy.

And while the Forest Service claims "selective harvesting" can prevent fires by thinning the forest, Club leaders say the method harms the ecosystem and prescribed burns would be a better way to reduce underbrush. The Salvage logging law signed by President Clinton presents a major new threat by allowing the Forest Service to sidestep environmental laws and increase logging in Sequoia and all other national forests.

Activists are now working with Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) on legislation that would permanently protect many giant sequoia groves m the southern Sierra by establishing a new Sequoia National Preserve. Like other trip participants, I plan to write letters when the bill is introduced and educate other members of my community about the need to protect giant sequoias. I may also help coordinate another trip to the southern Sierra for other members of the Houston Group, since I believe strongly, as John Muir did, that getting people out to see a place is She best way to inspire them to save it.

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