Sierra Club: The Planet--July/August 1996
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The Planet
Stepping Up to Save Salmon Across Watersheds -- and Communities

By joining a coalition of over 40 regional organizations working to save wild salmon, the Sierra Club helped plaster Pacific Northwest neighborhoods with informational doorhangers this spring.

For years, Club activists have been in the forefront of efforts to save wild salmon. But as a weakened reauthorization of America's premier wildlife protection law came down the congressional pike in 1995, and habitat protections foundered, salmon advocates realized that success would require a new level of collaborative effort.

Salmon are more than an indicator species; as economic, cultural and natural icons in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, they signify healthy watersheds and a distinct regional heritage. And Club volunteers are forging alliances across communities with this in mind. From public mobilization initiatives to gather support for the Endangered Species Act to working to make hydropower dams less deadly to migrating salmon, they are reaching beyond more traditional environmental interests to preserve species and a way of life.

Pacific Northwest

In the Pacific Northwest, the Sierra Club is one of the founding members of Save Our Wild Salmon -- a coalition uniting conservation activists, commercial fishers, sport anglers and fishing business owners to save wild salmon. This past spring, Club staff and chapter volunteers took the lead by organizing over 40 environmental and community groups in a major public outreach campaign.

On a Saturday in April, hundreds of salmon activists in Oregon, Washington and Idaho hit the streets to put doorhangers on 100,000 doors in their communities. Julia Reitan, associate representative in the Northwest office, designed the doorhangers with pre-addressed, tear-off postcards so that recipients had an easy way to take action and tell federal officials to modify hydropower dams and protect stream habitat. Also, the inclusion of a toll-free number -- (800) SOS-SALMON -- allowed residents to get further involved. Over 4,000 cards were mailed.

"Working with a coalition like Save Our Salmon is a tremendous way to reach beyond the Club to other people who care about salmon," said Reitan. "The doorhanger project took the message about saving wild salmon even further into our communities, neighborhood by neighborhood."

"People were very responsive and the first-termers we've targeted in Congress have noticed our reactions to their votes," said Harrison Grathwohl, chair of the Cascade Chapter Salmon and Rivers Committee, whose door-hanging skills were highlighted by a Seattle TV news crew. "Now we're working more and more with local tribes and the fishing community as our interests obviously overlap -- and gearing up to fight salvage logging," he added.

Northern California

To the south, the Club's fledgling Salmon Forever project has begun coordinating restoration efforts in Northern California with groups like Friends of the Garcia River, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations and the Sinkyone Intertribal Council. "Small watershed groups and local restoration organizations are very knowledgeable," added Kathy Bailey, who comes to the salmon project through her work on forest protection. "By helping provide an overview of what's going on, we can work out a regional approach together."

Following a half-million-dollar grant from the Japan-based Takara Sake company last summer, secured through the work of the Centennial Campaign, project activists quickly proved the value of teamwork by achieving a major success at two regional hearings on proposed listing of the coho.

"With only a few days notice from the National Marine Fisheries Service, we prepared testimony, accessed all available phone trees and networks, made press calls and helped pack two hearings," said Josh Kaufman, also of the project's steering committee. "Most of the groups we contacted hadn't even heard about the hearings," added Elyssa Rosen of the Calf./Nev./Hawaii field office. "But the short notice lit a fire under everyone's chairs -- we all wanted to send the clear message that we would not be excluded."

At an October hearing near Santa Rosa, Calif., 30 representatives from more than 15 groups dominated the three-hour session with testimony urging the listing of the coho salmon as endangered, while another 70 supporters cheered them on.

"The challenge is to counter Congress' attempt to place a moratorium on all new listings under the Act, prevent California's attempts to water down protection, and get all the groups that are already doing great work on the same page," said Kaufman.

Along with strengthening habitat protections and stepping up public education efforts, salmon activists view coalition-building as a primary objective for 1996. "We aim to achieve meaningful salmon protection through joint projects," said Kaufman. "The bottom line is we won't settle for anything less than complete recovery."

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