by Marie Dolcini
Sierra Club activists broke new ground in 1996 by reaching out to
nontraditional organizations and forming coalitions with those who
aren't ordinarily allies -- from national hunting and fishing
associations to family farmers. Just ask Elyssa Rosen, associate
regional representative in the Calif./Nev./Hawaii field office. Thanks
to her and alliance-minded Toiyabe Chapter
activists, we've built a broad, precedent-setting coalition for the
cause of conservation in Nevada's Great Basin.
"When you're working on mining issues in remote areas of Nevada," she
said, "it only makes sense to reach out to ranchers, Native American
communities and the few independent prospectors who remain."
Now that more than a dozen big mining companies in the area are
pursuing massive dewatering projects as part of their operations,
locals fear that the hundreds of thousands of gallons pumped per minute
to access marketable hardrock minerals is destroying northern Nevada's
Enter Great Basin Mine Watch, a coalition of ranchers, independent
prospectors, Shoshone community representatives, scientists and Toiyabe
Chapter volunteers working to counter attempts by Canadian mining
corporations such as Placer Dome and American Barrick to force locals
off the land.
"We go to meetings with ranchers who used to hate our guts," said
Rosen. "Now we're working together. We don't always agree, but when
land is literally disappearing as a result of mining by outside
corporate giants, we recognize we all have a stake."
Despite scarce funding, the year-old alliance has appealed two mine
projects and rallied over 60 people to attend a hearing that persuaded
one company to withdraw a mine proposal. It's also sponsoring
groundwater studies in the absence of government analysis, pursuing
reform of the 1872 Mining Law (which allows anyone interested in
pursuing a claim on public land to purchase mineral rights for as little as
acre) and working to get mine waste listed as toxic. Participants now
plan to bestow an annual "Golden Pit Award" to the region's worst
"It's an uphill battle when rivers and springs are already drying up
and the government keeps issuing mine permits," said Rosen, "but
together -- and project by project -- we're doing baseline education
about the impacts of mining on communities and wildlife."
To the east, state lobbyist Bill Craven said the alliance he's helping
create in rural Kansas isn't just teaching family farmers about the
Club, it's teaching the Club about family farming.
Under the name Stewards of the Land, this Club-backed coalition aims to
assist farmers increasingly threatened by corporate hog farms that have
little to lose by despoiling their surroundings with operational
"Several years ago, it was common in almost every farm newsletter or
talk radio program for farmers to be told over and over again that the
only thing wrong with their industry was these environmental
extremists," said Craven. "There's been a lot of anti-environmental
propaganda, but after we got past that, it turned out we had a great
deal in common."
Now staff and volunteers from Wyoming to the Carolinas are pursuing
common cause with affected families and helping them stop new factory
operations and ensure that existing ones comply with state regulations.
In North Carolina, a region plagued by hog and poultry waste lagoon
overflows, the response of hunters and fishers to Sierra Club clean
water outreach has been overwhelming.
As Clean Water Project coordinator, Kathie Dixon was on the road for
the past year visiting and recruiting leaders of fishing, hunting and
fellow conservation organizations ranging from Ducks Unlimited and the
state federation of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society to the Atlantic
Coast Conservation Association. She's also become a habitué of
angling "expos," which afford an opportunity to inform citizens about the
risks posed to their region by a weakened Clean Water Act and Safe
Drinking Water Act.
Thanks largely to her efforts, this coalition of "rediscovered allies"
inspired over 700 anglers to send postcards to the governor to clean up
state waters and helped realize the Clean Water Trust Fund, a recurring
conservation commitment from the state legislature that could put as
much as $50 million into river cleanup in the next decade.
"One-on-one contact has
allowed us to move past the skepticism and on to productive
discussion," said Dixon. "And now there's an expressed interest in
establishing long-term working relationships to address issues beyond
Club leaders look to the North Carolina example as a highly successful
model for outreach to other communities -- like small woodlot owners,
who are potential allies in our campaign to end subsidized logging on
"Building trust between groups that have traditionally viewed each
other as opponents will take time," said Ozark Chapter staffer Ken
Midkiff. "The key is working with local folks to identify shared
issues. Based on our experience, the more we help, the more we are
sought by others who are being assaulted by corporate opponents. After
'their' agenda and 'our' agenda become the same."
For more information:
Contact Elyssa Rosen at (510) 654-7847, e-mail:
Kathie Dixon at (215) 247-5877, e-mail:
or Kanza Group Conservation Chair Craig Volland at
(913) 334-0556 for Stewards of the Land. Contact Great Basin Mine Watch
at P.O. Box 10262, Reno, NV 89510.
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