October 1997, Volume 4, number 8
In a classic environmental battle, Sierra Club activists and staff are working with a remarkable coalition of over 40 groups, including hunters and anglers, Native American tribes, labor unions and many local government officials to block a controversial new mine that threatens the forests and lakes of northern Wisconsin. The coalition, known as the Wolf Watershed Education Project, has staged rallies, packed hearings, run home-made radio ads and used the courts and public opinion to fight back.
- Canoeists Fight Mine
- Lake Tahoe Success
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- Dolcini Departs
Crandon Mine, proposed by Exxon and its Canadian partner, Rio Algom, Inc., has aroused passions. A fragile network of interconnected lakes, wetlands and rivers -- including the federally protected Wolf River -- as well as the traditional life of several Native American tribes would be threatened by the mine's operation and pollution. More than a million gallons of groundwater per day would have to be pumped out to keep the mine works dry, lowering lake levels and draining wetlands.
In a phenomenal public education campaign, the coalition has held more than 40 public forums since 1996 to educate residents who live along the Wisconsin and Wolf rivers about the environmental, cultural and socioeconomic impacts of mining. For maximum exposure, the forums culminated in an anti-mine rally and march in Rhinelander, Wis., the home base of Exxon's Crandon Mine Company.
Over a thousand people attended the rally. "This statewide grassroots movement is the only way to counter the lobbying of the mining industry," says Dave Blouin, John Muir Chapter activist and forum organizer. "They've spent $750,000 this year alone fighting a mining moratorium bill."
The bill would block all mine permits until the industry can prove it can operate and shut down a single mine anywhere without causing pollution. Authored by former Sierra Club regional representative and Wisconsin Assemblyman Spencer Black, the bill was passed overwhelmingly by the state Senate this spring. The assembly is slated to vote on it this fall; the environmental review process that will ultimately decide whether permits will be issued for the mine will take nearly two years to complete.
"The mining industry is terrified that similar bills will spread to other states and has turned to deception to sway public opinion," says Carl Zichella, Midwest staff director. A mining industry-supported "wise use" group, People for the West (under the rubric People for Wisconsin), has opened four chapters in Wisconsin in an attempt to show at least feeble public support for the mine. A new organization called the Coalition for Fair Regulation has formed to try to defeat the moratorium bill in the state assembly. All its members save one are mining companies.
The Club, alongside other community activists, continues to rally support against the Crandon Mine. "Given the broad base of citizen support for strict controls on mining in Wisconsin," says Blouin, "we're optimistic about the outcome."
A timber sale was canceled on the spot at July's presidential Lake Tahoe Summit when the Sierra Club and other green groups warned of the sale's disastrous consequences.
In his introductory remarks at the summit, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman quoted from the Club's forest report, "Stewardship or Stumps," and commented that "restoration should not be done on the backs of ancient trees." Forest activist Rob Schaeffer was quick to point out that that was exactly what was happening in a heinous sale on Stanislaus National Forest outside the Lake Tahoe Basin -- the North Mountain Roadless Area sale, which the Club vigorously opposed. In response, Glickman called over U.S. Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck and Regional Forester Lynn Sprague and immediately canceled the sale. In addition, President Clinton agreed to double federal spending to address Tahoe's environmental concerns.
"We stressed the need to drastically increase funds for ecosystem restoration, stop salvage sales and restore the role of fire in the ecosystem by increasing controlled burning," says Lake Tahoe Group volunteer Susan Paige. "We're thrilled our message is getting through to the right people."
"The results were tremendous," adds Marge Sill, a Toiyabe Chapter activist. "The president recommended the U.S. Forest Service restore the ecology of old logging roads in the basin, with all logging roads removed within 10 years." Sill was a presenter on the forest ecosystem panel with Vice President Gore and provided the crucial basis for the Club's case and recommendations to the media and the administration.
Working with the League to Save Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada Ancient Forest Protection Campaign, activists from the Toiyabe Chapter and Lake Tahoe Group -- along with Club staff -- laid the groundwork for the event. Jennifer Witherspoon, originally a volunteer with the chapter and currently a staffer in the Northern California field office, turned out over 60 activists and coordinated along with group volunteers Doris Wilbur, Jan and Jay Grauer and Susan Paige. "The Tahoe Summit was especially gratifying," says Wilbur, "because we saw that vigorous organizing and engagement of many volunteers gets results."
A high school student inspired Club staffers at headquarters in San Francisco when he spent his whole summer working in the office as a volunteer. Will Tammen devoted his remaining free time to fighting a proposed new development in an East Bay area wildlife corridor that is home to several endangered species. "I was angered by people's lack of concern for the environment," says Tammen, "It's very rewarding to do something positive about it."
The Planet team wished a fond farewell to senior editor Marie Dolcini in July. In addition to her excellent writing and reporting skills, Dolcini brought a strong commitment to the environment, volunteerism and the organization in her two years at the Sierra Club. She is currently doing restoration work in the hills outside of Salerno, Italy.
Filling Dolcini's shoes is Jenny Coyle, our new senior editor. Coyle has 14 years of experience as a news reporter in the Mt. Shasta area of Northern California, where she covered issues surrounding the challenges of balancing development, recreation and conservation in the region. Coyle can be reached at (415) 977-5533;
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