Sometimes nature takes care of itself.
In January, a school of herring sank a 63-foot trawler after getting caught in its
net off Norway's northern coast. When the crew tried to haul in the net, the
entire school swam for the bottom, capsizing the ship. The six-member crew
was rescued by another trawler; it's not clear whether the herring escaped.
These Norwegian fishermen won't forget the display of nature's power.
All too often, however, the fish get killed, the wetland gets paved, the forest
gets logged, the river gets poisoned. Given the way humans stalk the earth,
nature often needs help from its friends.
When I talk about helping nature, I don't mean helping fish to capsize boats,
but using the power of our neighbors to hold our elected officials and business
leaders accountable. To pass laws keeping our water clean. To protect
wetlands from being drained for another mall.
Over the past year, as Sierra Club president, I've visited Club groups and
chapters in 42 states and observed firsthand how dedicated and effective some
of nature's friends can be. Everywhere I go, Club people are leading the charge.
Take the Merced Group in California, one of the Club's oldest groups, which has
been fighting since its inception to protect Yosemite National Park.
At the group's annual banquet, chair Ione Scott told me that thanks to
everyone's efforts, the park is in much better shape now than it was 20 years
ago. The floods that swept through Yosemite Valley a little more than a year
ago weren't just a reminder of nature's power; they also provided an
opportunity to reduce the human impact on the park.
Working with the Club's Yosemite Committee, the Merced Group was quick to
call on the National Park Service to remove campsites too close to the river and
a road that imperils Yosemite's meadows. Today, they're working to stop a
proposed parking lot in the valley and to reduce auto traffic in the park. Not
bad for a group with fewer than 200 members. (For more on Yosemite, see
Two thousand miles to the east, in St. Louis, where I was invited to speak at
Washington University, I witnessed the power of a partnership between the
local group and the students at the university working to save the city's last
stand of old-growth forest. (Yes, St. Louis has an old-growth grove, in a city
The proposed Page Street extension would push development into the park,
threatening the grove. Led by Environmental Public Education Campaign
Coordinator Claralyn Price-Bollinger and Washington University student Phil
Radford, residents are drumming up opposition to the extension and working to
get the issue on the ballot.
This ongoing battle in St. Louis is, of course, one of dozens, if not hundreds, of
similar struggles the Club is engaged in across the country to stop development
in important natural areas.
But helping nature doesn't just mean stopping things. In Georgia this spring,
Howard Loewenstein and the Atlanta Group outings program will be planting
2,500 dogwood, maple and loblolly pines in Gwinnett County, the heart of
House Speaker Newt Gingrich's congressional district.
Georgia Chapter Outings Chair Gautam Bhan, who is working to further
integrate the chapter's conservation and outing programs, takes great joy in
showing Gingrich that uncontrolled sprawl and environmental devastation are
not what his constituents want from their congressman.
These are just a few of the inspiring ways Club members are helping nature. I'd
love to hear what you're doing.
Together these actions form an unstoppable movement toward the preservation
of our natural heritage. If not us, who? If not now, when? And if not for the
earth, then for what?