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September 2000 Planet Main
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The Planet
Who We Are

By Jenny Coyle

Joy Oakes - Arlington, Va.
Senior Appalachian Regional Representative

One of Joy Oakes' earliest memories is picking tobacco worms off young plants on her family's tobacco farm in Virginia. "They make a mess when you squish them," she says. Another task was pouring Malathion down the stalks of maturing plants. These are probably two good reasons why she never got into smoking cigarettes.

Decades later, she's still involved with agriculture - but on a smaller scale and in a different direction. She grows herbs organically in her yard, beating back a recent infestation of thrips on chives by spraying a homemade solution of rubbing alcohol and water. This year she also planted a butterfly garden. "I used mostly native plants, and currently have sunflowers, purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, butterfly bush and butterfly weed," she says. And it works - she's seen mostly tiger swallowtails, and hopes monarchs will show up on their fall migration.

The garden has also attracted birds, which link Oakes back to her early days in conservation when she worked for National Audubon Society. Now she works with Sierra Club activists and others in Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia on environmental justice, sprawl and coastal issues.

Dick Simpson - Palo Alto, Calif.
Secretary, Black Mountain Group

A lover of backpacking and cross-country ski touring, Dick Simpson had often made use of the Sierra Club's huts in the Sierra Nevada. Among them was the Bradley Hut, a rustic, two and a half story, wood-heated structure with no running water. "If you put some snow under your armpit, you'd have water in no time," Simpson cracks.

But when Congress created the Granite Chief Wilderness, the hut - located within its boundaries - had to be removed. "I figured it was time to do my part," he says. Simpson took charge of rounding up volunteers and raising the funds to dismantle the hut, remove the salvageable pieces by helicopter and build a new hut on national forest land four miles away. It was a four-year process, with the new hut opening to skiers for the 1998-99 winter season.

Simpson, who received awards from the U.S. Forest Service, Loma Prieta Chapter and the national Sierra Club for his work on the project, is modest about the accomplishment. "It's remarkable what you can do when 150 people volunteer to help. It's also amazing how many different things you can do to help within the Club," he says.

"Chopping wood and digging ditches is easier for me than writing letters - though I do my share of that, too."

Alan Farago - Miami, Fla.
Conservation Chair, Miami Group

Rhode Island was Alan Farago's home in the 1970s. It was then that he had his first chance to compare his native waters, Narragansett Bay, with the Florida Keys, where he loved to fish while on vacation. "Back in the '70s you could find places in the Keys that were teeming with rays, sharks and bonefish, amazing sea grasses and vast flocks of aquatic birds," he says. "You'd see an entire food chain at work on shallow-water flats."

When Farago fulfilled a dream and moved his family to Key West in 1988, he hoped his children would have the same experience. But that was not to be; the wildlife and sea grasses had all but vanished. He began to investigate the "collapse" of the bay ecosystem, sharing with others his concern for the decline of a critical resource. "I was upset about the complacency," Farago says, "and that led me into being an activist for the Sierra Club."

He has since moved to Miami, where he is leading the battle to stop the conversion of the former Homestead Air Force Base into a commercial airport - adjacent to the Everglades and Biscayne national parks. "The Homestead issue is a litmus test for our national parks," says Farago. "I've always felt there's a magnificent opportunity in America to get things right. The Everglades is a place worth fighting for."

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