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The Planet

Who We Are

Jill Workman—Portland, Oregon
Oregon Chapter Chair

Jill Workman" A lot of people toil in obscurity," says Oregon Chapter Chair Jill Workman. But she’s doing her best to change that. The Oregon Chapter starts every meeting by giving everyone a chance to—as Workman says—"toot their own horn."

" I say, ‘we’ve accomplished a lot since the last meeting; what are the successes you want to share?’ And if someone doesn’t share, but I know they’ve made some progress, I bring it up."

One of the chapter’s big victories was the protection of Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon’s high desert in 2000. "We had a big party, and I was one of the speakers," says Workman. "I emphasized about how it wasn’t me or any one person who accomplished this. It was us collectively. Everyone played a part."

A self-described "desert rat," Workman, who works for Wells Fargo in Portland, devoted many years to protecting Steens Mountain, which is a long way from where most Oregonians live. She got involved in the Sierra Club through her mother, who is a member. "Someone from the chapter called my mother to ask her to get involved in protecting the high desert, and she said, ‘oh, you should talk to my daughter.’"

Before long, Workman was leading trips to the Steens area. "People would show up for a hike and end up becoming volunteers," she said.

Of course, that doesn’t happen by accident. "Once someone is there sitting around the campfire, once they’ve seen a beautiful area and seen cattle overgrazing on it, then you can ask them to write the BLM a letter. Pretty soon, they feel ownership."

John Byrne Barry

Hurlon Ray—Lonsdale, Arkansas
Clean Water Activist

Hurlon RayHurlon Ray, one of the principal architects of the Clean Water Act, has not let retirement slow him down. At 82, he is deeply involved in what he calls "the most important fight of my life"—cleaning up the Middle Fork of the Saline River, the central Arkansas waterway beside which he and four generations of his family grew up.

A longtime EPA water specialist, Ray returned in 1980 to what he calls his "paradise remembered," only to find it ravaged by the effects of upstream development. But he says recent attention by the Sierra Club and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has "shined a hopeful light into the murky waters of the Middle Fork."

Ray cites the Club as a motivator and an inspiration throughout his career and his life. "It would be hard to overstate the impact the Sierra Club had in galvanizing public opinion and getting the Clean Water Act passed," says Ray, who calls the Act, "the greatest piece of legislation ever to come about."

Ray was the Department of Interior spokesperson in Portland, Ore., on the first Earth Day in 1970, and later with the EPA he fought in some of the toughest environmental battles during the early years of water pollution awareness in the United States. "One of my proudest life testaments is to have helped create the first federal water quality standards," he says. Ray was honored with the Arkansas Sierran award in 2002.

In June 2002, the people of Saline County honored Ray and his wife Tyjuana, who died in 2000, by dedicating a granite marker inscribed with the couple’s names. The monument sits at a scenic pullout named after them on Arkansas Route 5, overlooking one of the most picturesque vistas in the state.

Tom Valtin

Karen Rock—Omaha, Nebraska
Missouri Valley Group Membership Chair

Karen Rock moved to Omaha from her native Iowa 21 years ago, and for all of those years she worked for a large insurance company—until this August, when she quit her job to go back to school in the environmental sciences.

" It was tough to lose the job security," she says, "but through the Missouri Valley Group I’ve been exposed to some interesting ventures. There’s an area of virgin prairie owned by the Audubon Society in north Omaha where I’ve been working lately, and I’m a Habitat Ambassador for the National Wildlife Federation—I have a table at a local Home Depot and I talk with people about making their backyards more wildlife-friendly, using native plants, conserving water."

The move to shake up her professional life followed a national Sierra Club outing she went on in Maui last January to do whale observation. "That really piqued my interest in conservation," she says. "After that trip, I found it hard to concentrate at my office job—I wanted to do something more for conservation causes. I recently found out about a paying position doing prairie restoration work through a local university that involves working outdoors and doing work I feel committed about."

Rock hopes to be a naturalist in a state or private park where she can promote native plantings and sustainable landscaping. "As for going back to school and giving up a secure income, I remind myself of Thoreau’s words from Walden: ‘If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.’"

Tom Valtin

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