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How to Stop the Bush Administration? Start Talking.
Going Beyond Green
  Partnerships Program Builds Bridges
Victories to Savor
Is Your Relationship In Trouble?
The Energy Plan That Could Be
  (If only they’d allow some environmentalists to help write the rules.)
How to Protect National Forests When Your President Won’t
Family Planning Yields Results In Ecuador
2003 Year in Review Calendar
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The Planet
Victories to Savor

Despite the rash of bleak announcements from the White House, the Club had plenty to cheer about in 2003—especially the Senate rejection of the Bush energy bill.

by Brian Vanneman and Tom Valtin.

Let’s be honest: 2003 was a tough year for environmental headlines. "Clean Air Act Weakened." "Mercury Limits Rescinded." Wherever you looked, Bush administration appointees were busy dismantling the laws that protect our air and water, our public lands, and the health of our communities. Some days you wanted to skip the front page and go directly to the cartoons.

But on November 21, environmentalists celebrated a huge victory when the Bush Energy Bill—a smorgasbord of subsidies and gifts to the oil and coal industries—was defeated in the Senate. Fox News called the vote Bush’s biggest defeat since taking office.

That may have been the biggest victory of 2003 and one of the few at the federal level, but the Club’s 65 chapters and 300-plus groups fought and won countless other victories in the past year. Here are just a few examples:

Grizzly Habitat Saved

Grizzly bears of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem secured a permanent home when the holder of grazing rights in a 75,000-acre area adjacent to Grand Teton National Park waived his claim to the land. The Blackrock/Spread Creek retirement, just 20 miles from Yellowstone National Park, ensures that a huge block of habitat will be protected, not only for grizzlies but also for the resident wolf pack, black bears, and mountain lions. Conflicts between bears and cattle in the area led to 108 documented incidents where grizzlies killed or injured cattle on this grazing allotment between 1992-1998. These conflicts resulted in bear relocations, bear removals, and the illegal killing of grizzlies. The National Wildlife Federation, working with the Sierra Club, other conservation groups, and state and federal agencies, raised money to persuade the existing permit holder to waive his grazing rights, allowing the Forest Service to retire the grazing allotment. To help protect grizzlies and their habitat further, please contact

"Do it the Right Way, No New Highway!"

Through an outpouring of public support on National Trails Day in June, the Club’s Alaska Chapter successfully made its case against a highway reconstruction project that would have included a bridge spanning a wilderness canyon just above Juneau Creek Falls in the Chugach National Forest. Eighty-five people made the 10-mile round-trip hike to the falls, where they held placards to represent the proposed path of the highway. A Fish and Game biologist and Chugach Forest Service district ranger joined protesters to warn that moving the highway could drastically impact the Kenai River Brown Bear population, for whom the area is an important feeding ground. In November, after months of deliberation and continued public opposition to the Juneau Falls plan, the Department of Transportation removed the so-called "Wilderness Variant" from its list of alternatives for the project. "This is a huge victory," said Club Alaska organizer Betsy Goll. "It was at one time the preferred alternative but the DOT was forced to reanalyze the project."

Oink if You Love Family Farms

Sometimes a five-foot furry pig costume can help you make your point. That, and it’s hot inside. Both insights came to Minnesota eighth-grader Emily Barnes when she played the part outside the Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis. Emily and her fellow Sierra Club activists worked diligently to educate consumers about the risks of eating meat raised on routine antibiotics. They urged consumers to ask their grocer for meats raised by traditional family farmers—who treat animals humanely and don’t abuse important medicines. Activists were assisted by the Antibiotics and Agriculture Campaign, a part of the Sierra Club’s Clean Water effort. Because of the work of Emily and other stellar North Star Chapter members, the Byerly’s and Lunds grocery store chains began carrying antibiotic-free meats, and ran a series of billboard ads around the city publicizing their willingness to provide consumers with a choice.

Three Decades of Activism Pay Off—Ballona Wetlands Saved

When filmmaker Howard Hughes died in 1976, a prime parcel of Hughes-owned Los Angeles coastal real estate—more than a thousand undeveloped acres known as the Ballona Wetlands—was targeted for development. Twenty-seven years, half a dozen lawsuits, ten Angeles Chapter resolutions, countless town hall meetings, protests, rallies, giant puppets, posters, op-eds, and one gubernatorial recall later, the state stepped in on October 1 to finalize the acquisition of more than 600 acres —the last large wetlands remaining in Los Angeles County—for permanent protection. The Sierra Club Ballona Wetlands Task Force was at the forefront of the fight, which turned into a movement that has changed the nature of land use struggles in Southern California.

San Francisco Bay Saved from Airport Runways

In July, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) withdrew its plans to fill as much as 1,000 acres of San Francisco Bay for new runways. "I couldn’t be happier," says volunteer leader Jane Seleznow, who for four years has been leading the Sierra Club Bay Protection Campaign efforts. "Four years ago, when [San Francisco] Mayor Willie Brown announced his plans to fill in and pave 1.5 square miles of the Bay, the conventional wisdom was that new runways were a done deal." But opposition from groups such as the Sierra Club, along with leaner economic times, have caused SFO to reconsider. Thousands of S.F. Bay and Loma Prieta Chapter members wrote or called their county supervisors expressing opposition to the bayfill plans, and according to Loma Prieta Chapter leader Richard Zimmerman, their efforts made a dramatic difference.

Kentucky Activists Hold Tyson Accountable

A Kentucky federal court ruled in November that factory farms operated by food giant Tyson expose local communities to dangerous pollutants, and that Tyson must take responsibility for its record. The Sierra Club and local residents sued Tyson for failing to report hazardous releases of ammonia from four animal factories under its supervision. These huge operations pack tens of thousands of chickens into closed buildings and release ammonia and other toxic gases that can cause sometimes fatal respiratory problems. "This decision is a huge victory for Kentuckians," says Aloma Dew, organizer for the Sierra Club. Tyson had argued that it was not responsible for pollution from its factory farms because the operations are run by outside contractors. Federal Court Judge Joseph McKinley was unconvinced by the company’s arguments. Tyson, he said, is, "clearly in a position of responsibility and power with respect to each facility...and has the capacity to prevent and abate the alleged environmental damage."

Students Protest, Boise Agrees: No More Endangered Forests in our Paper

The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), the student arm of the Sierra Club, applauded Boise Cascade for its promise to eliminate the purchase of wood products from endangered forests. Boise Cascade became the first major U.S. forest products company to adopt a comprehensive environmental statement and the first distributor of wood and paper products to extend an environmental policy to its suppliers. Boise’s decision came in the wake of sustained pressure from the SSC and other environmental consumers. SSC members postcarded at local distribution centers and kicked Boise Cascade off their campuses. "Thousands of students across the country who organized on their college campuses to protect our endangered forests can pat themselves on the back," says SSC National Director Meighan Davis. "The forest products industry has relied on logging these pristine endangered forests for far too long. Boise’s decision shows that there is a better way."

Okefenokee Gains Permanent Protection

In August, DuPont announced the largest gift of conservation lands in Georgia history. Under an agreement with the Conservation Fund, International Paper, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 16,000 acres of land on Trail Ridge, adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, will receive permanent protection not only from the titanium mining that DuPont had proposed, but also from all mining, oil and gas extraction, and development. This resolves permanently any threat that mining will take place east of the swamp and north of Suwanee Canal Road. Sierra Club activists in Georgia, Florida, and Delaware have been active in this fight for the last eight years. (Watch for feature story coming in March 2004 Planet.)

Forested Watershed Saved from the Saw

The Wenoca Group and residents of western North Carolina won a quick and decisive battle to prevent the logging of a lush municipal watershed located at the head of the Reems Creek Valley. Earlier this year, a local landowner found logging company employees on his property surveying an extraction route. Word spread quickly: the board members of the Woodfin water district had settled on a plan to sell timber rights and use the money to replace old water lines, but the board had not investigated any alternatives to logging and did not seem interested in exploring any. Residents of Reems Creek and Woodfin started asking tough questions about the logging plans, and a University of North Carolina environmental scientist argued that clearing a forest to provide better water was a misguided approach. The Wenoca Group helped put several candidates on the ballot for election to the water board, three of whom won election. One of them, Robin Cape, became the first write-in winner in at least 25 years.

Keeping the Country Country

In September, the Hawai’i Chapter won a major court victory in its campaign to stop urban sprawl on Oahu, when a circuit court judge ruled that an environmental impact statement must be completed before hundreds acres of agricultural land could be turned into a residential development. "This is a tremendous victory towards keeping the country country," said Chapter Director Jeff Mikulina. "We only have one chance at ensuring smart growth on the remaining farmlands in central Oahu. Once they are developed, they are gone forever." Developers Castle & Cooke argued that the appropriate time to prepare an environmental impact statement was after they received approval to build, but the court disagreed.

Rhode Island Port Dead in the Water

When Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri (R) took office earlier this year, one of his first actions was to kill the controversial Quonset Point project, a massive deep-water container port proposed for Narragansett Bay. For nearly a decade, Carcieri’s predecessor had championed the port project, which would have accommodated a new generation of mega-ships too big for the ports of New York or Boston to handle. "As they saw it," says Caroline Karp, an environmental studies professor at Brown University and former Rhode Island Chapter, "Narragansett Bay would be the best place to site such a facility." But the chapter kicked into high gear, organized statewide opposition to the project and staged an event—widely covered by the media—demonstrating just how huge these ships would be. From that point on the Sierra Club became the group the media came to for the opposition point of view. "This was an archetypal environmental struggle," says Karp. "Had the Club not helped flush this out of the closet from the beginning, the outcome might have been very different."

Farmland Preserved, Sprawl Halted

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s the approach that the Huron Valley Group took in Michigan in their ongoing battle against suburban sprawl. They were part of the losing coalition in 1998 when a land preservation proposal was defeated soundly at the polls. But they made some headway in ’99 and 2000, and never gave up. This year, they forged a coalition with business leaders, farming interests, and environmental groups to advance a ballot measure extending Ann Arbor’s Parkland Acquisition program for 30 years and using two-thirds of the money to acquire development rights on farmland outside the city. This time, they won handily, garnering two-thirds of the vote. According to the Trust for Public Land, this marks the first and only time sprawl developers have been defeated after funding an opposition campaign.

Wide Swath of Wisconsin Woods Saved

While building an activist network focused on forest conservation in Wisconsin’s northwoods, the John Muir Chapter has been successful in protecting nearly 13,000 acres of high quality forest habitat for rare wildlife such as Canada lynx, American marten, and Northern goshawk. U.S. Forest Service plans for timber sales on the heavily logged Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest called for thousands of acres of clearcutting, thinning, and other logging in some of best remaining unprotected habitat on public land in Wisconsin. Working with a coalition of conservation organizations, the chapter’s forestry committee is working to ensure that logging is done in a manner that protects the outstanding trout fisheries, wildlife habitat and recreational qualities.

The list goes on. To explore the work of the Sierra Club, visit, click on any state, and see how your fellow Sierrans are striving to keep the air clean and the rivers running for future generations.

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