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The Planet

Who We Are

Thomas Brown - Hershey, Nebraska Platte Valley Group Membership Chair

A lifelong farmer/rancher and a 30-year veteran "down in the trenches for the Nebraska Chapter" - he was chapter treasurer for 25 years - Tom Brown has strong opinions on the things he holds dear.

Brown, who's holding up part of an old rotary hoe below, says of factory farming: "If you don't live next to one of these places you can't smell it, and people aren't yet concerned about the effect on groundwater. But there's a huge national audience concerned about animal welfare and abuse. Remember the photo of the sick, dying veal calf lying in a narrow stall? That photo made some changes. Hogs swimming in their excrement isn't pretty either. We're not going to win by playing nice. The agribusiness industry will do anything to protect its bottom line."

Environmentalists should lobby to reverse the trend of agribusiness getting bigger and bigger, Brown says. "Agribusiness relies on subsidies, and big farmer welfare payments destroy the structure of agriculture and put small farmers out of business. If the public wants more farmers out here, which they should, we should enact public policy that supports entry-level farming and livestock operations."

Brown says federal grazing leases are so cheap that public land graziers are basically being subsidized as well. "The wise use movement, which embraces a broad spectrum of public land uses that are united in opposition to environmental ideas, might fall apart if all environmental groups temporarily united to push for legislation that subjected grazing leases to competitive bidding. Getting fair market value for grazing fees and directing the income to the U.S. treasury in an era of huge federal deficits should be a no-brainer."

Jim Rhodes - Glendora, California Mt. Baldy Group Activist

When native Ohioan Jim Rhodes moved to Glendora, California, in 1961, the San Gabriel Mountains foothill town had barely 20,000 residents. The population has since more than doubled.

"My original involvement with the Sierra Club was recreational," he says. "When my children got old enough to go hiking I started meeting like-minded people, several of whom were involved with the Angeles Chapter."

A retired engineer and president of a technical instrument/electronics firm, Rhodes watched as development inched ever-further into the San Gabriels. When in 2000 a developer proposed to build 145 houses in and near a local canyon - "a beautiful place, home to the endangered California Gnatcatcher" - he decided to speak out against the scale of the project.

"I participated with a local homeowners' association, gave time and money, wrote articles, and spoke several times before the city council and planning commission. We rallied citizens against it, and lo and behold, city hall turned it down, saying the developer could build 20 homes, not 145. The developer took the issue to court, but lost." Rhodes was also involved in an effort to make another canyon development conform to city codes, but "we were shot down by creative rule interpretation in city hall."

Working with a city committee, Rhodes helped draft new planning regulations he'd like to see incorporated into Glendora's general plan. "If our report was used at the permitting level there would be foliage screening of new homes, limits on the steepness of slope that can be developed, and it would help close developer loopholes."

A self-described "Eisenhower Republican," Rhodes laments that both major political parties are beholden to special interests.

June Havens - Ocean Springs, Mississippi Gulf Coast Group Activist

"The day after the November election, the first thing I did was rejoin the Sierra Club," says retired educator June Havens. "I resolved that I had to move on, and that seemed like a good way to start."

A Jackson native, Havens first joined the Club in the 1980s, drawn by the local outings program. Her activism centered on an ultimately successful effort by the Sierra Club and the town of Richton to stop a proposed nuclear waste dump in Perry County.

Havens says the demands of her teaching job were the main reason she stepped back from her Club involvement, "but I'm glad to be back." Lately her activist energies have focused on solid waste issues in Jackson County - "God's country," as she calls it - where her husband Gene's family has lived for generations.

"The Mississippi Chapter was instrumental in helping stop a proposed landfill in the community of Bonnie Chapel, where Gene's father grew up," she says. "The Sierra Club now has a very good name there. It was impressive to see how the Club brought media attention to the issue and got people out to all the public hearings."

Gene Havens works at a shipyard in nearby Pascagoula, and in their free time the couple enjoys exploring the Gulf Islands National Seashore in their 28-foot sailboat. "Last year we got caught in a storm in the middle of the night at Horn Island," June says. "It tossed us up and down so much our rudder bent on the shallow bottom. After a very scary night we left at daybreak, leaving our swamped dinghy because the water was so rough. It was a little more adventure than we'd bargained for."

- Tom Valtin

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