Benjamin Lilly—Los Altos, California
This spring, 13-year-old Benjamin Lilly celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, a Jewish coming-of-age ceremony. It is customary to give a portion of the money one receives for a Bar Mitzvah to charity, and Ben chose the Sierra Club, donating $800 to help protect northern New Mexico’s Valle Vidal.
“I’ve always loved nature,” Ben says. “Last summer I was the youngest in our Boy Scout troop to go on a 50-mile backpacking trip. It seemed fitting to give to a nature-related cause.”
Ben, whose parents are Sierra Club members, learned about the Valle Vidal in an article, “Thirty-Hour Valley,” in the March/April 2005 issue of Sierra. The 100,000-acre mountain basin of pristine meadows, forests, and streams, is home to New Mexico’s largest elk herd. But Houston-based El Paso Corporation has its sights set on 40,000 acres of the Valle Vidal for coalbed methane drilling.
“There’s a famous Boy Scout camp, Philmont Scout Ranch, in the neighboring valley, which would have to close if drilling proceeds,” Ben says. “I’ve never been to Philmont, but I’d like to, and the thought of it closing down really bothered me.”
Valle Vidal could supply the United States with a total of 30 hours’ worth of natural gas. But it would become a sacrifice zone laced with roads, pipes, power lines, storage tanks, and drilling pads. “I saw these gorgeous photos of Valle Vidal,” Ben says, “but realized that few people, even in my Boy Scout troop, had ever heard of it. I hope my money is put to good use and that the Valle Vidal can be saved.”
Lynn Henning—Clayton, Michigan
Mackinac Chapter Conservation Program Coordinator
“My husband and I are lifelong farmers,” says Lynn Henning. “He still farms with his dad, who’s 85 and still out there farming, still driving a semi.”
The Hennings use sustainable farming practices on their 300-acre spread, and Lynn does all her own canning. Her intimate relationship with the land led to a growing concern about factory farm pollution in southern Michigan. “I’d never been an activist before, but animal waste from these facilities was polluting local waterways with bloodworms and high levels of E. coli,” she says. “Millions of gallons of waste were being discharged into Lake Hudson, a public swimming facility in the Michigan State Park system.”
Henning joined Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan and began doing water quality monitoring on large factory farms, or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). “I’d get tips from local farmers about violations and go out and take photographs of what I saw. You might say I’m a CAFO-chaser—some have called me a ‘Pooperazzi.’”
Henning’s work didn’t sit well with factory farm owners, more than one of whom she says has threatened her to back off. “We’ve had property and equipment damage on our farm. One big operator took me to court, but the judge ruled that I had a ‘constitutional right to be environmentally vigilant.’”
Her work also caught the eye of the Mackinac Chapter, which secured funding this January to hire her as part-time staff. “The CAFOs in Michigan are really in trouble now,” quips Scott Dye, director of the Club’s Water Sentinels Program.
Henning recommends that anyone interested in learning more check out www.nocafos.org.
Lee Dew—Owensboro, Kentucky
Western Kentucky Water Sentinel
“I don’t know for certain, but I may be the Sierra Club’s oldest employee,” says author and retired history professor Lee Dew, now a part-time Sierra Club organizer in western Kentucky. (Hint: Dew came into the world the year the Empire State Building rose to scrape the sky in New York City.) Born on the Caribbean island of Aruba, where his father worked for Standard Oil, he spent his teenage years in Joplin, Missouri.
Since retiring from Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1994, Dew has devoted the bulk of his time to conservation. “I’ve worked on environmental issues since the ‘60s,” he says, “but I became more active in various agitational functions after retiring from teaching.” In 2001, he began volunteering with the then-new Sierra Club Water Sentinels Program. Before long, his wife Aloma—a regional rep for the Club—along with Hank Graddy and other Kentucky Sierrans, persuaded him to become part-time Sentinels staff.
A big water-quality problem in western Kentucky is factory chicken farming, Dew says. “People unfamiliar with these factories are taken aback with their immensity. Some of them are 500 feet long with up to 28,000 chickens crammed inside.” Since 2000, Dew has been treasurer for the Lower Tradewater/Green River Watershed Watch—an arm of Kentucky Watershed Watch—which he and Aloma helped organize. Lee has merged the Water Sentinels’ work with that of Watershed Watch for greater efficiency and economy.
“We always need to think in terms of linkages,” he asserts. “Every action taken against the environment affects countless other areas. The Sierra Club should strengthen synergies for common goals that are always before us. We should all be on the same page.”
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