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Sierra Magazine
Home Front

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural heritage.


Elizabeth Hagan didn't even know there was a rainforest in British Columbia before she visited the area last summer. "When I thought of Canada, I thought of igloos!" says Hagan, a sophomore at Harvard University who now coordinates the Sierra Student Coalition's campaign to save the Great Bear Rainforest.

"It's one of the most magical places you could imagine," says Hagan. But Earth's largest intact temperate rainforest is threatened by the clearcutting of its ancient trees-over half of which are exported to the United States. To show Americans how their purchases are endangering this rare ecosystem, Hagan and B.C. Sierra Club activists Sonya Waite and Leah Wahlberg toured the East Coast in May in an old school bus, redecorated to simulate a forest. More than 2,000 people explored the "Rainforest Bus" and learned about clearcutting and alternatives to old-growth wood products, such as hemp and banana paper. Visitors also signed some of the 20,000 postcards the Club has collected to ask Home Depot to stop buying wood from companies that are clearcut- logging in the Great Bear Rainforest. To find out how you can help, visit or e-mail


For the past five years, Barry Martin has spied on mountain lions, coyotes, long-tailed weasels, and other indicator species in San Diego County. Martin, a Sierra Club member, learned the importance of observing how animals travel in routes between habitats, or "wildlife corridors," as a volunteer at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. When corridors are blocked by freeways and other development, animals can't range far enough to breed, feed, and raise their young.

Now Martin helps teach new volunteers to identify tracks, scat, and other signs of wildlife routes at Peñasquitos, adjacent preserves, and throughout the county. "We're not only collecting data, but empowering people by giving them a chance to get out and do something," Martin says. Thanks in part to the information they've already gathered, a frontage road along Interstate 5 will be rebuilt with an underpass for wildlife.


Sierra Club members, local residents, and the Mattaponi tribe may have saved a river and a way of life in Newport News, Virginia. In May, more than 1,000 people marched the six-mile "Trail of Hope" to show support for the Mattaponi and opposition to the proposed King William Reservoir. The new lake would have drained up to 75 million gallons of water a day from the Mattaponi River, which provides the tribe's traditional livelihood of shad fishing. The 1,500-acre reservoir would have flooded 437 acres of forested wetlands as well as scores of archaeological sites and sacred burial grounds.

The protest helped convince Colonel Allan B. Carroll of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit for the reservoir, a ruling that Governor James S. Gilmore III (R) and members of the Virginia congressional delegation are expected to appeal. "The Army Corps has given us a great victory," says Glen Besa, director of the Club's Virginia Chapter, "and we're not going to let our congressmen take it away!"


"Everyone dies, but in Wagner's Point, everyone dies of cancer," says Terry Harris, a law student and member of the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice Committee. Saving the small working-class south Baltimore community became Harris' crusade when he met activist Jeanette Skrzecz, a grandmother from Wagner's Point.

After Skrzecz died of cancer in 1998, community members put up posters in their windows portraying Wagner's Point-which is surrounded by chemical plants, petroleum tank farms, and a sewage-treatment plant-as a ticking time bomb. "There were protests at city hall where the entire neighborhood would show up saying, 'We want out! We want out!' " Harris says. Finally, live television coverage of an October 1998 explosion and fire at a local chemical plant embarrassed the city government into taking action. In July, the 300 residents of Wagner's Point began using city, state, and federal relocation funds to move into new neighborhoods —and on to a healthier future.


Activists in Washington, D.C., were delighted when a June coalition-building event for their campaign against a proposed 1,200-bed prison on Oxon Cove parkland turned into a celebration. "The zoning commission unanimously decided that it was an inappropriate use of waterfront property," says Anna El-Eini, vice chair of the Sierra Club's New Columbia Chapter. Two years ago, Congress gave the parkland to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) without public input. But activists made their opposition known through letters, phone calls, and testimony at public hearings. The Oxon Cove area, which is already home to a wastewater-treatment plant and an Air Force base, provides local residents access to the Potomac River, as well as habitat for bald eagles, great blue herons, and osprey.


Visitors to Congaree Swamp National Monument near Columbia, South Carolina, can commune with loblolly pines towering 150 feet high and a bald cypress measuring 27 feet around. Among these giants dwell some 600 animal and plant species, including bobcats, barred owls, and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Over a million acres of old-growth floodplain forest once bordered the rivers of South Carolina, but now only 13,000 acres are left—and 11,000 of them are preserved in the 22,200-acre monument, which Sierra Club lobbying efforts helped establish in 1976. Now, after a letter-writing campaign led by Club members, Congress has appropriated $1 million to protect additional land at Congaree and preserve more of its awe-inspiring inhabitants.

To spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area, contact Jennifer Hattam at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail jennifer.hattam@sierra; or fax (415) 977-5794.

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