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  November/December 1999 Features:
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Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

by Jennifer Hattam

Wayburn Wins the Gold | Five Years of The Planet | Home Front

Wayburn Wins the Gold

Before Edgar Wayburn's first visit to Alaska in 1967, few Sierra Club members knew much about the great wilderness to the north. All that changed when the Club's then-president presented the Board of Directors with an expansive vision: to save the wildlands of the last frontier.

"My wife, Peggy, and I were overcome by the sheer magnificence, beauty, and wildness of Alaska," says Wayburn, who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of conservation work. "I felt as if I was seeing what Lewis and Clark saw when they crossed the Great Plains, what Muir saw when he wandered in the Sierra." With passion and persistence, the already busy physician turned his dream into action.

"Ed's infectious enthusiasm and recitation of details captured everyone's imagination," says former Sierra Club Chairman Michael McCloskey, who served as conservation director when the Alaska campaign began. Wayburn sparked a decade-long effort that culminated in the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. The measure doubled the size of the national park system and established new national forests and wildlife preserves, protecting 100 million acres in all.

Over the past 50 years, Wayburn has led many successful campaigns, including one that established Redwood National Park in 1968. When you add up the acres, he has saved more wilderness than any other person alive. In August, Wayburn joined activist luminaries such as Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez-people whom President Clinton has described as "the best of America"-in the pantheon of Medal of Freedom winners. In his congratulatory remarks, Clinton noted that Wayburn "has helped to preserve the most breathtaking examples of the American landscape" and lauded his love for the natural world.

"I wish we all had been there with Edgar Wayburn when he first laid eyes on the spectacular vistas of the land north of San Francisco-for then we could have experienced the wilderness from his unique and wonderful perspective," Clinton said.

Although Wayburn has helped protect wildlands throughout the United States, the natural environment of the San Francisco Bay Area-his home since 1933-may have benefited the most. Wayburn's efforts helped establish Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), the nation's largest urban park. The 76,500-acre GGNRA, created in 1972, boasts the Presidio of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, Marin Headlands, and Muir Woods National Monument among its natural and historic treasures.

"Without Dr. Wayburn's leadership and his imagination, the Bay Area would be quite a different place," says Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who recommended Wayburn for the award. "Imagine the hills of western and southern Marin covered with condominiums, and what a different and diminished place the Presidio would be without that vista. Visually, recreationally, culturally-in every way-Dr. Wayburn made a tremendous difference."

Pelosi also lauds Wayburn's "absolute relentlessness" as an environmental advocate: "Legislators know that if Dr. Wayburn comes into your office, what might have been inconceivable at the beginning of the conversation is inevitable by the end of it."

During the GGNRA battle, when he worked closely with the late Representative Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), the powerful chair of the National Parks Subcommittee of the House Interior Committee, Wayburn demonstrated his ability to merge political acumen with conservation knowledge.

"When he met with high government officials, he really knew what he was talking about, so few people could ever trip him up," says McCloskey.

At age 92, Wayburn has retired from his medical practice but is still actively engaged in the conservation fight. "It is my life," he says. "I have a passion for seeing that as much of the natural world as possible is protected." A Sierra Club president five times, he holds the title of honorary president and works regularly in the San Francisco headquarters, where a huge map of Alaska nearly covers one wall in his office.

"At the Medal of Freedom reception, Ed was talking to the president of the United States about further things he ought to do," McCloskey says. "Even at this stage in his career, he's still at it." by Jennifer Hattam

Five Years of The Planet

Tree-huggers. Hunters. Schoolkids. Grandmothers. If you want to know who Sierra Club activists really are, read The Planet, the Club newspaper that puts a face on the 585,000-member organization with profiles and victory tales.

"We're painting a picture of a movement and helping to create it at the same time," says managing editor/designer John Byrne Barry. "For example, by reading The Planet month after month during the Clean Air Act campaign in 1997, you got a sense of the Sierra Club movement growing over time, as opposed to just watching the progress of a particular bill."

The Planet's launch in 1994 helped the Sierra Club refocus its activism from inside-the-Beltway lobbying to community-based grassroots action. "We want to be as useful a tool as possible for activists," says senior editor Jenny Coyle. The eight-page tabloid is packed with primers on the Club's most important campaigns, as well as stories heralding local conservation victories and explaining how readers can take action on environmental issues. The Planet's staff prides itself on sharing practical activist skills-what to say when you meet with your senator, how to craft a press release or organize a "Tour de Sprawl"-that can be applied nationwide.

"We want to celebrate, support, and nurture the grassroots by telling what they do, how they do it, and who they are," Barry says. "By telling their stories, we contribute to their success and help build the movement."

The Planet goes out ten times a year to more than 5,000 Club leaders, as well as 25,000 members of the Sierra Club activist network.

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.

American Southeast: CEMENT NIX-ERS

Rising from northern Florida's underground springs, the Ichetucknee River courses through rural Columbia and Suwannee counties. Its lush banks burst with old-growth cypress, palmettos, oaks, and green sea grass, while its clear waters provide a home for manatees, otters, and beavers, plus recreation for river-loving visitors.

"The area is the last bastion of old Florida. It's like paradise," says Virginia Seacrest of the Sierra Club's Suwannee/St. Johns Group. Local developers agreed that the area was perfect—for a cement plant.

Activists mobilized quickly when they heard about the proposed facility, which would have spewed pollutants 24 hours a day. Club members testified before Suwannee County commissioners, gathered 8,000 anti-cement-plant signatures, and held a protest march. Their hard work paid off in June when state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs denied a permit for the cement plant, just one week after seeing the Ichetucknee's beauty on a canoe trip.


What do you get when you add a group of artists, a dedicated attorney, and a former industrial dump site in Pittsburgh's East End? A beautiful greenway—or so lawyer John Stephen hopes.

Stephen, a Sierra Club volunteer, is working with artists at Carnegie Mellon University's Studio for Creative Inquiry to design a better future for Nine Mile Run, a polluted urban stream where slag, a by-product of steel-making, was dumped for decades. Their ambitious, community-oriented project aims to transform the postindustrial "brownfield" site into a 100-acre addition to Frick Park. The team is enlisting local residents to help monitor the site and plant native streamside vegetation.

"It's one of the last open streams in Pittsburgh," Stephen says. "Our watersheds have been neglected during the twentieth century, but hopefully people can be awakened to that and start protecting them."


While other junior-high students read about Huck Finn's exploits, Discovery Program students in Orange County, Virginia, will be having adventures of their own as they hike the Blue Ridge Mountains. Former eighth-grade history teacher Andy Mink created the program in 1996 as a supplement to classroom education, but this year Discovery will be the main event for 48 students. "Most kids learn information for their tests and forget it by the next week," Mink says. "But the Discovery Program teaches them how to apply a core of knowledge."

The students still learn science, math, English, and social studies, but each element of the curriculum is tied to wilderness activities and service projects-including trail maintenance, river cleanups, and environmental data collection-with the Sierra Club's Battlefields Group and other organizations. "Our participation is an ideal way to help teach the next generation of environmental stewards," says group Chair Doris Whitfield.


Amid the malls and subdivisions of Los Angeles, Rose MacHardy has found her conservation calling: taking a stand against sprawl. "When I moved here, I wasn't an environmentalist," says MacHardy, now a member of the Sierra Club's Ballona Wetlands Task Force. "But when I looked at what would be going under concrete with the Playa Vista development, I realized that I needed to work to save Ballona."

At the Club's well-attended town-hall meetings, MacHardy and other activists have rallied opposition to the Playa Vista project. The development would bring 13,000 residential units, 5.6 million square feet of commercial space, 190,000 commuters, and 10 tons of daily air pollution into Ballona's wetlands and wildflower fields, threatening the brown pelicans, snowy egrets, and monarch butterflies that dwell there. But the development's financial outlook took a big hit in July when entertainment giant DreamWorks announced it was pulling out of the project. "Everyone thinks that Los Angeles is a goner," MacHardy says, "but there's a real chance to save the last remaining coastal wetlands."


If coal-mining interests had their way, the top of Kentucky's Black Mountain would be gone by now. In the environmentally devastating procedure known as "mountaintop removal," hills are bulldozed to expose the coal beneath. (See "Coal Miners' Slaughter," November/December 1998.) Black Mountain, the Bluegrass State's highest point-home not just to Kentucky's only northern hardwood forest but also to the Cumberland River's headwaters-was the earth-movers' next target.

But outcry from the Sierra Club's Cumberland Chapter, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and other concerned citizens saved "Big Black," as the locals call it, from the fate of numerous Appalachian hilltops in neighboring West Virginia. In May, coal companies agreed to halt strip-mining on the higher reaches of Black Mountain. The high-elevation forest habitat will also be protected from logging, thanks to a related deal in which the state will purchase all timber above 3,800 feet.

Great North American Prairie: BORDER SHOWDOWN

Night could turn into day for the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi, two nocturnal cats that inhabit south Texas' lower Rio Grande Valley, if the Immigration and Naturalization Service continues to implement "Operation Rio Grande." The proposal calls for floodlights along 49 miles of the Rio Grande, new fences on the Brownsville border, the conversion of dirt roads into all-weather ones, and triple the current number of border-patrol agents.

In an attempt to protect the region and its 90,000-acre Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the Sierra Club has filed suit against the INS and joined Defenders of Wildlife and 30 other environmental and human-rights organizations to protest the operation. "It's not right for one arm of government to undo a refuge project that another arm has been working on for twenty years," says Jim Chapman, chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Group.

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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