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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.

by Jennifer Hattam

Pacific Coast: One Highway's Toll

On monthly nature walks through the rolling hills of Orange County, California, Karl Warkomski teaches visitors how to identify native plants. He also recruits them to battle the proposed Foothill South Toll Road. "This area is a microcosm of all that's endangered here--coastal sage scrub, native oaks, perennial bunchgrasses--and the toll road is going to completely isolate it from the rest of the ecosystem," says Warkomski, an Angeles Chapter volunteer.

The Sierra Club has formed the Friends of the Foothills coalition to oppose the four-lane highway, which would threaten bobcats, gray foxes, and California red-legged frogs, and pollute San Mateo Creek, where endangered steelhead trout were recently found. "It's an out-of-sight, out-of-mind area," Warkomski says. "But once people see it, they become passionate about saving it."

Across Canada: The Waste of Four Years

When Sierra Youth Coalition member Yuill Herbert enrolled at Mount Allison University, a small liberal-arts school in Sackville, New Brunswick, he was dismayed by the styrofoam products used at his freshman-orientation barbecue. Herbert linked up with like-minded campus activists and spent the next two years convincing the school's board of regents to go green.

An environmental audit conducted by the students found that the university uses 1.22 sheets of paper every second and sends 219 pounds of waste per student to landfill sites each year. As Mt. Allison works toward reducing waste by 80 percent by the year 2020, as well as switching to renewable energy sources, strengthening environmental curriculum, and adopting socially responsible investing policies, Herbert will be helping the Sierra Youth Coalition introduce similar policies at schools across Canada. For advice on greening your school, contact Sustainable Campuses project coordinator Regina Flores at (888) 790-7393 or

Great Lakes: Luxury Homes? Humbug!

To Bob Duda, the impact of sprawl isn't just a theoretical problem. "I live by the Rouge River, which is synonymous with pollution, thanks to damage by industry and sprawl," says Duda, a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Southeast Michigan Group.

So Duda didn't think twice before joining the fight against a proposed luxury-home and golf-course development at Humbug Marsh, a 400-acre upland woods and wetlands area that provides habitat for eagles and osprey, a migration stop for songbirds, and a spawning ground for walleye and other game fish. Members of the Sierra Club helped pack hearings and inundate local officials with 2,000 public comments. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality barely budged from its support of the development, suggesting that a six-foot-high fence between the homes and the marsh would provide adequate protection for nature. But in September, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied the developer's permit application in response to the outcry.

Atlantic Coast: Nightmare on Frederick Street

When community activist Clotilda Yakimchuk visited Frederick Street in Sydney, Cape Breton Island, she was appalled by what she saw. "There was a black, tarlike ooze coming up out of the soil in the residents' basements," says Yakimchuk, a member of the Club's Environmental Quality Strategy Team. The culprit? A now-defunct coal-processing facility that produced coke for steel manufacturing and released arsenic, tar, and benzene. The neighborhood is also dangerously close to the Sydney Tar Ponds, a tidal estuary that holds 770,000 tons of toxic sludge-35 times the amount in New York's Love Canal.

Although the Sydney area has the highest rates of lung, breast, and stomach cancer in the country, Frederick Street remains polluted because Canada has no laws mandating the cleanup of toxic sites. But the Sierra Club of Canada is connecting residents with legal and health services and lobbying for national cleanup and relocation guidelines. Thanks in part to its efforts, Nova Scotia gave funds to ten families to move out of the neighborhood in May, the first relocations in the history of this ecodisaster.

American Southeast: Happy as Clams

Five years ago, the city of St. Petersburg dumped 5.5 million gallons of raw sewage into Clam Bayou, one of the last undisturbed mangrove stands in Pinellas County. "When that happened, I knew it was time for me to get off my sofa," says Suncoast Group Chair Pat Kiesylis. "Ours is the most densely populated county in Florida, so large green spaces like Clam Bayou are to die for." Kiesylis and her group spoke at city hearings and got local residents to send 5,000 postcards to city officials, demanding that the land be purchased as parkland. In August, their hard work paid off. The Southwest Florida Water Management District bought an 86-acre parcel on the east shore of Clam Bayou, preserving the area for its bald eagles, manatees, river otters, roseate spoonbills, and wood storks. Bolstered by their victory, activists are now working to protect adjacent parcels along the serene shoreline.

Great Basin/High Desert: Guardians of the Wilderness

Mark Clemens' idea of a good weekend is searching for illegal roads and soil disturbances in Utah's redrock wildlands. "Surveying these spectacular canyons and buttes doesn't feel like a chore to me," says Clemens, an activist with the Utah Valley Group and a member of the Club's Adopt-a-Wilderness Program. "It's such expansive, solitary, colorful country that I love to go there every chance I can." But Clemens' adopted unit in the San Rafael Swell area is threatened by off-road vehicles, which tear up vegetation and delicate cryptobiotic soils.

Documenting and reporting such activity to the Bureau of Land Management is a key task for "adopters," along with conducting service projects and researching their area's ecology and history. "Being an adopter gives you a sense of accomplishment and a strong connection with the land," Clemens says. To adopt an area of proposed Utah wilderness, contact organizer Marc Heileson at (801) 467-9294 or

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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