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 Elisa Freeling
Pollution Doesn't Pay
After four years of trying to get the Magnesium Corporation of America to stop poisoning Utah's air and water, the Utah Chapter won a major victory when the state finally forced the refinery to cut its chlorine emissions by 90 percent. Responsible for about 80 percent of the nation's point-source chlorine emissions and 90 percent of Utah's toxic air emissions, MagCorp has consistently topped the government's annual Toxics Release Inventory for spewing some 58 million pounds of chlorine each year.
The chapter pressured both the polluter and the state's Division of Air Quality while educating the public about the effects of chlorine in the environment. (For example, employees of MagCorp take a company bus to the plant so that their cars won't rust in the chlorinated air.) "It was helpful to have a strong group working on this: scientists and a media specialist along with the organizers and activists," says Scott Endicott, co-chair of the chapter's Citizens Against Chlorine Contamination committee. MagCorp's officials complained in local papers that the group was "picking on" them. When Endicott's committee informed the press that the company's owner was building a mansion in New York's Hamptons with a 200-car garage and 30 bathrooms, however, the corporation lost its claim to victimhood.
Chlorine wasn't MagCorp's only problem. After Endicott's group pushed for dioxin testing at the refinery site, perched on the rim of the Great Salt Lake, high levels of the persistent carcinogen were found in ditches and waste-water ponds. "The discovery of dioxin was the nail in the coffin," says Endicott. "Now the EPA has stepped in to monitor the cleanup." Ironically, MagCorp's new technology will save electricity as it reduces pollution, thereby improving both the environment and, in the long run, the corporation's bottom line.
A librarian and writer by day, Chris Bolgiano spends her free time searching for scat. No, it's not just a curious hobby; Bolgiano, wildlife issues chair of the Virginia Chapter and vice president of the Eastern Cougar Foundation, is gathering evidence of cougars in the eastern United States. Known variously as pumas, panthers, or mountain lions, cougars are fairly common in the West (see "The Lion and the Lamb," page 32), but not in the East. The last documented killing of one took place in Maine in 1938. The eastern cougar, Puma concolor couguar, was placed on the endangered species list in 1973 along with its cousin, the Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), and the Fish and Wildlife Service now considers the eastern cougar extinct. But Bolgiano and other wildlife authorities are convinced from scat, tracks, and the occasional carcass that the cats are making a comeback. "If we can prove cougars are living and breeding again in the East, we're hoping to get them protected," says Bolgiano, author of Mountain Lion: An Unnatural History of Pumas and People. The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that the evidence collected is from released or escaped pets, and that biologists can't prove that they're the eastern cougar subspecies eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Bolgiano points out that when agency officials learned it was impossible to genetically distinguish a Florida panther from another cougar subspecies, the agency invoked the "similarity of appearances" clause of the act in the state of Florida: If it looks like a panther, it's illegal to kill it. "We want that clause extended to all cougars living in the wild in the East," says Bolgiano. Funded by the Sierra Club, Bolgiano has produced a pamphlet about the animal, including advice on protecting yourself in encounters and distinguishing a cougar's attack on livestock from a coyote's. For the brochure text and information on the campaign to protect the eastern cougar, visit www.geocities.com/RainForest/Vines/1318.
Diving with a mask and fins in Indiana's murky Crooked Lake in 1950, Dave Raney never dreamed that his love of the underwater world would land him on a presidential task force. But after he moved to Oahu and joined the Sierra Club, Raney became an advocate for coral reef protection, which led to his appointment by President Clinton to the Coral Reef Task Force. And in December, when Clinton announced the designation of the largest protected area in the nation-84 million acres of coral reef around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands-Raney was there to shake his hand.
Thanks to the efforts of Raney and other activists working with KAHEA, the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, 70 percent of the nation's coral reefs are now protected in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, a string of islands, atolls, pinnacles, and seamounts that lies northwest of Hawaii's main islands. The largely untouched refuge is home to some 7,000 species, including the threatened green sea turtle, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal (named for its solitary nature), at least 19 different seabirds, and thousands of species of fish and invertebrates.
For Raney, the work's not over; now that the plan is in place, he'll likely serve on the advisory council for the management of the area. "In surfing, when the wave comes, you catch it," he says. "When the coral reef initiative came along, it was a big wave. I've been riding it ever since."
New Under the Sun
In Southern California, sprawl from Palm Springs was eating into nearby mountains, where endangered bighorn sheep and threatened desert tortoises roam among natural hot springs and the world's largest native fan-palm oases. To prevent development from devouring the sensitive desert terrain, members of the San Gorgonio Chapter and other activists worked with Representative Mary Bono (R) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D), who sponsored a bill that passed both houses in October, creating the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The only monument created by Congress during President Clinton's tenure, the designation protects 272,000 acres of canyons, mountains, and desert that range from below sea level to 10,800 feet above. For months, the determined desertkeepers negotiated the legislation's language, which allows grazing but bans mining and development. "The best thing about the congressional action," says chapter member Joan Taylor, "is that it can't be changed by a new administration. The protection is permanent."
To spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area, contact Elisa Freeling at Sierra,
85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail elisa.freeling@
sierraclub.org; fax (415) 977-5794.
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