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  May/June 2001 Issue
Features: 100 Years of Sierra Club Outings:
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Learning to Walk in the Wilderness
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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

Hartford Current
Not content to wait for a green energy choice when their state deregulated its electricity industry last year, members of the Connecticut Chapter took power into their own hands. Joining forces with other organizations to form the Connecticut Energy Cooperative, the group created its own renewable-energy package, dubbed Eco-Watt.

Two-thirds of Eco-Watt's energy comes from a pair of small-scale hydroelectric plants; the rest is from a wind-powered plant and a landfill that burns the methane from its garbage. "The co-op is still in the start-up phase," says chapter member David Jackson, who helped organize the not-for-profit and now represents the chapter on its board of directors. "We're working to connect Club members and others to renewable energy by letting them know they have a choice." Though the co-op offers electricity from conventional sources as well, two-thirds of those who've signed up since the operation began last November have opted for strictly renewable power.

Eco-Watt is certified "Green-e" by the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions and, according to chapter member Jack Kaplan, it costs only about a penny and a half more per kilowatt-hour than the dirtier alternative. And the co-op could end up saving customers money: It also promotes conservation by selling low-energy light bulbs and offering advice on how to cut household energy consumption. Joining costs Club members $20, one-third off the usual residential charge, and about 400 Sierrans have signed up so far. Still the state's only supplier of green energy, the co-op is attracting others, including the town government of Chester, whose 3,800 residents will get a discount if they sign up, too.

Let There Be Dark
While most people are aware of the problems of air, water, and noise pollution, many are in the dark about light. When nighttime outdoor lights send glare up and out instead of down, they don't just waste energy, they drown out the sky, too. "People come to Arches National Park and say, 'I just saw the Milky Way for the first time!'" says Lillian Makeda, a member of the Utah Chapter's Glen Canyon Group and cofounder of Grand County Citizens for Quality Lighting. But recently visitors to Arches have complained that the lights from nearby Moab interfere with stargazing.

To ensure that the light show comes from the heavens and not gas stations, Makeda and others are attempting to get both the city of Moab and the county to pass ordinances requiring businesses to shield their outdoor lights at night to conserve energy and to "minimize light trespass, glare, light pollution, and sky glow." Some proprietors are resistant, citing safety concerns, but Makeda says the ordinances allow for proper security lighting. Plus, she points out, lights with a more focused glow will provide better illumination and save businesses money. The rules would apply to residents' lights, too, but before you say "bah humbug," holiday lights are exempted.

For more information on light pollution, see, or visit the International Dark-Sky Association.

In a League of Their Own
From the Super Bowl to concerts to monster-truck rallies, members of the Florida Chapter's Tampa Bay Group are at every event at Raymond James Stadium, collecting bottles and cans. About eight years ago, Club members started noticing how much glass and aluminum tailgaters were tossing out with their trash. Club volunteers began showing up with plastic bags to gather recyclables, so the Tampa Stadium Authority appointed them official recyclers. The Sierrans have become such a fixture, "fans now know us. They'll bring us big bags of bottles across the parking lot," says Sharon Segal-Elazar, who coordinates the program. In return for their efforts, the stadium makes a substantial donation to the Group, providing half its yearly funding.

If that weren't motivation enough, volunteers get free admission--even to the Super Bowl. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't make it to Super Bowl XXXV, but since it was held at their stadium, the Group worked at the big game. "The mix of the NFL and the environment may seem incongruous," says member Philip Compton, "but that's the cool thing about it." The 15 volunteers covered the concourse and the luxury boxes. "It was a demonstration project," Compton says. "We wanted to show how easy recycling is. If you can do it at the big, crazy Super Bowl, it can be done anywhere and everywhere."

Segal-Elazar and Compton say they're the only Sierra Club group in an NFL city that recycles at stadiums. The program has so many benefits, they'd love to see it replicated by other chapters and groups. And the best part, both say, is "it's a lot of fun."For ideas on how to start a recycling effort at your local stadium, call the Florida Chapter at (727) 824-8813.

As Good As Gold
Tucked in the northwest corner of Nevada, the Black Rock Desert and High Rock Canyon look much the same as they did when the forty-niners journeyed through. This landscape of jagged mountains, desert playas, and massive canyons has yielded woolly-mammoth skeletons and still bears the wagon ruts and axle-grease graffiti of the pioneers. Having spent the past decade working to protect the untarnished region, members of Nevada's Toiyabe Chapter scored a major victory last December when Congress established the 1.2-million-acre Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails National Conservation Area. The designation allows for mixed uses of the land: Events that take place on the flat, barren playa--like Burning Man, the arts festival and bonfire that attracts 25,000 participants each Labor Day--can continue. But in other, more sensitive areas, which shelter antelope and sage grouse, bighorn sheep and raptors, protections will be stricter.

"Our strategy was to link the wilderness landscape with historic trails preservation," says Rose Strickland, the chapter's public-lands issues chair. The activists added ten wilderness areas visible from the Applegate-Lassen Emigrant Trail, a pioneer route during the gold rush, to their proposed bill. The bold move led historical groups and wilderness advocates to join the fight, and their gamble paid off handsomely: The legislation doubles the amount of wilderness in Nevada, setting aside a total of 757,000 acres. "The essence of the place is wilderness," Strickland says. "From a satellite at night, it's a huge dark space. Its remoteness is awe-inspiring."

Man's Inhumanity to Manatees
Though the slow-moving, sofa-size West Indian manatee has no natural enemies, humans--with fast boats, fish hooks, and canal locks--have pushed the docile creature to the brink of extinction. To save the sea cows, which need Florida's warm, shallow waters to survive, the Florida Chapter sued the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Army Corps of Engineers. The settlement reached in January requires the FWS to establish new refuges and come up with a recovery plan. It also orders the Corps to assess the cumulative impact of all its projects in manatee habitat.

"We're trying to get the federal agencies to enforce the laws already on the books," says Helen Spivey, manatee-issues chair for the chapter. "This settlement is the manatees' last chance." Like the manatee, Spivey is a native Floridian who also cochairs the Save the Manatee Club with singer Jimmy Buffet. The manatee has another well-known booster: Florida governor Jeb Bush, who calls the creature his "favorite mammal."

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@; fax (415) 977-5794.

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