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Hiking through History | Our Ears Are Burning | Join | Go Online | Express Yourself | Home Front

Putting a New Face on the Club

Guided by her experiences as a westerner and a woman, Jennifer Ferenstein takes the helm

by Jennifer Hattam

When the Sierra Club Board of Directors took a "toxic tour" of Louisiana's Cancer Alley, Jennifer Ferenstein met an inspiring group of older, African-American women activists. "They had so much perseverance and such a sense of place," Ferenstein says. "They knew that they deserved a healthy environment, that their children should be able to come back and live where they had built homes and communities." Now the Sierra Club's newest president--and only the fourth woman to hold that position--Ferenstein, 36, wants to broaden the organization's constituency to include more people like those she met in New Orleans. "I'm hoping to use my position to put a slightly different face on the Sierra Club," says Ferenstein, who lives in Missoula, Montana.

A lifelong westerner, Ferenstein grew up in Berkeley, California, majored in biology at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, then developed her advocacy acumen while pursuing a master's degree in environmental studies at the University of Montana. "I liked Missoula from the second I got there," Ferenstein says. "In bigger cities, you feel removed from the decisions that affect your life. Here you can just go in and talk to the mayor. That direct access to decision-makers made me feel like what I do in the community could make a difference."

Ferenstein wants to share this empowering experience by encouraging the Sierra Club to listen to women, young people, urban dwellers, and others whose concerns are not always reflected in the priorities of the environmental movement. As an example of the type of coalition-building she hopes to promote, Ferenstein proudly notes that northern plains tribes working to protect Weatherman Draw have asked the Club to get more involved in preserving this Montana valley and other sacred sites (see "Home Front,"). The key is letting affected communities take the lead, Ferenstein says. "We need to figure out what the American people want and how to help them get it."

Our Ears Are Burning
"Every time Bush even hints that he wants to take on some greenish sacred cow, he reawakens another contingent of environmentalists. Al Gore would have talked them into a trance; Bush has them leaping and screaming and reaching for the telephone to alert the nearest branch of the Sierra Club." --Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2001

"President George W. Bush has yet to say which charity will get his rebate check, but it's probably not the Sierra Club." --Newsweek, September 3, 2001

To join the Sierra Club activist network, write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail Members receive a free subscription to the Planet monthly newsletter and Sierra Club Currents, a twice-weekly e-mail update.

Go Online
Visit the Club's Web site at To sign up for our other e-mail lists and forums, go to

Express Yourself
To make your voice count on environmental issues, write or call your elected officials at:
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
U.S. Capitol Switchboard
(202) 224-3121
Contact President Bush at:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.
Washington, DC 20500
Comment line (202) 456-1414
Fax (202) 456-2461

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