In the effort to preserve our wild legacy, tenacity pays off. The Sierra Club recently won hard-fought wilderness campaigns by working with communities near some of our last unspoiled places.
When Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sponsored a bill to preserve public lands in her state, she urged that each potential wilderness area be "adopted" by an individual or a group to build local support. Lynn Ryan of the Club's Redwood Chapter jumped at the chance to inventory roadless parcels belonging to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. "We explained to neighboring landowners that they could still graze cattle and fight fires in wilderness while preserving wildlife habitat," says Ryan. Club volunteers also helped craft a House version of the bill. Their work bore fruit last September when Congress passed the Northern California Coastal Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, which protects some 275,000 acres, including the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the Lower 48.
Meanwhile, Club activists on the East Coast were pushing their own wilderness bills. "We used a study that showed tourism dollars generated by wilderness far outweigh any competing source of revenue," says Vermont Chapter chair John Harbison. Volunteers went door-to-door, focusing on how wilderness could economically benefit towns near national forests; their efforts helped double the wilderness acreage originally proposed by the Forest Service. In New Hampshire, Club members and ad hoc groups also lobbied hard for specific parcels, and state chapter conservation chair Jim Sconyers coordinated Club comments on the forest-management plan.
The two states combined their legislation and succeeded in passing the New England Wilderness Act last December. The bill preserves 76,500 acres in all--42,000 in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest and 34,500 in New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest. With a new congressional leadership, the Club is now working to protect more wild places in Arizona, Southern California, and Utah.
Jim Watters was a giant of a man--and not just in the size 15 hiking boots he filled with gusto.
Before his death on January 12, Watters, 79, served the Sierra Club's Outings program for more than 40 years, including 29 years chairing the Knapsack Subcommittee. This group carries on the tradition of the Club's early High Trips, though on a much smaller scale, by leading backpacking excursions in California and Nevada
Watters worked to ensure his Sierra Nevada trips left no trace: In 1963, he led the first Club outing that used backpacking stoves, to help lessen the impact of firewood gathering and fire rings. He also pioneered smaller group sizes to give participants more-intimate encounters with the land. Watters's contributions and sense of humor--he would don formal wear (above) and serve hors d'oeuvres on trips--will be missed. --Charles Hardy
How do young urban people connect with nature? For the 30-and-under contributors to A Leaky Tent Is a Piece of Paradise (Sierra Club Books, $20), the answer is often unexpected. Christine DeLucia follows the seasonal life cycles in Massachusetts's historic Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Alex P. Kellogg reexamines his views on the environment and racial identity after visiting Africa, and Hugh Ryan learns how to set up a tent in a Tennessee forest--with the aid of a six-foot-two drag queen. To order a copy, call (415) 977-5600 or visit sierraclub.org/books.
Our Ears Are Burning
"In lieu of traditional gifts, Mr. Houdek and Ms. Papenfuss, an elementary school teacher, plan to ask guests to sign up for renewable energy and reforestation projects to counteract their energy consumption or to donate to the Sierra Club [Houdek's employer] or other environmental groups." --New York Times, "How Green Was My Wedding," February 11
Fixing Our Future
In the January/February issue, Sierra reported on the need to slash U.S. carbon dioxide emissions (see "The Fix"). Since then the Sierra Club has adopted as its official global-warming strategy a report by the American Solar Energy Society. "Tackling Climate Change in the U.S." explores how boosting energy efficiency and renewables like wind and solar could lower greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 80 percent by 2050. For more information, visit sierraclub.org/roadmap.
Mississippi: Cry Me a River
Mississippi's Pascagoula River, nicknamed the "Singing River" because its waters are said to produce a ghostly chanting sound, may be wailing the blues if DuPont keeps polluting it. Last September, the company's First Chemical plant began releasing wastewater containing perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA), a Teflon byproduct and likely carcinogen, into the river. The Sierra Club's Gulf Coast Group is mobilizing local opposition and lobbying for a statewide moratorium on such dumping.
Although DuPont maintains that PFOA is safe, in 2005 the company agreed to pay more than $100 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by West Virginia and Ohio residents who lived near a DuPont facility and whose drinking water was contaminated with PFOA. In February, the company announced it would phase out the chemical by 2015. "I'm cautiously optimistic," says Brenda Songy, chair of the Gulf Coast Group. "This is further evidence that even DuPont realizes there is a problem with PFOAs."--Monica Woelfel
California: A River Reborn
Last December, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa turned a knob at an Inyo County dam and, with the resulting surge of water, initiated the restoration of the Lower Owens River's once lush habitat. Just east of the Sierra Nevada, the Owens Valley has been transformed into a parched dust bowl by decades of water diversions to L.A. aqueducts. For more than 15 years, the Sierra Club's Toiyabe Chapter and such groups as the Owens Valley Committee have negotiated and litigated to help bring about the largest river restoration in the West. The chapter will continue to push for an adequate ecosystem-management plan. "One of the big goals," says the Club's Mark Bagley, "is to see riparian forest come back along the river." --M.W.
Colorado: Save Earth! Win Prizes!
This spring 100 eco-conscious residents of Boulder, Colorado, agreed to lower their energy usage by 25 percent within a year. The initiative, launched by local environmental education group ConservED Project, is designed as a model for other cities to adopt the group's Low-Carbon Lifestyle program. Participants, including members of the Sierra Club's Indian Peaks Group, will receive an in-home energy-use audit and efficiency tips and will chart their progress online. Whoever saves the most energy by the end of the year will win prizes. "People learn how to make changes over time," explains Diane Dandeneau, executive director of the ConservED Project. "They think, 'I'm being tested, so I'd better do something!'" --Maria Trombetta
Join the Sierra Club's Take Action Network at sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you can send e-mails and faxes to your elected officials.
For the latest on Club campaigns, go to sierraclub.org/email, where you can sign up for our biweekly e-newsletter, the Sierra Club Insider, and other Club e-mail communications.
To make your voice count on environmental issues, the Sierra Club recommends that you write or call (rather than e-mail) your national elected officials at:
Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
U.S. Capitol Switchboard
Photo by Barney Johnson
Illustration by Lloyd Dangle; used with permission.