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General comments on the March/April 2009 issue

I have been a member some 40 years, and in the past was very critical of Sierra. Too much gloom and doom. Just wanted to say the last edition was fun reading, aside from being informative. Congratulations. Hope you can keep it up.
Dave Bridge


When I opened your March/April issue I was overwhelmed by the color and busyness. By the time I'd finished going through the magazine, I'd gotten somewhat used to it, but I feel that your designer has gone too far. The colors, sidebars, and boxes distracted this reader from the text. Some of the text boxes were reversed out of colors that were too light. Other than that, I was impressed. Your bicycle feature interested me as someone who used to commute 20 miles daily on my bike. The elephants on the last page were great.

I have been a member for more than thirty years and edited the San Diego chapter's newsletter for several years. Once, during that period, I wrote a letter to your editors suggesting that Sierra liven-up its format. That has obviously happened.
Wallace Danielson
San Diego


In these difficult days it is hard for me to see my donation going for a vapid glossy magazine.

Let the advertisers try to sell us more stuff. Why have a whole column on trying to get us to buy more junk ... such as a $9000 golf cart or a $15 knife, fork and spoon set. It is all this buying that is killing the planet.

And much of what you write seems wrong. For example Carl Pope writes that a zero energy billing will not have an electric bill. This is wrong! Look at the electric bill for your office. You will see that only some of the bill is based on kWh usage. (That share will grow as more customers generate their own energy needs.) There are several other fees that you will keep paying even if you do, on a net basis, generate as much energy on-site as you need per year. Also there will be months where a net zero building will need to buy kWhs--mostly in the northern half of the county.

Then there was your comparison of potato chips. Why have that article here? And you state the some of Kettle Chips' power needs come from wind and solar. Well how much, 100% or 0.001%? It makes a difference.

What's with the poodle with pink goggles?

There are so many real issues, so much real information that needs to be shared with members? I can't read this anymore and I am only on page 22.
Niels Wolter
Madison, Wisconsin


Twenty-six seems to be an important number in the March/April issue of Sierra. I counted no less than 26 references to sustainability, conserving energy, and global warming, from Carl Pope's column on page 6, referring to our energy crisis, through page 75, where there's an item about Florida ruling a 22% reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2012. This is all terrific.

What isn't terrific are the 26 international vacation trips promoted on pages 58 to 61. And they're not nearby, running from Chile and Costa Rica through Nepal, New Zealand, and Thailand. Not exactly next door, or even next state. And that doesn't count the 300 trips within the United States! How sustainable are these activities? How do they contribute to energy conservation? How many tons of carbon dioxide can be attributable to each of the hundreds of members participating in these activities? I'm not trying to put a guilt trip on anyone, but if the Sierra Club truly cares about conservation, sustainability, and minimizing our energy usage to alleviate the dire threat of the climate crisis, these trips must end.

Seems just a bit hypocritical to me.
Len Frenkel
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


"Killing King Coal"

While I agree that our energy future should not include coal-based electricity, I question the "over my dead body" approach the club seems to advocate. Currently 50% of our electricity is derived from coal with many plants lacking mercury and sulfur scrubbers. Creating a standoff makes solving any of these, and the fact that the plants are very inefficient, problems unlikely. The plants themselves are highly profitable and can pay a significant carbon tax, as electricity prices will go up with any carbon price leaving them more room to maneuver. Maybe it's time to plan coals demise instead of prematurely dance on the grave.
Frank Zeman
New York City


"Bikes!"

I saw the Bikes! article and I wanted you to catch a glimpse of me and my artbike: the FishBike. The FishBike is seen regularly at environmental activities in the greater Boston, MA, area. I built this bike about ten years ago for Bikes Not Bombs, a truly great organization combining environmental awareness, social and economic development and international relations!) in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Its next planned ride is in the Earth Day parade of the Musketaquid Arts and Environment program at Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts in Concord, MA, an arts/environment organization that should be linked to you somehow, in my opinion).

Keep up the good work.
Bill Turville
Arlington, Massachusetts


Instead of your cover showing a practical bicycle doing some real transporting of the human body, by the most efficient means on earth, you show someone on a completely impractical bicycle, perpetuating the idea that bicycles are toys for children and children do stupid things on bicycles. How could this cover make a nonbeliever in bicycles want to read it and take the bicycle seriously.
Ron Cipriani
Tucson, Arizona


Yeah, I've long been bugged by the Sierra Club's overall attitude towards transportation alternatives. I've read entire articles about the latest "clean car" whatever that never mention that you can make any car clean by leaving it at home and choosing any number of better alternatives.

Even when they try to cover bikes, it kind of falls flat, imho.

First, there's the weird wording on the cover: "BIKES CAN'T SAVE THE WORLD (but they can help)." Fine, bikes can't save the world all by themselves, but can anything that the Sierra Club promotes? Why are bikes singled out for this "cute" treatment? Then the majority of the photos are of the "weird and wonderful" variety as opposed to pictures of people just using regular bikes for their original boring old purpose of getting from place to place. The interview with Penalosa is good but very brief, while the only full-length article is on mountain biking.

Finally, a common theme of most of the organizations featured in "Paint That Bike Red" is reclaiming bikes and providing them to underprivileged people here and in other countries. Which is extremely laudable from every perspective, and I wish there were more programs like them, but does it send a subtle message that biking is a transportation mode for people who have no "better" options?

Are there opportunities at the national level for biking orgs to work with enviro groups like Sierra Club? They have huge constituencies who should be quite receptive to messages about active transportation if they are presented in the right way. Anyone working with them at the local level?
Kris Talley
wbwc.org


A trivial matter to be sure, but the choice of pale yellow for some of the text, particularly the photo captions, in the article "Bikes!" is unfortunate. Yellow is the most difficult color to see in a rainbow lineup in any case. The photo captions in this article are virtually illegible except in the brightest of lights.
Sarah Jayne
Irvine California


Looking at the pictures accompanying the Sierra Bikes! article, I couldn't help noting the disconnect between the composition of Sierra Club membership and the folks shown riding bikes. Most of the Sierra Club members I'm familiar with are substantially older than the folks pictured on bikes, and the reason may have to do with your concept of bike culture, and the bikes you show as broadening the appeal of human powered transportation and recreation.

Can a conference bike, a couch bike, a piano bike or a cruiser bike really be more relevant to your readership than the current crop of recumbent bikes and trikes that are keeping older people riding into their dotage, while attracting young riders for the effortless distance-riding they enable? I was 52 when I hung up my road bike for the last time due to the debilitating pains that came with each ride. In '04 I found a recumbent trike made in Florida (sold all over California; I'm surprised you haven't yet seen one) and have since put more pain-free miles on that trike than in all of my previous lifetime. I was able to convince my 87-year-old father to join me on a nearly identical trike, and he too became a distance rider like he never imagined, although primarily electric-assisted. He became the envy of his Sierra Club Sacramento hiking circle.

In the San Francisco Bay area you'll find the Recumbents of the East Bay Yahoo riding group meeting on the S.F. Bay Trail out of El Cerrito, and in Sacramento you can ride with the Recumbent Riders of Sacramento Yahoo group, on the American River Parkway. Our numbers aren't large yet, but when you consider that most recumbent bikes and trikes are first encountered by accident or found on the internet, seldom if ever in a national magazine such as Sierra or Sunset, it's remarkable that we're growing as fast as we are.

Many recumbent styles are not mass-transit friendly due to size and configuration, but they are all bike-trail friendly. If you would like to cycle around Yosemite Valley without craning your neck to the sky, with a camera on your chest snapping pictures upwards at the canyon rim, the waterfalls, or the forest canopy tops, while comfortably seated, try a recumbent trike. I know my father and I and our trikes are featured in the home movies of many a Valley visitor. Please consider letting your older and younger readers know that they can resume riding in unrestrained comfort, and aren't yet at the end of their cycling years, like my father and I believed.
Richard Arnold


I have been a member off and on, and recently signed up for the monthly bank deduction. The 2 magazines I have received have been great promoting bikes! (I bike commute to work.) I have left them in my employers' break room for others to read, as it may help some of those sitting on the fence.

Last weekend I finally splurged an purchased a nice road bike used from Craigslist and am now looking to purchase a nice bike jersey and wind/rain jacket/vest combo. Do y'all have any plans to do any articles on organic/recycled/friendly earth manufactured bicycling apparel, or better yet, can you recommend any local Sierra Club (Earthday/anything conservational) that has bike jerseys for sale, so I can show my support while pedaling on these redneck conservative Texan roads?

If you do a cycling gear article or can recommend any gear, please include some items in extended sizes. Not all cyclists are shaped like the stereotypical one. (I am plus size).

While looking for a nonprofit-environmental-supporting bike jersey, I found this blog that might be of note: Follow Nathan.
Dawn


There is a "retired" guy in West Palm Beach who has recycled (no pun) bikes for many years and has given them to needy kids in the area, mostly at Xmas time. I have forgotten his name, but I am sure the local newspaper, the Palm Beach Post could put you in touch with him as he is a great story!
Roy Chernock


In your "Paint That Bike Red" article, you neglected to include a section on Bikes Not Bombs, an organization in the Boston area that has been effectively promoting bicycles, environmental stewardship, and social justice for the past 25 years. You can find detailed information describing their work on their Web site (www.bikesnotbombs.ort). I encourage the writers and editors of Sierra to learn more about the Bikes Not Bombs organization and their work in the Boston area and throughout the world.
John Silletto


"Because It Hurts"

Regarding "Up to Speed," I'm not sure if you're implying mountain biking is good or bad, but think on this: riding isn't just fun, it's almost a religion; we find peace and fulfillment being outdoors. As a group, either we were already environmentalists when we took up mountain biking (such as myself), or we become environmentalists (even the young hot shots). The two go hand-in-hand.
Diana Hulboy
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Here in Monroe County, New York, the environmental community has worked very hard to preserve parks and trails for now and for our future. Pressures to "share" the use of the parks on the part of mountain biking interests have been difficult to surmount, and it is likely that changes will soon be made to parks rules to allow biking on walking trails--such changes to park laws are a betrayal of public trust. Preservation of natural park environments, particularly near urban settings, should be the most important priority over recreation, but it appears that Sierra Club has allied itself with the powerful IMBA/bike lobby, and the Sierra Club is unlikely to champion priorities more valuable than the monetary. This month's feature article has statements (seen in bike manufacturer boilerplate) touting the benefits and low impact of mountain biking, along with dismissive and sarcastic comments about hiker-cyclist conflicts. This area has a large deaf and hard-of-hearing population who find the impending changes to our park trails very troubling.

I note that only one Sierra Club group, in Canada's British Columbia, was a signer of the Valhalla Wilderness Society's Principles of Parks, an elegant statement by 73 US and Canadian environmental groups.

I am extremely disappointed, and no longer wish to be a Sierra Club member.
Christine Sevilla
Monroe County, New York


"Research shows that mountain bikers and hikers do about the same damage to trails." I guess Peter Frick-Wright never looked behind him and saw the 10-foot-tall, 100-foot-long cloud of dust as he sped downhill. Or in wet terrain, he never noticed that a bike spits mud 10 feet across and over his head. Perhaps Peter never saw the "eyebrows" where mtbr's ride above the trail on a downhill to get a little thrill jump. I guess he never noticed how bikers ride around water bars and stairs? Did he know that bikers like to ride at night, disrupting animals with bright lights and noise during some of the creature's most important times? Do we want bikers riding on trails at night while campers are trying to sleep?

Since mountain bikers always oppose wilderness designation, why is the Sierra Club courting them? Do we really need 30 mph vehicles in Yosemite and other national park trails? That is the ultimate goal of mtbr's, and if you want their support that badly, then I will not renew next year. If you don't believe that total access is mtbr's holy grail, then you have never been to any of their meetings or read their web sites and posts. Bikes belong on designated bike paths and on off-road routes where other vehicles are allowed.

I am a volunteer trail worker in Marin County, birth of mountain biking, and I can't begin to tell you how much work has to be done to remove the damage done by mountain bikers.

BTW, I am a commute biker (3 road bikes!; nominated a few years ago for bike commuter of the year!) who enjoys riding off-road on our safe and wide fire roads with my (2!) mountain bikes.
Carlo V. Gardin
Fairfax, California


This article claimed "research shows that mountain bikers and hikers do about the same damage to trails." Of course, no such alleged "research" is cited.

A favorite myth of mountain bikers is that mountain biking is no more harmful to wildlife, people, and the environment than hiking, and that science supports that view. It's not true. To settle the matter once and for all, I read all of the research they cited, and wrote a review of the research on mountain biking impacts. I found that of the seven studies they cited, (1) all were written by mountain bikers, and (2) in every case, the authors misinterpreted their own data, in order to come to the conclusion that they favored. They also studiously avoided mentioning another scientific study (Wisdom et al.) which did not favor mountain biking, and came to the opposite conclusions.

Those were all experimental studies. Two other studies (by Dave White et al. and by Jeff Marion) used a survey design, which is inherently incapable of answering that question (comparing hiking with mountain biking). I only mention them because mountain bikers often cite them, but scientifically, they are worthless.

Mountain biking accelerates erosion, creates V-shaped ruts, kills small animals and plants on and next to the trail, drives wildlife and other trail users out of the area, and (worst of all) teaches kids that the rough treatment of nature is okay (it's NOT!). What's good about THAT?

For more information: Frequently Asked Questions about Mountain Biking.
Michael J. Vandeman
San Ramon, California


Why does the Sierra Club continue to promote mountain biking when it is harmful to the environment, the wildlife and plants, and hikers? Just last week a mountain biker chose to run into me instead of yielding. He then rode around me off the trail instead of dismounting.

In spite of what your article claims, there is easy-to-see evidence, on any trail they have been on, that they have been there. But worse, they grove the trails causing sprained ankles and tripping even after they have gone (not good for us senior citizens).
Bill Crane


Regarding your article on mountain biking Mt. Hood, "Because It Hurts": This attitude about nature supported by the Sierra Club has changed my mind about joining.

This article encourages a mentality of "man against nature", not man CONSERVING nature. There is documention of mountain biking's harmful effects on wildlife, natural resources, and other trail users, which is completely opposite of what the founding mission of the Sierra Club is supposed to be!

Aside from the damage a heavy, knobbed mountain bike tire causes on a trail, or worse, freeriding, the major difference between mountain bike users and hikers/equestrians is the SPEED and THRILLS they are seeking! This is NOT a compatible use and puts other trail users (who are out there to quietly enjoy nature), at risk.

A quote from the article: "We're now on a trail too narrow for two bikes side by side. Single track brings everything closer and accentuates the illusion of speed. We hug corners as clumps of paintbrush, buckwheat, and lupine flash by in bursts of red, white, and blue."

A trail too narrow for two bikes side by side does not meet any criteria for safe multi-use, and the rest of the article celebrates the desire for SPEED, again, not safety or concern for other trail users wildlife or vegetation. The statement that mountain biking causes no more damage than hiking is a blatant lie.

I resent mountain bikers using your magazine to promote their private, minority agenda. Replacing motor vehicle use with bicycling is where the bicycle can be used to benefit the environment. Taking bikes into nature has no environmental benefit whatsoever, and publishing articles like this only make the Club look ignorant and hypocritical. How can you support something that is banned in wilderness areas? Shame on your organization and magazine!
Karen Sullivan


"Goo Goo G'joob"

My eleven-year-old son and I are hot on the trail of what we hope will all be correct answers to your contest questions in the latest Sierra magazine issue. I hope you won't mind my pointing out--with reference to question #1--that the scientific name of the bird in question (assuming we are right that it is the Melodious Warbler) is not Latin, but Greek. I must admit I was a little perplexed by the phrase "its Latin name means multilingual" because the Latin for "multilingual" is, in effect, "multilingual"--or as close as makes little difference. I thought, "I wonder whether they meant Greek, ergo "polyglot." And in fact that does appear to be what you meant: the Hippolais polyglotta, or Melodious Warbler. Or that is our best guess, anyway. In any case, please excuse my possibly excessive pedantry--I am, in fact, a language teacher!

Thanks for a wonderful and intriguing contest, by the way--we don't mind whether or not we win: we're just having fun doing the scavenger hunt!
Barbara Romaine


"A Sandy Place to Stop Thinking"

I am currently weighing boycotting any further donations to your organization after reading "A Sandy Place to Stop Thinking" in this month's issue of Sierra.

In this article, regarding a family in Oman, the author chose briefly to address what I will generally refer to as women's' issues (which could better be referred to as the oppression of women in a country whose justice system is founded on Shar'ia law and whose cultural norms reduce women to chattel whose own face is not theirs to share), instead of leaving that out of the article entirely. If she had done the latter, I would -- of course -- have understood, since she may not have wanted to comment on her hosts in that way and, after all, Sierra Club is an environmental magazine. However, having raised the issue of women's' rights and oppression, the author chose to brush off this issue as "blah, blah, blah" (wow -- did I read that right?).

More disturbing, however, after noting that the woman in question covered her face throughout the meeting (plus had 10 children [ugh], and was nursing her grandchildren), the author found it relevant enough for two mentions that the woman in question was "beautiful." As if that were the key? It might interest the author to know that considering the physical attractiveness of a woman to be the end-all, be-all of her existence borders on misogyny. A woman can be oppressed, but it is ok as long as she fits her sex-object role? (And, yes, I'm aware the author is female, which is completely irrelevant to her capacity to be sexist or misogynist.) The author actually further contributed to the subjugation and objectification of this women through those comments, and it truly turned my stomach. I don't think I can fund such a publication anymore. I would like to stop receiving the magazine. Thank you.
Sarah North
Brooklyn, New York


"Anatomy of an Oil Spill"

I have just received the March-April issue of Sierra magazine. To my dismay, there is no mention of the world's worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl in this issue, the Dec. 22 TVA coal ash catastrophe in Tennessee.

On page 53, in your story about the 53,500-gallon oil spill in Nov. 2007, Sierra criticizes the Coast Guard for their "failure to grasp the severity of the spill" near San Francisco," and that story got seven pages.

The TVA spill was over 1 billion gallons - -or 20,000 times as large as the San Francisco spill -- and not even a paragraph in Sierra?

The activists working very hard on this TVA spill need support from America's leading environmental magazine.
Dave Cooper
Chair, Bluegrass Group (Lexington, Kentucky)
The Mountaintop Removal Road Show


I love your articles but was disappointed by "Anatomy of an Oil Spill." It started out with such a passive-aggressive tone that I was put off by the author.

The articles are usually so interesting and intelligent. Please leave the sarcastic jabs on the editing room floor.
Janet Haug
Alexandria, Virginia


"Create" (March/April 2009)

"Quite simply," Carl Pope informs us in "The Politics of Tomorrow," "we need to rebuild America," whatever that might mean, and asks "why not spend $100 billion...to insulate and retrofit homes to slash power bills permanently?" Why not spend $100 trillion? Why not $100 bazillion? I would urge us not to waste Congress's time promoting utopian whimsy and concentrate instead on figuring out how to get from here to there, real world kind of stuff. The Energy Department's budget has just been doubled by adding another $50 billion or so in the Stimulus Bill. As a former CFO of that department, I can promise you that spending that money quickly is going to be a real challenge. Spending it wisely is going to be harder yet.
Bruce Carnes
Springfield, Virginia


I'm writing to comment on one of the editorials in a recent edition of your magazine. It stated that we needed a government office to help guide people with regards to creating an energy-efficient home or place of business. In Oregon, we have such a government agency. It's called the Oregon Energy Trust. The OET evaluated our 1928 Portland bungalow, gave suggestions on how to make it more energy efficient and referred us to contractors who installed new insulation, new energy-efficient windows and photovoltaic/hot-water-heater solar power systems (thanks also to Imagin Energy, our excellent Solar Energy contractors).

The OET also helped us with significant amounts of financial assistance and our contractors assisted us in the preparation of our state and federal tax credit forms. Check out their website (www.energytrust.org) for an example of an excellent government-sponsored program that assists ordinary homeowners in achieving their goals of an energy efficient home. We were so pleased with the OET's excellent performance that my business partners and I are now investigating decreasing our business building's energy use and will start this project by contacting the Energy Trust for a preliminary evaluation. Thanks Energy Trust of Oregon!
Mischelle McMillan


"Enjoy" (March/April 2009)

Not complaining, just wanted to send you a letter about an article that Avital Binshtock wrote called "Slam-Dunk Snacks and Sips." In the beer part, Avital left out the beer Fat Tire amber ale by the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. The way I understand it, they are completely off-grid, use solar and wind, and recapture the methane from the brewing process, plus it's great beer. If all this is true, they deserve a mention also. Keep up the great work and great articles.
Tim Wohlgamuth
Findlay,Ohio


I hate to burst anyone's bubble here, but as a chip enthusiast and a new mom who obsessively reads all food labels and packaging, as well as any articles about food or toxins or recalls related to food and/or children, I must let you know that you may want to reconsider your number-one chip choice for "Slam-Dunk Snacks and Sips."

Apparently Kettle Chips have high levels of a cancer-causing agent, acrylamide.

I do not know what the most recent numbers show; there was a lawsuit and legislation and supposedly they will have to reduce these levels in the near future. I know that I was very sad when I read about this; those Kettle chips are GOOD, and the company has such good green behavior!

I hope I'm wrong about this, but I wanted to let you know.
Liz Belile


I have two comments about the March/April 2009 issue:

1. On page 12, you have included a photo of a backcountry kitchen sink full of sudsy water. I realize this is probably not your photo but a stock product photo; it should not have been used in your magazine. Soap suds have an enormous impact on wildlife, let alone are unsightly, even if washing "dishes at a safe distance from rivers and streams." There is no such thing as biodegradable soap or soap that is safe for use in the outdoors, so we need to educate people about that. People must learn to pack foods that are cleanable with water only.

2. Mr. Green's response to the overpopulation question (page 14) might consider a few additional points. First, it is important to note that U.S. women average about 2.1 children each, a reproduction and replacement rate that is healthy for a sustainable environment, society and economy. Second, while Japan is succeeding at reducing its population growth, it will ultimately face a labor shortage and eroding tax base to provide care for its elders. I'm not advocating they return to higher birth rates, but these issues must be anticipated and considered. Third, I would advocate that part of all family planning education (in the U.S. and abroad), must include a reality check of parenthood, so people are making educated decisions about the impact children will have on their lives, not the least which of being that children born in the U.S. cost $250,000 to raise, not even including college education.

There is still a major cultural assumption in the U.S. that married couples will reproduce, and my experience as a mom is that many parents seem surprised by the sacrifices they must accept with the decision to have children. If we taught women what pregnancy and labor are really like, what impact children will have on your career, health, financial, personal, social, and romantic life, I think we might help empower a lot more women in making informed decisions about childrearing and unconscious cultural expectations to do so.
Amie Glass
Santa Rosa, California


In response to Jeff in Denver, Colorado, who wrote this to Mr. Green: "I've yet to find a single person who is willing to forgo having children to bring sanity to our planet." I am a 23-year-old female graduate student who is adamant about not having children of my own someday. My foremost reason for choosing to remain childless is on behalf of responsibility for our planet's overpopulation crisis.
Norah McCarthy
Maryville, Missouri


I consider myself an environmental enthusiast and advocate. I recycle everything I can; I use cloth diapers; my car gets over 35 mpg. But you have to draw the line somewhere. I disagree that people should use the environment as an excuse to only have one or two children. There may be lots of reasons to have children or to limit how many we have. Fears that there is not enough food in the world or that my baby will produce too much CO2 in his lifetime is irrational. Instead of selfishly saying that enjoying the world is only for those of us who are already here, we ought to focus our attention instead on ways to responsibly enjoy nature and care for our world so that our posterity, no matter how many that may be, will also be able to enjoy it.

I believe that the earth was made for mankind, and that we ought to be careful stewards of it, but not that the propagation of the human race should be determined by the current environmental condition. If we exercise good judgment in utilizing the world's resources, and not to excess, then there will be enough and to spare. But if we irresponsibly misuse these resources, why should our future families be blamed for it?
Casey Ruiz
American Fork, Utah


Hooray for Mr. Green. I am completely on his side on the cat issue. If people want to keep them as pets, they need to be restrained so they do not stray from their owner's property.

In response to Jean Hinson's letter about cats wanting to be "out experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors," I can respond that I don't want to see the dead birds smeared on my garage floor, hear the yowling of one in heat under my window at 3 am and smell the stink of their spray around my house. I paid for my house; I deserve to enjoy it in peace. Without unwanted felines.

As someone who is seriously allergic to these hairy oversize rats, I am offended when their owners' claim kitty nature is why their pesky animal is spreading fleas on mylawn, spraying on my porch, sleeping on my deck chair, scooping fish out of my pond and sliding through my patio doors to check out my house. As if I care.

Cities need to make owners license their animals and impound animals who roam free. If you want to keep one, keep it locked up!

Thank you, Mr. Green!
Liz Amsden
Los Angeles, California


Humans don't get everything they want, so why should cats?

There is an old ethical principle that a person can exercise his or her rights until he or she thereby violates the rights of another. Then the seriousness of the rights must be considered. For example, can I violate your right to life for the sake of my right to entertainment?

In the case of cats and birds, clearly there is a toll on songbirds when cats run free. Some of these songbirds are becoming threatened species. Our cats won't do the ethical thing, but we must be responsible cat owners and do whatever it takes to protect the birds.
Cathryn Schiesser
Pearland, Texas


"Explore" (March/April 2009)

What part of Leave No Trace and good wilderness manners does Paul Doherty not understand? He seemingly takes great pride and personal satisfaction from senselessly desecrating Antarctica's Mt. Erebus "In a gesture as old as humanity, I sear my own handprint into the ice to say I was here too." In March '09 I visited the pristine lands of Antarctica on a Sierra Club trip. I can assure you that each and every adventurer completely adhered to the principles of Leave No Trace -- Take Only Memories, honored the guidelines of the Antarctic Treaty System, and on each outing we gathered trash/debris that had washed ashore.

I am disheartened that the editors of Sierra did not utilize the opportunity to promote stewardship and respect for the earth's wild places by including a note from the editor with Mr. Doherty's article as a reminder to all how imperative it is to refine our wilderness practices so as to leave all outdoor areas unimpaired for future generations.
Candy Barnhill
Iowa City, Iowa


"Grapple" (March/April 2009)

In the March/April 2009 issue, Sierra reported that it is now legal to carry a loaded and concealed weapon in national parks. The way I see it, we should put this near the top of the list of legislative issues that need to be reversed because this threatens the ecosystem by creating the conditions for allowing the parks to become battlegrounds.
Maureen S. Christian
Murrieta, California


The Department of the Interior's new rule "would allow an individual to carry a concealed weapon in national parks and wildlife refuges if, and only if, the individual is authorized to carry a concealed weapon under state law in the state in which the national park or refuge is located." So these are licensed individuals with the requisite background check, training, etc. Your article appeared to give permission to everyone.

Thanks for a great magazine.
David Cogan


In "The Road to Salvation" the author points out that numerous economists cite the need for a gas or carbon tax to get Detroit to produce fuel-efficient vehicles, although this is politically impossible. No one wants to pay more taxes. A much better approach would be to provide positive financial incentives to drivers who conserve fuel than to punish all drivers with increased fuel taxes.

Congress could legislate a "refundable user fee" on fuel, say 25 cents per gallon initially, that could steadily be increased each year until the desired conservation results were achieved. This money would not go to the government, however, but instead it would be entirely refunded to the public periodically, with an equal dollar amount going to every registered driver or to each adult taxpayer at tax time. In this way drivers who use more than the average amount of fuel would be subsidizing and rewarding drivers who use less fuel. This would be a powerful incentive to use less fuel in whatever manner possible, e.g., by driving less, by using public transportation, or by more fuel-efficient cars. Such a system could also obviate any need for fuel efficiency standards on automobiles and reduce any subsidies for public transportation.
Kenneth E. Gould
Santa Barbara, California


While I agree with Mr. Leonard in his article "The Road to Salvation" that the best way to encourage automakers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles is to impose a hefty gasoline tax, I take exception and offense when he wrote "Poor dumb Detroit might go back to SUVs unless..." Sierra Club often singles out our domestic automakers as mindless, uncaring and incompetent corporations, but this latest insult has gone too far. Not only has Mr. Leonard crossed the line of objectivity, but he is ridiculing the domestic automakers of something they haven't even done.

Let's not forget that foreign automakers also made big bucks with oversized SUVs too (can you say Toyota Sequoia?). The last thing the domestics need while teetering on the brink of bankruptcy is being kicked while they're down. Knock off the name-calling and try to be a little more objective and sensitive to the communities whose livelihoods are based on the domestic auto industry.
Maxwell Sanborn
Suitland, Maryland


As a Sierra Club member and a resident of metro Detroit, I was very offended by the "Poor dumb Detroit" heading used by Andrew Leonard in the March/April issue. Detroit is more than the auto industry. The people of Detroit are diverse, hardworking, and proud of their long history of innovation and entrepreneurship. The author and the Sierra Club would promote green industry and environmental stewardship in this area much more effectively if they dropped the insults.
Pamela Borquez
Royal Oak, Michigan


"Leaf and Let Die" error?

I haven't practiced as a civil/sanitary/environmental engineer for some time. But the following sentence caught my eye as being wildly inaccurate. "Less than one percent of wildlife carries E. coli, but up to 50 percent of cows do." I suspect absolutely every cow has E. coli organisms in its feces.

E. coli is a significant intestinal organism in most, if not all, warm-blooded wildlife. A single gram of duck feces typically contains millions of E. coli bacteria.
Jim McDonald
Alexandria, Virginia


The March/April issue of your magazine has a bothersome article on page 27 entitled "Leaf and Let Die." If this burn and kill practice is widespread, as this article implies, shouldn't we have a major article (with blazing pictures, etc.)? The dream that "consumers can make the difference" will only materialize if consumers know what is really going on. This short piece is not going to let many people know. And, who do we write to protest, etc., etc. This provocative news should not be glossed over in a small column piece that many (most?) readers are going to miss.

Thanks for your good work.
Mary Lewis Chapman


"Mixed Media" (March/April 2009)

Surely Bonnie Azab Powell had not actually read Animal, Vegetable, Mineral when she wrote her article, nor even looked at it very carefully. Powell reports Barbara Kingsolver's family "attempt to eat what they grew for a year." In fact, they attempted to eat locally for a year, both raising food and making great use of local resources. There is an important difference here, and my (paperback) copy states even on the cover that "they'd only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it." The book is an inspiration to those of us with no hope of being able to grow our own but still eating as locally as possible.
Lee Ann Kinzer
Alexandria, Virginia


"Bulletin" (March/April 2009)

Just finished reading the article "Our Next New Deal" in the current Sierra magazine and have a suggestion regarding the saving of oil--stop the wasteful use of a huge amount of oil by the so-called sport of auto racing (NASCAR). Several days a week a dozen of more cars go around and around an oval track for 300 to 500 miles. The banning of this sort of thing would have an immediate effect on the amount of oil being used. Please make a concerted effort to introduce this idea into your Climate Recovery Agenda.
Philip W. Stokes
Ypsilanti, Michigan


"Last Words" (March/April 2009)

I was amused to see the "Last Words" article in the March/April issue of Sierra. I thought, "Isn't that neat: Elephants having free access to their foraging grounds through a hotel. Isn't it a wonderful world, man and beast together in harmony." Of course, wouldn't it just happen that a 200 lb. chimpanzee went, well, ape in a town in my home state of Connecticut, ripping the face off its victim and injuring the police sent to subdue it. A horrific event and one that should have been avoided if people (the owner, the friends, the town) had used better judgment.

Let's not take our desire to commune with nature to the point where we forget that these are still wild animals, with no self-concept and apt to turn on us as their psyche dictates. In their minds, we can be a threat or a meal. The law of the jungle.

How different that would that photo shoot have been had the elephants gotten spooked and provided a Kodak moment of charging through the visitors, eyes ablaze with fear, trunks trumpeting and flailing, crushing man, woman and child under tons of flesh. Not too neat then.

I recall an old Groucho Marx line that could ring true at the Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia: "I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How it got in my pajamas ... well, he ran up the stairs into my hotel room, that's how."

Let's show some sense in our interactions with the wild.
Allen E. Horner


I was disappointed to see the glib coverage of the elephants of Zambia's South Luangwa National Park in the March/April 2009 "Last Words." Far from being a serendipitous accident, the placement of Mfuwe Lodge on the elephant herd's annual migration path is an example of extremely poor natural resource management. Your publication should be taking a clear and powerful position on such examples, not highlighting how adorable it is to see an elephant at a reception desk.
Renee Kaufman
New York City


Design-related comments

I am visually challenged. Specifically I have a hard time with yellow. Your article on bikes used yellow printing on a white background. White letters on a yellow background, came as a complete surprise. In fact it took three looks, a bright light, and a 3 diopter magnifying glass to actually see them at all. In the future please print with contrasting colors that have some contrast. Like black. Please avoid light colors and combinations that color blind people will have trouble with. Like blue and yellow, or red and green.
Robert Leary


I am frustrated with the poor readability in several areas of the March/April 2009 issue. Some examples: white words on yellow for the bicycle article; white words on the pyramid; tiny words on the time line; small words on the outdoor gear article; these all make the information challenging and sometimes impossible to read.

Setting up pages with variety can modernize the look and feel, but the substance still matters. If the words are worth reading, they should be readable.
Lynn Hicks


I've been perusing the March/April issue. I appreciate the interesting layouts and informative graphics. However, I'd like to suggest to the magazine's designers that they evaluate the readability of some of their choices.

This is particularly a problem with low-contrast colored text and backgrounds. Examples are on p. 25 (not so bad, could be better) and p. 39 (white on yellow is nearly impossible to read; even the larger subtitle" on p. 38 is hard to make out, as are the rest of the yellow-on-white text elements in the article).

Another really unfortunate choice was the font size for the history runner along the bottom of pages 32-37. Did you really want to convey that information? Make the text readable without a magnifying glass!

Your information is worth conveying. Please display it optimally.
Karen Ackroff


Just a note to your page designer: let's not in the future put white lettering on a yellow background as you did in the current Sierra--the box on page 39 is almost impossible to read!
Mike Johnson
Union City, California


What were you thinking when you used white print on a yellow-orange background on pages 39, 40 and 41 of the March/April issue. Page 38 is bad enough with yellow-orange print on white background. If you want people to read your magazine, make it readable. I have good eyes but decided those parts weren't worth the effort.
Elizabeth Berner
Joshua Tree, California

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