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Sierra magazine
Bulletin | News for Members

By Della Watson

Grilled | Sierra Club Snapshot | This One Time, at Eco-Camp... | DIY: Planting Seeds

Invading the Privacy of the Volunteers Who Make the Club Tick

Name: Dean Wilson
Location: Plaquemine, Louisiana
Contribution: Went undercover to help stop illegal cypress logging in the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest swamp in the United States
Web site:

A swamp? I had a dream of living in the Amazon, and in 1984 I moved to the Atchafalaya to acclimate. For four months I lived in a tent and survived off fish, raccoon, and other small animals.

How'd you catch 'em? By hand, hook, arrow, or spear. I never made it to Brazil.

What does raccoon taste like? Everything tastes good, except nutria. Nutria is pretty bad. My favorite food is armadillo. Armadillo is very good and has a lot of fat. It's juicy.

Aren't armadillos covered in armor? Yeah, but you can go through the armor. It's not that hard. I dry out the armor and use it for containers.

How did you become a swamp man? Being a commercial fisherman and a hunter, I saw that centuries-old cypress forests were being chopped down to make mulch for garden stores and retail giants. At first I tailed the loggers by foot, car, and boat, taking pictures of the lumberyards and the clearcutting. Often I'd go in camouflage and sneak around the swamps, documenting illegal logging operations. In 2000 I became active with the Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, which had started a public education campaign urging people not to use cypress mulch. In 2004 we helped cofound the Save Our Cypress Coalition.

Are we winning? In the face of overwhelming evidence, the EPA agreed to enforce Section 404 of the Clean Water Act on the illegal logging operations, and in 2008, Wal-Mart, Lowes, and Home Depot declared a moratorium on cypress mulch from coastal Louisiana. I'm still doing flyovers with a nonprofit called SouthWings, and the last time I went up, I didn't see a single active logging operation.

Do you have any hobbies? I don't have time for fun. I don't have a life. I take two weeks of vacation a year. My vacation is going canoeing with my wife and camping on the Buffalo River.

Seen any swamp monsters? No swamp monsters. The only monsters in the swamp are people. — interview by Tom Valtin

Do you know a Sierra Club volunteer who deserves recognition? Send nominations to

Sierra Club Snapshot

Marie Bergen, Lawson LeGate, Dave Muhly, Carol Oldham, Frank Jackalone, and Rachel Martin (left to right) were honored in November for their plan to recruit more volunteers to fight against climate change. "Sierra Club's strength is having volunteer leaders in communities across the country," said conservation director Sarah Hodgdon. "We're giving people more tools and ideas to combat global warming."

This One Time, at Eco-Camp . . .

Every summer the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) hosts weeklong, peer-led training sessions for high school and college-age activists nationwide. Veteran campers say the Environmental Leadership Training Program (nicknamed "Sprog") is a cross between a boot camp for grassroots organizers and a coed slumber party.

Andrew Nazdin | AGE 21
"I thought Sprog was going to be this dorky environmental thing, like sitting around campfires and talking about photosynthesis. . . . But instead, you're out in the woods with a group of your peers, teaching each other how to create revolutionary change."

Leonardo Morazan | AGE 18
"We had, like, three dance parties."

Kelsea Norris | AGE 20
"A lot of us come from places where there aren't a lot of young people engaged around environmental causes. And so when we get there, we're like, 'Wow, I'm not alone. I'm not a freak.' . . . What it really does is connect you to a movement."

Camila Rivera | AGE 19
"By having that sense of belonging, the SSC makes us want to work even harder."

ON THE WEB To register for the 2010 Sprog, go to

Go to Camp, Pay for College

The College of the Atlantic (number five on Sierra's 2009 "Coolest Schools" list) provides a $10,000 scholarship to Sprog graduates who are accepted to the university. Click here for details.

DIY: Planting Seeds
Gardening With Natives

When Arvind Kumar transformed the dying lawn outside his San Jose, California, home into a native-plant garden, he expected to save water, fertilizer, and time. What amazed him, though, was the influx of wildlife: hummingbirds drinking from the manzanita and California fuchsia, insects buzzing in the buckwheat, ladybugs feasting on aphids.

After nine years of enjoying the economic and environmental benefits of native gardening, Kumar, a Sierra Club Life Member, started writing for the Loma Prieta Chapter's newsletter to inspire others to reduce what he calls their "gardening footprint." His "Gardening Green" column, a popular feature in the Loma Prietan for three years now, uses photos and anecdotes from local gardeners to educate Sierra Clubbers about water-wise irrigation methods, lawn alternatives, and easy-to-grow native plants.

"This gives members ways to think about not only global issues but also local, personal ones," he says. "If we all change what we do just outside our windows, the environment will be helped immensely." —Jamie Hansen

QUICK TIP Your backyard dirt provides clues about what natives are best to plant. "Many people think, 'My soil is terrible; I need to replace it,'" Kumar says. He suggests doing the opposite: finding plants that are adapted to your yard's soil and rainfall conditions. You'll save both money and natural resources by changing the plants to suit the site, rather than changing the site to suit the plants.

ON THE WEB Read Kumar's gardening column in the Loma Prietan. Join the I Love to Garden group on the Climate Crossroads Web site to connect with other green-thumbed club members.

Photos, from top: Jeffrey Dubinsky, Vanishing Forests Digital Media; Kira Stackhouse; Jon Barrows; Julian Gonzalez Sandoval; Jon Barrows (2); Nathaniel Cook



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