Sierra Magazine: Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
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LETTERS | What our readers have to say

Readers are encouraged to post comments online. You can also e-mail us at Please include your name, city, and e-mail address or phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

In "The Last of the Southwest" (July/August), rancher Bobby Jones said he opposes mining in Otero Mesa but also doesn't want it to become a national monument because he's afraid he'll lose his grazing privileges. This illustrates the fundamental incoherence of the positions of many small-government advocates. He doesn't want the government to interfere with his private use of a public resource but wants someone (he's not sure who) to prevent others from using it.
Jeff Tucker
Barkhamsted, Connecticut

In the July/August issue, you ran a letter from a woman who is canceling her Sierra Club membership after reading about the time your editor in chief watched a bear rummage through a backpack during a river- rafting trip. While raising the issue of feeding bears is valid, her response troubles me. People worried about the environment need to stick together, even when we disagree about specific issues--or when we make human mistakes. The moneyed interests that resist environmental stewardship must very much enjoy when we tear each other apart. I hope her response is an aberration rather than a trend.
Jon Sass
Florence, Massachusetts

As a 94-year-old who has been a bicycle "activist" for more than 50 years, I was pleased by the emphasis of your July/August issue on bikes. I feel our greatest victory in this century has been the acceptance nationwide of cycling as a viable alternative mode of transportation.
Gordy Shields
El Cajon, California

I am upset by "Survive" (July/August), which portrayed teenagers carrying 40-pound backpacks. The idea of the 40-pound pack came from a time when infantry soldiers carried packs that were one-fourth of their body weight, which averaged 160 pounds. No hiker should carry more than one-fourth of his or her body weight. This includes the boots and clothes they wear, as well as the weight of their packs. When I worked with the Boy Scouts, I told the young men to weigh themselves, divide by four, and then weigh everything they planned to carry and wear.
Charles F. Nelsen
Oakhurst, California


"Fractured Lives"

It was a real pleasure to read this well-researched and intelligently written article after a long session online reading poorly expressed drivel written by well-meaning idiots Not that it made me happy, but neither did the latter.
Marshall E. Deutsch
Sudbury, Massachusetts

Range Resources, according to your article "Fractured Lives," paid Ron Gulla $1.5 million for his farm after a fracking dispute. Then Gulla says he had to move in with his mother because his own place was unlivable.

Seriously? Gulla had nothing left from his settlement after attorney fees? I find that hard to believe.
Debra J. White
Tempe, Arizona

I was disappointed to see the July/August Sierra article on shale gas development rehash unsubstantiated environmental myths about hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater and shale wells supposedly leaking greenhouse gas. These serve no purpose except to needlessly frighten people and obscure the true environmental concerns of shale gas. The engineering of shale gas wells is not fatally flawed, as some would have us believe. Gas wells have been drilled safely for 100 years, hydraulic fracturing has been done safely for 60 years, and horizontal shale gas wells with staged hydraulic fracture treatments have been constructed safely for at least 20 years. The gas industry knows how to do this properly, and in most cases has done so with minimal environmental impact.

The number of "serious" environmental incidents stated in the article, 70% of 3,355 reports, is at odds with published studies in 2011 by the Ground Water Protection Council, and in 2012 by SUNY University at Buffalo, which found incidents of reportable groundwater contamination occurring at approximately 0.5% of all oil and gas wells, including shale gas. The Buffalo study also noted a trend of decreased incidents over time. Cases of groundwater contamination linked to shale gas development are almost always caused by chemical spills, leaks or releases on the surface, not an underground invasion of frac fluid. Pavillion, WY, is the lone exception where frac fluid was detected entering an aquifer from below, but the circumstances were quite unusual in that the frac was done directly beneath the aquifer. Geophysical data show that the tops of Marcellus Shale fracs are kilometers below the base of the deepest freshwater aquifer.

The most significant environmental concern of shale gas development is the cumulative impact of many wells on the landscape, and the threshold at which those cumulative impacts become important to surface water hydrology, terrestrial habitat, and aquatic ecosystems. Other environmental risks include trucking and handling large amounts of chemicals on rural roads, the removal and disposal of recovered fluids, potential damage to small watersheds and sensitive headwater areas of streams from the large drill pads needed for shale gas wells, the migration of stray gas, and the potential for toxic metals to leach from the black shale drill cuttings. These risks are being identified and assessed by many scientists and engineers working diligently to gather the necessary data.

Records at the state environmental agencies clearly show that the large majority of environmental problems on shale gas wells are caused by human factors. Inexperience, impatience, overconfidence, cost-cutting, distractions, lack of knowledge, or an uncaring attitude all contribute to drill crews or production companies not following the proper engineering procedures. The engineering principles are not at fault; it is the failure to follow these principles that creates safety risks and environmental damage.

The shale gas environmental debate would be better served by focusing on the implementation and enforcement of regulations to ensure that drill rig crews follow the proscribed engineering best practices at all times. State agencies need political support to beef up budgets from permit fees or severance taxes, and use the money to hire more inspectors to make sure crews follow the rules. Serious enforcement of regulations will allow these important domestic natural gas resources to be developed, while also achieving a real reduction in environmental impacts.
Daniel J. Soeder
Morgantown, West Virginia

I had to laugh when Humes took a critical tone towards the gas companies in "Fractured Lives": "To get its way, the gas industry has employed prodigious lobbying, campaign donations, . . . ." After all, isn't lobbying and campaign donations (or campaign endorsements) tactics used by the Sierra Club to "get its way?" I suggest in the interest of maintaining the appearance of fair and unbiased reporting, the author needs to disclose this type of information in his article. Regardless, I have donated to the Sierra Club for many years, and I will continue to donate for years to come, specifically because this organization does employ these political tactics.
Hamp Crow

Edward Humes's "Fractured Lives" was a riveting article on fracking. I would like readers to know a little bit more about the chemicals mentioned.

The dictionary defines acrylonitrile as a volatile, flammable liquid. Toluene is a flammable liquid, aromatic hydrocarbon. While ethyl benzene was not listed, ethyl is an antiknock fluid in gasoline and benzene is a flammable liquid used as a solvent. Styrene is a fragrant liquid used in synthetic rubber and plastics, and strontium is an element whose compounds are used in fireworks.

It is obvious most property owners would be against fracking if they knew these or related chemicals would be pumped into their soil.

I would also like to add if there are Americans who need our prayers, pray for the health of the people whose farms and properties have been fracked. It sounds like a Love Canal situation on an even larger scale.
Joseph Machnica
Buffalo, New York

"Last of the Southwest"

The attitude of rancher Bobby Jones is instructive: "He doesn't want mining in Otero Mesa, but he also doesn't want it to become a national monument.... [H]e's afraid ... he'll lose 85,000 acres of grazing privileges."

This is a stunning illustration of the fundamental incoherence of the positions of many libertarian/small government adherents. He doesn't want the government to interfere with his private use of a public resource, but he wants someone (he's not sure who) to prevent others from making private use of that public resource. He wants freedom for himself—for other people, not so much.

Followers of this philosophy, by the way, usually take an analogous approach to questions of government expenditures: they're always very eager to tighten someone else's belt.
Jeff Tucker
Barkhamsted, Connecticut

Hurray for executive director Michael Brune's decision to turn down $30 million from Chesapeake Energy, the natural gas company. And hurray for the discussion in Sierra magazine. But why didn't we know that the Club has already taken $26 million from the company? Seems pretty likely that money has affected the club's stand on natural gas, despite the diplomatic denial.

Environmental issues are not simple, and we need more of this kind of intelligent discussion.

Get rid of fluff departments like "Enjoy" that urge us to consume environmentally destructive junk disguised as "green" (like this issue's highly packaged bottled drinks containing about zero nutrition). Then we'd have more room for things that are worth reading.
Susan Tait
Oakland, California

"Pirates of the Rainforest"

Please encourage your authors to suggest remedies for issues they describe. This would be more productive.

Greg Bleakney's article is a good one. Its disturbing content could rally readers, but he offers no thought toward resurrecting the open-ended destruction of the Olympic Peninsula's unique forests.

Since the USFWS and USFS are understaffed, I suggest we legislate a temporary end to all legal harvest of plant materials in the region; design and implement tariffs/taxes to all plant harvesting/sales; and earmark these revenues to fund appropriate security for the forest.

As long as plant materials are legally collectible, identifying the poached materials is dicey but this suggesting might help. That the US can't protect ecosystems it has worked hard to preserve, ranks us as a third world nation.
KC Belt Silver City, New Mexico


I can't think of a worse color scheme for a bike commuter than the dark, blend in with the road, colors depicted in your July/August article "Two Wheels, Not Four."
From a 30+ year bike commuter.
Jean M. Lown, Ph.D.
Logan, Utah

$2,800 bicycle? $140 pants? $500 for a set of bags? Your advertisement for high-end bicycle accessories masquerading as a promotion of bicycle commuting in "Two Wheels, Not Four" is going to make anyone who had been interested in "ditching their gas guzzler" to quickly reconsider.
Peter Beck
Austin, Texas

How about $200, not $4,000?

As a true believer in the physical, mental, and financial benefits of cycling, I was excited to see the bicycle featured in the July/August Sierra magazine. I was less pleased when I got to the article "Two Wheels, Not Four." While I appreciated seeing the latest gear and eco-friendly trends, I was appalled by the $1,000 to $3,000 price tags on these bikes! These high-end commuter bikes are unnecessarily fancy, and I fear that the price tag and this article will alienate would-be bikers. While I have spent a pretty penny on some of my bikes, my favorite cost me $75 at a bike swap. My point, great bikes need not cost thousands of dollars. A good bike can be purchased new for several hundred, and even better, many bikes are available secondhand, and organizations exist in many cities to refurbish bikes and sell them for cheap to eager cyclists (Community Cycles in Boulder, CO, is one great example: Instead of spending thousands on the newest trends, why not spend hundreds and recycle a used bike that has many miles left in it?
Joshua Koch
Anchorage, Alaska

Thank you for your article promoting the benefits of bicycling that, as a life-long cyclist, I much appreciated. However, I am writing to point out a significant safety issue that is not recognized in the large photograph highlighting the article. The cyclist in your photo is shown wearing dark gray jacket and trousers that will make him nearly inconspicuous to both oncoming and following motorists. Cyclists must be made aware that in order to ride safely on public streets, they must be seen and that means light and bright-colored clothing – absolutely not black or dark gray.

With the increasing popularity of biking both for commuting and for pleasure, it becomes ever more crucial that cyclists must be clearly visible to motorists and pedestrians – especially if part of the ride is after dark. In future articles, please show cyclists wearing appropriate gear.
Carlos Stern

""Spout" (July/August)

As a 94-year-old who had been a bicycle "activist" for over 50 years I was pleased by the emphasis of your July/August issue on bikes. I feel our greatest victory in this century has been the acceptance nationwide of cycling as an accepted and viable alternative mode of transportation.
Gordy Shields
El Cajon, California

To answer your cover question, Yes, bikes can bring us closer to nature. So can feet, boats, books, and friends. Bikes are ambiguous machines; just like all these other modes, they can create or destroy. I joined the Sierra Club because of its opposition to mountain biking in a fragile, heavily used and botanically diverse reservation close to Boston, the Middlesex Fells Reservation. The Sierra Club leader understood that mountain bikes are unsuitable in this setting.

While I've biked on roads for decades, and am fond of bicycling, seeing the effects of bikes in these woods followed by the attitude of many mountain bikers horrified me. They are not in nature to reflect on nature; they are there to have a thrill, to act like kids again, to get away from cars and roads, to have an adventure. They whiz past walkers, distressing people on foot. They want exciting trails and will alter the hiking trails for their sport. They will justify this in many ways. But in the largest sense, none of these ways have much to do recognizing and caring for the nature that underlies the reservation. In some parks this is fine, but too many mountain bikers don't know where they don't belong. They act entitled, and they seem usually young and affluent so they believe they can get what they want. It's a shame.

I am a member so long as the Sierra Club listens to the pushback from hikers and environmental groups all over the world. Some private landowning groups here don't even allow bikes. In Eastern Massachusetts, groups have fought for years to keep mountain bikes out of the Middlesex Fells Reservation, not successfully at present, but the struggle will go on.
Anita W. Brewer-Siljeholm
Manchester, Massachusetts

I wholeheartedly concur with member Bill White's recent letter of commendation. I have been thrilled with the past few issues and the change of direction. I started to write glowing comments about what I thought would be 1 or 2 articles but was overwhelmed by one outstanding article after another, making the entire July/August issue remarkably interesting and stimulating, even sometimes poetic, transporting me to the locale of far away places. Even tiny tidbits such as "Innovate," "The Next Big Thing," and "Up to Speed" were exceptional (though I am wondering how and who determined that "carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 800,000 years!"). Focusing on the enjoyment of the environment and not just on the politics was most welcome. The entire issue was informative yet captivating. Keep up the good—no, GREAT—work!
Roni Silverberg
Boca Raton, Florida

I am responding to the letter in the July/August issue from Carla Traudt from Yellowstone Park. While raising the issue of feeding bears is valid, it is her response that troubles me. She is canceling her subscription and will forego donations to Sierra Club due to her concern. People worried about the environment need to stick together and support each other even when we might disagree about specific issues—or heaven knows, act human and make mistakes. The moneyed interests that are resisting environmental stewardship must very much enjoy when we tear each other apart. I hope her response is an aberration and not a general trend among your readers.
Keep up the good work.
Jon Sass
Florence, Massachusetts

"Create" (July/August)

I liked the July/August 2012 Sierra emphasis on bikes and zero transportation. I just wish Michael Brune's piece had been more full-throated in favor of electric vehicles. We all decry our unhealthy dependence on oil, and we want to develop solar and wind, which, as he says, can "charge thousands of vehicles", but he never says what kind of vehicles. He should be saying, "Buy an electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle" like the Volt or the LEAF or Honda Fit EV or dozens of other models coming on the market. That is How to Treat High Gas Prices - - with electric vehicles that use no or very little gasoline, when we are not using our feet, bikes or mass transit. And don't forget to add, "electricity costs the equivalent of 75 cents per gallon." Then refer them to Sierra Club's own electric vehicle web site,
Charlie Garlow
Silver Spring, Maryland

"Enjoy" (July/August)

I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the response to the question "What it is like to have 5 chickens?" Ms. Coughlin's answer "3 to 8 eggs a day" cannot be correct. The chickens in the background appear to be R.I. Reds, or New Hampshires, or crosses, so 3 eggs/day OK = 60 percent production, but 8 eggs/day = 160 percent production, that's not going to happen (this from an old chicken farmer).
D. Dorfman Ph.D. (ret.)
Ocean, New Jersey

I'm a Life Member and the Recycling Program Manager for Recology San Francisco. I am writing to express my objection to the labeling of Tetra-Pak packaging as "ecofriendly", by Julie Smolyansky, in the "Pure Refreshment piece." If a package is identified as ecofriendly in the Sierra Club magazine, then there should be an explanation of what that means.

Yes, there are some environmental advantages to the Tetra-Pak (aseptic) packaging, as it relates to product delivery to the consumer. However, I believe that those advantages are out weighed by the difficulty of actually getting that package recycled. Technically the package is recyclable at processing facilities that are designed specifically to handle aseptic packaging, but they are few and far between. Additionally, aseptics really need to be separated from all other recyclables for there to be any real chance that they will be recycled. Unfortunately, most recycling programs, including San Francisco's, were not designed to separate aseptic boxes from the recycling mix. As a result, SF Environment determined that it would be misleading to allow aseptic packages in the San Francisco program, if they were not really going to be recycled.

As far as I'm concerned, the aseptic packaging industry, is being less than honest with it's confusing messages, and claims of recyclability. Even if aseptic packages are accepted in curbside programs, as the industry likes to brag about, it is highly unlikely that the package will ever get recycled unless it is separated from all other recyclables by the collection company or municipality, and that just does not happen very often. Glass bottles and aluminum cans are not perfectly ecofriendly either, but they are much more likely to get recycled then an aseptic package is.

Keep up the good fight!
Bob Besso
Recycling and Waste Reduction Manager
Recology San Francisco

"Survive" (July/August) I am upset by the article "Survive."

The story mentioned 40-pound packs. Where did the 40-pound pack idea come from?

The army infantry soldier is, on the average, 18 years of age and weighs 160 pounds. One-fourth of 160 is 40. This is where the 40- pound pack idea came from.

I believe to have a successful hike the hiker should be carrying no more than one-fourth of their body weight. This will include everything the hiker will carry, pack, boots, and clothing.

When I worked with Boy Scouts, I told the young men to weigh themselves on the bathroom scale, in their birthday suit, and record the weight. I also told them to then look in a full-length mirror and jump up and down. If they observed wiggles from fat bouncing, they had to deduct at least 10 pounds. On a hike they would have to carry accumulated fat that would also weigh them down.

Now they would be able to calculate the ideal weight they should carry. That will include everything they must wear, keep warm with, eat and sleep in. Wight everything before the trip begins.
Charles F. Nelsen
Oakhurst, California

"Smile" (July/August)

This story by Mr. Abrahamson describes what myself and many other park-lovers detest: Manipulation of the grounds by large groups of workout enthusiasts. In the story he points out his class was dropping huge rocks and making divots in the park grass; While the accompanying picture showed a woman trying to use the swing-set with her child while adults were climbing it. Yet, this article isn't about how this distracts park users and defaces the facilities! As more and more large "athletic" groups descend upon a place where people go to get away from activity, it ruins the aesthetic for all. Many of these groups could conduct their work inside or be more respectful to the place and the other patrons. I found it sad the writer could not work that into the story.
Gary B.
Akron, Ohio

""Grapple" (July/August) Regarding "On the One Hand... On the Other...": All the exhaust we breathe these days makes me think of an item I read quite some years ago. I don't recall which magazine it was in, but it concerned the fact that baby strollers seat babies right down at exhaust pipe level. That means they're breathing far more toxins and harmful particles than are the adults pushing the strollers. The article concluded something like this: "Parents think they're taking Junior out for an airing, when they're actually taking him out for a gassing."
Eunice Raymond

Your July/August issue had an article titled "Can I See Your ID? This article is not up to your magazine's normal standards. In Washington State, and many other states, there are many other things besides voting that you cannot do without a photo ID. Such as: drive a motor vehicle, buy alcoholic beverages, take a commercial airplane flight, get medical care, rent storage lockers, buy a car, obtain a library card, most motels/hotels ask for it, most business require it to cash checks, attend college, take the SAT test, open a bank account, get a home loan, enter the US from Canada, carry a concealed weapon. I am sure there are many other things that require a photo ID, so it would be to the benefit of those that do not have a photo ID to obtain one. They are not hard to get and the trend by government and business is to know who they are doing business with by use of the photo ID. There are no reasons a citizen cannot get a photo ID and no reason a person voting should not be able to prove they are the person entitled to vote.
Tom Miller
Bellingham, Washington

How can you publish such ridiculous and false drivel? The author has used statistics incorrectly in an attempt to make his point. Common sense tells most that his assertions like "Latinos and African Americans ... strongly and consistently support environmental issues", are wrong. Just look at the areas where many of these people live. Go to Africa, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, even the barrios and ghettos in the US and you will see that the environment apparently is not a concern. Litter, junk, trash, and blatant disregard for their environment abound. One cannot believe articles like this when they are based on such falsehoods. Get real and be truthful in publishing your articles.
Rick Gates
Madison, Alabama

I recently joined Sierra Club thinking that in general they do good things to promote nature and I support much of that. But having received my first Sierra magazine, I can see that joining was probably a mistake. To suggest that voter ID laws are a republican conspiracy (vis a vis references to big business, Nikki Haley, Sam Brownback) against any "green" movement is pure paranoia. Getting hit by lightning compared to committing voter fraud? Really? You need ID to do just about anything in this country, certainly to drive, so I guess none of your millions of eligible voters do. Obtaining approved ID is easy, painless and free. So what is the big deal I ask you? Oh, that's right, it's restraining the green vote. Gotta go....Those giant windmills built only because of federal subsidy to foreign companies and pumping out watt after watt are spinning again after sitting idle, and I don't want to miss it.
K Orie
Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania

I have always liked what the Sierra Club stood for. To me its ideals were like baseball—Chevrolets + apple pie—always pulling for America! Protect our forest + national parks like John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt.

Now I read an article in your latest magazine on voter ID.

We use photo ID in this country for everything! Drivers license, plane or train tickets—anything important. What is wrong about having to prove your ID when you have to vote? I live in Arizona and have worked the polls for many years + people here show their ID—no problem.

Now I realize you have turned the Sierra Club into just another political machine.

Very disappointed.
Leslie A. Frame Tuscon, Arizona

""Grapple" (July/August)

The article on Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) suggested that OTEC should be used for everything from electricity production to raising crops to home cooling. All of these iffy applications are championed without even the slightest mentioned of the assumed impacts to aquatic life associated with Once Though Cooling (OTC). In recent years the Sierra Club has been among the loudest voices decrying the alleged impact of using the oceans or rivers as a heat sink for energy production. In California, OTC has been outlawed for new power plants, and will affect existing power plants over the next few years. The banning of OTC in California may result in a move to make the same power with coal in inland states at a potential cost to ratepayers in the billions. Due to the low temperatures involved, the volume of ocean water needed to offset even a small fossil or nuclear power plant would be enormous. Why is OTC an issue for our current power plants, but does not even merit mention when OTEC is on the table?

Additionally, and more importantly for human life, using ammonia as working fluid carries its own substantial risks. Almost daily in the United States, there are evacuations, and in many cases injury or death, associated with ammonia leaks and spills. Why won't the issue of managing an ammonia-based power plant be a challenge for "several Caribbean, African, and Pacific nations?" In many cases these countries currently lack the infrastructure, both political and physical, to properly dispose of trash and sewage. To assume that these same countries will successfully manage the risk of an ammonia-based power regime is quite the stretch. In its current form, an ammonia-based OTEC facility, based in a developing country, will likely result in a second Bhopal. Although I, like Ted Johnson, like the idea of cheap electricity, but I know that this electricity will only be cheap if it does not have to follow the same rules as our current power plants.
William Doyle
Laguna Niguel, California


When I opened the July/August 2012 edition of Sierra Club magazine I was delighted that the State of Maine is the furthest state away from my State of Hawaii.

Upon opening the magazine, the reader is smacked right in the face with a double-truck advertisement featuring a picture of a huge billboard disfiguring a pristine environment and an invitation to "MAKE ROOM FOR THE KAYAKS".

Fortunately billboards are illegal anywhere in the State of Hawaii. As for kayaks here in Hawaii, they are presently being used in growing, out of control numbers to access our pristine off shore islands. Why would the Sierra Club publish an advertisement for The State of Maine that is so offensive to all the environmental issues they pride themselves on championing?
Stann W. Reiziss, Ph.D.
Kailua-Oahu, Hawaii

In the July/August "Grapple, the Pew poll showing support for alternative energy among young people was from March 2011, not March 2012. Because of an editing error, "Create" misstated the year when the bacterial source of stomach ulcers was discovered; the correct year is 1982. A caption in "Pirates of the Rainforest" misidentified the boughs held by Officer Jared Eison; they are Port Orford cedar. In the May/June issue, "Fighting Climate Change With Family Planning" incorrectly stated that global CO2 emissions will rise from 9 to 18 billion tons per year between 2012 and 2062; those numbers are for carbon emissions, not CO2 emissions. In addition, the source for that article should have credited Population Action International.


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