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  November/December 2000 Features:
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Sierra Magazine

Whale Rights
Nancy Lord is to be commended for her excellent piece on beluga whales ("Two Worlds, One Whale," July/August). She discusses an important issue, namely, the imperfect fit between Native and animal rights. However, she neglects to offer much support for the latter. There are reasons why activists have protested subsistence whaling by indigenous people. These include the use of nontraditional weapons and technology (50-caliber rifles and motorboats in lieu of harpoons and kayaks) and the failure of Natives (specifically the Makah) to sign pledges not to sell whale meat to Japanese markets. The playing field is now tilted toward the Natives, and the decrease in beluga numbers in Cook Inlet proves this.

Most importantly, there is the high probability that whales, with their large brains and complex societies, are sentient beings. Knowing this makes it hard to deny that killing them is immoral. The beluga, whose vocalizations have earned it the moniker "canary of the sea," is more than a muktuk meal.
Glenn Vanstrum
La Jolla, California

Nancy Lord fails to mention that the Makah are hunting from a local-resident feeding group of no more than 200 whales, and that the Makah hunt weakens and corrupts the protections accorded the great whales worldwide under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission. The IWC has refused to recognize the Makah as having a continuous whaling tradition or an "aboriginal subsistence" need for whale meat--as it clearly has neither--and such recognition has been required for any Native organization that hunts great whales today.

After distorting the position of those of us who have been fighting on this issue for the last five years, Lord inquires, "Who, in any of these Native whaling situations, has most to lose?" That's an easy one: The whales.
Andrew Christie
Sea Shepherd International
Friday Harbor, Washington

Nancy Lord replies: The International Whaling Commission estimates that the recovered eastern North Pacific gray whale population can sustain a Native subsistence take of several hundred whales per year and has established a yearly subsistence quota of 140, most of which goes to Russian Chukchis. For the Makahs to take a few whales within this quota is not biologically significant.

I am less concerned about such subsistence takes than about the "scientific research" whaling allowed by the IWC. Japan, for example, killed more than 400 minke whales last year under the guise of "research" and now plans to hunt Bryde's and sperm whales as well. And I'm even more concerned about pollution and the destruction of habitat, which threaten so many species-marine and terrestrial-throughout the world; these are, unfortunately, far more intractable problems.

Whaling is obviously an issue to which people bring closely held beliefs. Mine is that the different ways of being in the world, and the knowledge associated with them, have value and deserve respect; we benefit from cultural diversity just as we do from species diversity. I believe that conservation and respectful use (including the eating of whales by people with those traditions) can be compatible, and that the animals we wish to protect are best served by working cooperatively to that end.

Gold Blight
Gold mining is one of the most environmentally destructive activities engaged in by industrial man. One form of damage hardly mentioned in the "The New Gold Rush" by Rebecca Solnit (July/August) is the sheer ugliness of modern gold mines. Some of them blight the landscape for 50 miles. One mine sure to be noticed during the years of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial is in the very first mountain range encountered by the explorers in 1805. On coming to the Little Rocky Mountains near the Missouri River in Montana, Lewis noted: "the air is so pure in this open country that mountains and other elevated objects appear much nearer than they really are." This view of the Little Rocky Mountains is now utterly ruined by a hideous gold mine and heaps of ore. The streams around the south side of the mountains have become unfit for any use. The once-charming little ghost towns have become trailer-house slums.
Gerald Davidson
Red Lodge, Montana

Sierra Club members can be part of the solution. We can boycott gold jewelry. If, joined by other like-minded people, we would stop purchasing gold, it would drive down profits and soon get the attention of gold-mining companies. Much as tuna can be certified as dolphin safe, gold could be certified as coming from mines meeting environmental standards.
Ed Storey
El Paso, Texas

Editor's note: In "The New Gold Rush," author Rebecca Solnit stated that "gold has little practical use." Readers reminded us that gold, which does not i tarnish or corrode, is used in contacts and connectors in telephones, computers, and other electronic products. The element also has other practical purposes, including tooth fillings, medical research, and space technology. Solnit's essential point is correct, however: Most of the gold mined each year is used for jewelry.

Food Fight
The nerve and arrogance of the food industry shocks and horrifies me. As I read Paul Rauber's article, "Eater Beware!" (Food for Thought, July/August), I realized just how little control the average person has over what he or she consumes. Doesn't the food industry realize that by deciding to add animal genes to a plant food, this type of genetic engineering will render the plant food inedible to vegetarians or to those whose religion prescribes strict dietary laws? As for irradiation, any strawberry that can keep for three weeks is a strawberry I don't want to eat.
Andrea Zollman
North Hollywood, California

I am thoroughly disgusted that an environmental organization of your caliber is willing to publish an article like "Eater Beware!" With its catchy title and underlying implication that genetic engineering and food irradiation is some sort of threat or conspiracy against the public (explained as vaguely as the statement that foods stamped "organic" carry the only label you can trust), the article is little more than poorly researched sensational propaganda.
Sumi D. Jones
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

What leads you to think that because a food bin is labeled "organic," you will actually be getting a truly organically raised food? I am unaware of any real oversight of the industry other than some government rules and definitions of what "organic food" is supposed to be and how it should be raised.
Milton Toporek
Sarasota, Florida

Paul Rauber replies: My article was not about the pros and cons of genetically engineered or irradiated foods. It was about the food industry's unwillingness to label such foods so consumers can make informed choices.

Milton Toporek raises a good point. Shoppers should actually look for the label "certified organic," a designation granted by 35 independent certification organizations across the country. In California, for example, the California Certified Organic Farmers grants the coveted title. By the end of this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to publish its own long-awaited organic standards.

A Four Letter Issue
After reading the July/August Sierra, I decided that I needed to do more than just send in the two postcards. So I wrote to the president of Mexico about the ecologistas, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the yellow-legged frog, the governor of Nevada about the gold mines, and the U.S. Forest Service about the Copper River Delta. I feel happy because I did something constructive. Keep giving us things to do.
Cookie Anderson
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Arkansas Traveler
In your "Sierra Club 2000 Endorsements" (September/October) you tried to transfer my friend, and Arkansas's best congressman, Vic Snyder, to the state of Arizona. We in Arkansas hereby strongly object. Without Vic, the validity of our slogan, "The Natural State," would be endangered.
Ken Goss
Little Rock, Arkansas

Editor's note: Anti-environmental gremlins plagued the list of Sierra Club endorsements in our September/October issue. They placed Representative Snyder in Arizona instead of Arkansas. And the photos without captions on page 45 are of environmental champions Representative Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont. We regret the errors.

Sierra welcomes letters from readers in response to recently published articles. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. Write to us at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; fax (415) 977-5794; e-mail

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