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The Planet

Creating Demand, Taking Delivery:

On the Ground with the Sierra Club's Public Education Campaign

The Planet, May 1997, Volume 4, number 4

Spreading the Club's conservation message in West Virginia, Hawaii, Ohio and Louisiana.

Contents:

  • Club activists use EPEC grants to recruit allies and spread message
  • West Virginia
  • Protecting Public Paradise
  • Winning Limits for Ohio's Skies
  • Getting Mercury Off the Menu in New Orleans

By Marie Dolcini

Club activists use EPEC grants to recruit allies and spread message

In the mountains of West Virginia, where beech and oak trees hundreds of years old shade deep canyons, Club activists are better positioned than ever to stop the continuous clearcutting. Thanks to them, residents aren't just learning about the intact forest within reach of their backyards, they're seeing it up close and imagining what the Monongahela National Forest could be like if left to recover fully from the logging boom of the last century.

In the face of a strong and well-financed opposition -- from the Farm Bureau to the Forestry Association, which want to clearcut the Monongahela -- the small West Virginia Chapter saw a golden opportunity to counter their opponents' phony grassroots lobbying when they learned their Environmental Public Education Campaign (EPEC) plan was accepted as one of the top 40 nationally to receive additional funding. They'll use their $18,000 to raise public awareness to a new level and mobilize citizens to support forest protection.

"We've never had money for outreach so our work will be vastly different than anything we've done before," said Chapter Chair Jim Sconyers. "We expect to reach well beyond our 1,100 state members, recruit new allies and bring our message to thousands of West Virginians." That task will be the responsibility of an organizer who will maintain day-to-day media contact -- traditionally volunteers have had to rely on the coverage afforded by periodic environmental calamities. "It's a quantum leap given that we've never had a paid staff person doing national forest work in the state before," he said.

The immediate goals are to raise awareness that the Forest Service favors logging over recreation and wildlife and to spread the "Save the Monongahela for Future Generations" message. The long-term objective is to create public demand for a biologically diverse and healthy forest ecosystem. By year's end, the Club hopes to get a "citizens' alternative" -- incorporating non-motorized recreation and remote areas -- into the next Forest Service management plan.

Chapter volunteers are motivating others to protect the Monongahela through a stepped-up educational outings program to acquaint citizens with the stark realities of Forest Service management. The trips combine monitoring the forest's health and enjoying its beauty, a practice that has proved highly successful in recruiting allies and building a broad base of support. Sconyers himself coordinates trips with student groups, bow hunters, birders and Boy Scouts as participants in the Club-led Forest Watch Coalition.

Club volunteers also plan to find allies by organizing a traveling slideshow presentation in every county on "Saving the Mon," publishing a coalition newsletter, producing radio and TV ads for Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh media markets (both major sources of recreationists) and holding public forums on the upcoming revision of the Monongahela Forest Plan. "As we get closer to confirming our forest plan, we'll have the resources to lead the revision process," said Sconyers. "We won't be scrambling as in the past. If anything, we'll be putting the Forest Service on the defensive."

Protecting Public Paradise

On Maui, where azure waters and postcard views belie a century of destructive land-use policies, great bays that were once an abundant source of food are now severely depleted due to agricultural runoff, siltation of fragile coral reefs and the filling of wetlands. As the pressure to pave paradise increases, Maui Group activists are taking to the beach and the streets with a smart-growth message to create new momentum for coastal and species protection.

"Relying on elected officials won't kill this 20-year boondoggle," said Conservation Chair Lucienne de Naie of a resuscitated expansion plan for M-a`alaea Harbor that threatens an adjacent whale sanctuary, wildlife refuge and hawksbill turtle nesting area. "Our EPEC action plan is the best hope for solidifying community opposition to moneyed commercial fishing interests and greedy developers who want the expansion at public expense."

The harbor is currently used by small boats, local fishers and whale-watching tours, but is subject to seasonal heavy wave action, which the harbor expansion aims to address. Environmentalists contend that more than doubling the harbor's size by dynamiting a reef will further degrade the habitat. It remains unclear whether the plan will actually reduce wave swells.

The development-bent opposition is, of course, flush with cash, but island activists remain undeterred. While the Club and other community groups are preparing a lawsuit as a last resort, de Naie and other local volunteers will help focus public protest by exposing the real damage and public dollars associated with the expansion plan through fact sheets and mobile information booths. The harbor opposition campaign is winning diverse allies across the state and nation -- from taro-root farmers struggling to wrest adequate water supplies from corporate sugar operations to surfers looking to safeguard worldclass breaks.

This Earth Day, Club activists will target surfers, divers, native groups, parents and retired homeowners as allies and organize an innovative, communitywide "Aloha `Aina" (love of our homeplace) march centered on preserving wetlands and shoreline. Their colorful advance will include a costumed funeral procession for the green sea turtle and culminate in a speakers' rally at Maui's civic center with a presentation of a protection-focused "wish list" for county and state officials.

Following the Earth Day campaign rollout, Maui volunteers plan to use EPEC dollars to sponsor a series of educational radio spots, produce a short video and public service announcement for local TV, and distribute petitions, T-shirts and fliers to surf shops and clubs nationwide that include the "Protect M-a`alaea Harbor" message.

"Virtually everyone we contact wants to get involved," said de Naie, who plans on spearheading a letter-writing campaign when the state legislature reconvenes in the fall. "That includes our elected representatives, who know elections are won and lost here by only a few thousand votes."

Winning Limits for Ohio's Skies

On Lake Erie's south shore, where dioxin-lofting incinerators and lead-spewing steel mills in the inner city resonate far beyond Cleveland's smokestack-laden skyline, northeast Ohio volunteers are forging alliances with low-income and minority residents who take the brunt of the pollution. They're also targeting suburbanites who think they're out of harm's way, emphasizing that large industrial polluters don't just degrade neighborhoods and compromise public health -- they promote urban flight, suburban sprawl and loss of farmland.

The short-term goal in this heavy-industry-driven region is to combine, shore up and expand community health efforts by training volunteers to do media work on the national clean air campaign (see story page 1). Ultimately they intend to stop all major sources of dioxin and lead and continue to help residents make the connection between polluted air and water and poor health.

Unfortunately, there's no shortage of filthy targets, the two most prominent being LTV Steel for its failure to report lead emissions and the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic for distinguishing itself as a major source of dioxin by burning medical waste. Volunteers succeeded in stopping a similar medical incinerator proposal in 1994 by joining forces with the Greater Cleveland Coalition for a Cleaner Environment, a community group in the historically neglected, predominantly African American Hough and Glenville neighborhoods. Whereas the group's previous organizing efforts were limited to local initiatives, the EPEC campaign is upgrading available resources afforded by working with the national clean air campaign -- and extending its reach. In activists' favor is the fact that Earth Day is a major draw in this rust-belt city and is one of the nation's largest celebrations. This year the Club expects to reach at least 10,000 Clevelanders with press conferences, tabling events and community-health fact sheets on clean air.

"It's about getting folks involved who aren't usually involved and pulling together all the little groups already working on clean air," said Great Lakes Specialist Glenn Landers. "Now that we've helped make locals aware, we're planning to reach affluent downwinders." One way he and other volunteers plan to do that is by inserting postcards into local publications that can be sent to Gov. Voinivich (R) protesting current emissions levels as dangerous to children's health.

"With new EPEC-trained volunteers leading the fight," said Landers, "we're going to be so effective communicating our message that politicians and industry will be forced to deliver what we want -- clean air for our families and our future."

Getting Mercury Off the Menu in New Orleans

Like many other EPEC efforts, the immediate challenge in Louisiana is to make people aware that a problem exists -- in this case, high mercury levels in regional waters and fish are putting human fetuses and children under the age of seven at risk for brain damage. New Orleans volunteers are using local stories and an infusion of EPEC dollars to drive home the connection between water quality and public health. They're going beyond Club members to educate the public -- especially fishers -- about the dangers of mercury-contaminated fish.

While the Environmental Protection Agency has yet to specify the primary causes of mercury contamination, scientists are aware of several industrial sources -- from leaking mercury-filled pressure gauges once used by the oil and gas industry to paper and paint manufacturers who once used mercury as a mold inhibitor. They also estimate that eating fish with mercury levels over 0.5 parts per million is hazardous to fetuses and children -- and because mercury concentrations increase up the food chain, the larger the fish, the more contaminated the catch.

Delta Chapter activists are responding by targeting the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality for failing to test and post warning signs for state waters with mercury contamination. Volunteers have already won a battle to force the DEQ to go back and resample the Pearl River and issue health advisories for it and other rivers with unsafe mercury levels.

"Last year this was a one-person campaign," said Chapter Chair Barbara Vincent. "Now with our EPEC action plan and additional resources, we have the whole chapter behind this effort, plus a wide group of volunteers. We're putting new pressure on the governor for change."

That one person was New Orleans Group Vice Chair Dr. Barry Kohl, a geologist and sedimentologist at Tulane University, who has spent the past three years reviewing data from local waters for mercury contamination. "The DEQ originally said there was no mercury problem in the Pearl River," he said. "Because of our involvement, they've increased their mercury sampling budget and have been soliciting our input in the process."

Kohl said the EPEC campaign will go far to widen contacts with local subsistence and sport fishers and solidify alliances with such high-profile allies as the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and national bass clubs. Volunteers have already started a postcard campaign asking Gov. Foster (R), a sportsman himself, to support the creation of a mercury task force and a statewide mercury coordinator. They're also planning outreach efforts to area hospitals, schools and numerous hunter/angler tabling events throughout the year.

"We can inform our members and the grassroots much better than state agencies here can," said Kohl. "Communicating with the public is foreign to them. It must be done by a public interest group such as the Club."

For more information: Contact Jim Sconyers at (304) 789-6277, e-mail: <sconyers@wnpb.wvnet.edu>; Lucienne de Naie at (808) 572-8331, e-mail: <daniel@maui.net>; Glenn Landers at (216) 791-9110, e-mail: <glenn.landers@sierraclub.org>; Barbara Vincent at (504) 348-2529, e-mail: <bbss23@aol.com>; or Barry Kohl at (504) 861-8465, e-mail: <71634.70@compuserve.com>.

http://www.sierraclub.org/planet/199705/delivery.asp


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