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The Planet

March 1998, Volume 5, Number 2
 
With a Little Help From Friends


by Adam Werbach

Sierra Club President

 

    Sometimes nature takes care of itself.

    In January, a school of herring sank a 63-foot trawler after getting caught in its
    net off Norway's northern coast. When the crew tried to haul in the net, the
    entire school swam for the bottom, capsizing the ship. The six-member crew
    was rescued by another trawler; it's not clear whether the herring escaped.
    These Norwegian fishermen won't forget the display of nature's power.
    All too often, however, the fish get killed, the wetland gets paved, the forest
    gets logged, the river gets poisoned. Given the way humans stalk the earth,
    nature often needs help from its friends.

    When I talk about helping nature, I don't mean helping fish to capsize boats,
    but using the power of our neighbors to hold our elected officials and business
    leaders accountable. To pass laws keeping our water clean. To protect
    wetlands from being drained for another mall.

    Over the past year, as Sierra Club president, I've visited Club groups and
    chapters in 42 states and observed firsthand how dedicated and effective some
    of nature's friends can be. Everywhere I go, Club people are leading the charge.
    Take the Merced Group in California, one of the Club's oldest groups, which has
    been fighting since its inception to protect Yosemite National Park.

    At the group's annual banquet, chair Ione Scott told me that thanks to
    everyone's efforts, the park is in much better shape now than it was 20 years
    ago. The floods that swept through Yosemite Valley a little more than a year
    ago weren't just a reminder of nature's power; they also provided an
    opportunity to reduce the human impact on the park.

    Working with the Club's Yosemite Committee, the Merced Group was quick to
    call on the National Park Service to remove campsites too close to the river and
    a road that imperils Yosemite's meadows. Today, they're working to stop a
    proposed parking lot in the valley and to reduce auto traffic in the park. Not
    bad for a group with fewer than 200 members. (For more on Yosemite, see
    Corrections)

    Two thousand miles to the east, in St. Louis, where I was invited to speak at
    Washington University, I witnessed the power of a partnership between the
    local group and the students at the university working to save the city's last
    stand of old-growth forest. (Yes, St. Louis has an old-growth grove, in a city
    park.)

    The proposed Page Street extension would push development into the park,
    threatening the grove. Led by Environmental Public Education Campaign
    Coordinator Claralyn Price-Bollinger and Washington University student Phil
    Radford, residents are drumming up opposition to the extension and working to
    get the issue on the ballot.

    This ongoing battle in St. Louis is, of course, one of dozens, if not hundreds, of
    similar struggles the Club is engaged in across the country to stop development
    in important natural areas.

    But helping nature doesn't just mean stopping things. In Georgia this spring,
    Howard Loewenstein and the Atlanta Group outings program will be planting
    2,500 dogwood, maple and loblolly pines in Gwinnett County, the heart of
    House Speaker Newt Gingrich's congressional district.

    Georgia Chapter Outings Chair Gautam Bhan, who is working to further
    integrate the chapter's conservation and outing programs, takes great joy in
    showing Gingrich that uncontrolled sprawl and environmental devastation are
    not what his constituents want from their congressman.

    These are just a few of the inspiring ways Club members are helping nature. I'd
    love to hear what you're doing.

    Together these actions form an unstoppable movement toward the preservation
    of our natural heritage. If not us, who? If not now, when? And if not for the
    earth, then for what?


For more information: Contact Adam Werbach at (415) 977-5540; adam.werbach@sierraclub.org.


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