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The Planet
Who We Are

by Jenny Coyle

Virginia Ravndal - Gardiner, Mont.
Excom, Montana Chapter

Virginia Ravndal has been worldly all her life. The daughter of a diplomat, she grew up in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil. In college she trained to be a wildlife biologist, and traveled to Africa to study the pride structure of lions in a Tanzanian national park. Most of her work since then has been developing and evaluating projects for the United Nations - projects like conserving traditional crops in Bolivia, preserving coral reefs in the Red Sea near Eritrea and resolving the conflicts between people and elephants in India.

Closer to what she now calls home, Ravndal serves on the Montana Chapter executive committee. Disturbed by the government-sanctioned slaughter of one-third of Yellowstone's buffalo herd, she spent the past two years developing an alternative to a federal plan for the animals. The Government Accounting Office conducted a comparative analysis of the two plans, but no final decision has been made. "The government's plan involves capturing bison that step across an invisible boundary, quarantining them and killing them," Ravndal says. "It's a dangerous precedent to treat wildlife like livestock in our first national park. They're not, and they don't warrant the same treatment."


Samara Swanston - New York, N.Y.
Vice Chair, New York City Group

Somehow, in the middle of the country's busiest city, Samara Swanston discovered the natural world. And somehow her little-girl heart knew it was sacred. The daughter of a jazz musician and a homemaker, Swanston grew up in the Bronx and Queens surrounded by more concrete and skyscrapers than fields and trees. But she loved to explore the plants and bugs in her own backyard. Sometimes she'd get on the bus with her mother and go to the beach in Asbury Park. "I felt such peace there by the waterfront, such a connection with the sacredness of nature," Swanston said.

So it made sense when, all grown up and freshly graduated from law school, she went to work on behalf of the environment. She has stopped a developer from building houses in a wetland and helped gain permanent protection for a 17,000-acre dwarf pine forest. As an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund attorney she earned the EPA Gold Medal - the agency's highest honor - for her work on environmental justice issues. Now she's executive director and general counsel for The Watchperson Project of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, an environmental advocacy organization. That's how she met Atlantic Chapter lobbyist John Stouffer, who convinced her to be a Sierra Club leader.

"I like to focus on open space and improving environmental quality in communities of color," she says. "If a tree can be planted, a tree should be planted. If there's a corner pocket of dirt by the freeway, then plant a shrub there."


Lawson LeGate - Salt Lake City, Utah
Senior Southwest Regional Representative

Lawson LeGate draws inspiration from his great-great-great grandfather. He "found" him while poring over geneological information made available by the Mormon Church, prominent in Utah where LeGate lives. "In the early 1800s he was a settler in Ohio and Illinois," he says. "But then, at the ripe old age of 59, when he was already a grandfather, he traveled by covered wagon to the Oregon Territory and Northern California."

LeGate has taken to heart his ancestor's example that it's never really too late to change your life. "When I retire from the Sierra Club, I'm going to be a rock star," he says. "I love to sing and play the piano and guitar. I couldn't do the whole L.A. music scene, though, so I'll just be a low-key, regional rock star."

And then there is his father's example. A horseman who wanted to dramatize the need for hiking and riding trails, in the mid-1960s he rode his horse from Mexicali, Mexico to Vancouver, Canada. Perhaps with that feat in the back of his mind, LeGate - who trained as a classroom teacher - went to work for the Sierra Club in 1987. "One of my favorite aspects of the work is bringing new people into the movement, especially young people," says LeGate. More teacher than rock star, perhaps? Only his band members know for sure.


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