Sierra Club Conservation Policies
Agriculture -- the raising of plants and animals for food and fiber -- is an essential
human activity. Its use of land, water, energy and other resources merits high priority,
but its impacts on these resources are many and distribution of its benefits far from
equitable. We must strive for an equitable and sustainable balance between human
population and agricultural supply.
Goals: Agriculture must be carried out in an environmentally sound
- Protects land, soil, and water resources and maintains their long-term productivity.
- Conserves wilderness and other natural land and aquatic ecosystems.
- Protects genetic diversity.
- Reduces energy and materials input per unit of production.
- Minimizes dependence on manufactured chemicals.
- Promotes innovative techniques, such as low-energy, labor- intensive technologies; solar
energy for crop drying; crop, livestock and sewage waste usage; minimum tillage; and
agricultural training for urban residents.
- Meets the essential nutritional needs of a balanced world population.
- Promotes long-term, stable associations of those who raise crops with the lands upon
which their livelihood is based.
Land Use: Two trends are of intense concern: the loss of productive agricultural
land to urban, industrial, and mining development and the conversion of marginal lands and
underdeveloped areas to agricultural use.
- In general, land should not be converted from those agricultural uses which protect
long-term resource productivity.
- In areas not now in agricultural use, land-use classifications and policies should be
developed and implemented before conversion is permitted.
- Those seeking to convert land to other uses should bear the burden of proving that the
proposed new use is more important to current and future public welfare and that there is
no other feasible location for the proposed use.
- Comprehensive land-use planning is necessary to ensure a balance of lands for all
purposes. It is important that there be wide public and professional participation in the
planning process and that farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural professionals
participate in land-use decisions.
- Zoning and land-division policy and practice should be restructured to serve as a
substantive control over conversion of agricultural lands.
- Tax policy, to the extent that it encourages conversion of agricultural land, must be
reformed. Examples include adoption of differential assessment and tax deferral
techniques, restructuring of estate and inheritance taxes to promote continuity of family
farming, and elimination of tax shelters.
- The concept that "highest and best use" of land and water resources is that
which can pay the highest immediate price must be modified to reflect the long-term goal
of preserving agricultural productivity and natural resources.
- Soil erosion control should be focused on prevention of the problem at its source.
Special attention should be given to restoration of formerly productive eroded lands.
- In general, smaller, more diverse production units such as family farms, to the degree
that they result in increased environmental responsibility, are preferable to the
extensive monoculture characteristics of larger units.
Water: Agricultural use of water is of critical concern both quantitatively and
- A comprehensive water allocation policy is necessary in many regions to balance finite
supplies between the needs of agriculture, industry, municipalities, recreation and
- In general, conversion of present or potential supplies of agricultural water to
short-term industrial activities, such as mineral extraction and conversion, should be
- Use of water for any purpose should not result in undue loss of aquatic ecosystems,
adverse effects on groundwater, or construction of storage and conveyance projects whose
total social, economic and environmental costs exceed their benefit to society.
- Agriculture must strive for improved efficiency in water use and reuse.
- In water-deficient areas, proper grazing or dryland farming techniques are more
acceptable than water-intensive agriculture which often involves interbasin water
transportation, massive construction of new water works, and groundwater mining.
- Agricultural pollution control should be increased and should be preventative, being
focused on the source and causes of contaminants
rather than on elaborate downstream treatment facilities.
- Public irrigation water projects should be accountable for their full social, economic
and environmental costs and these costs, in general, should be fully reflected in the
price of water to the irrigators. Subsidies are not per se objectionable to the extent
that they are used to advance specific public policy goals and are explicitly
Meat Production and Grazing: properly regulated stock grazing is an acceptable
activity on many of those public and private lands which are suitable for sustained-yield
- Rangelands should be managed to provide a sustained-yield forage which also supports
healthy and diverse wildlife populations.
- Grazing fees on public lands should reflect the total social, economic and environmental
costs of the use of this resource.
- Grazing and pasturage, which recycle animal wastes back into the soil and which have the
potential to transform vast amounts of coarse forages into useable protein, are preferable
to present large-scale feed-grain production and feedlot operations, which, while
producing large quantities of meat protein, also have solid waste management problems, air
and water pollution, and high energy use.
- Any control of predators should be aimed at individual problem animals.
Agricultural Chemicals: Overdependence on manufactured fertilizers and biocides,
which has caused pollution of the environment, increased the energy intensiveness of
agricultural production, induced increased disease and pest resistance, and increased
human and animal morbidity and mortality, is of great concern.
- Fertilizers should be used sparingly, according to soil test recommendations for the
specific crops to be grown.
- Crop residues and other natural fertilizers should be used in preference to manufactured
fertilizers to the maximum extent possible.
- Dependence on environmentally damaging pesticides should be phased out in favor of
natural management practices and biological pest controls.
- In growth and processing of food, application of chemicals to improve product appearance
without significant qualitative contribution should be stopped.
F. Genetic Diversity: Diversity is an important factor in the stability and survival of
- Agricultural practices which could destroy the gene pools preserved in diverse varieties
of native and agricultural plants and animals must be controlled and discouraged.
- Diversity should be promoted so as to minimize large monocultures which are vulnerable
to pests and disease.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, February 21-22, 1976
- Agriculture should optimize output of critical nutritional needs, rather than only
maximizing quantities per acre.
- Particularly in developed countries, there should be a reduction in excessive food
consumption and waste patterns to allow maintenance of diet quality at lower
environmental cost. An important first step would be to develop a greater reliance on
- Within environmental constraints, we must develop standby food reserves. However,
efforts to expand drastically North American food production, at potentially great
environmental cost, must be viewed with caution.
- In recognition of the excessive pressure that expanding populations place on prime and
marginal agricultural lands, stabilization of population in all regions of the world
should be a central focus in conserving the resources which sustain these populations.
- Greater reliance on indigenous foods should be encouraged so as to minimize
transportation of agricultural products. Research into fruit, vegetable, grain and
fish varieties which will grow in various climates should be encouraged.
- Where the export to developed countries of agricultural products from a developing
country adversely affects the ability of that country to meet its own nutritional needs,
such export should be curtailed.
- Use of highly processed, or so-called "convenience foods," should be
discouraged, as these are wasteful of nutritional values, processing energy, and packaging
Research and Education: To attain the goals of this policy, there is a need for a
basic redirecting of agricultural research and education at all levels, including the
agricultural extension system.
- The teaching of agriculture, and other associated educational activities, should
emphasize restoration and maintenance of land productivity, while minimizing dependence on
- Research should be promoted which develops productive agricultural practices based on
(a) low-energy alternatives, (b) water conservation practices that would reduce irrigation
requirements, and which would (c)maintain long-term sustained yield for
soil and water.
Adopted by the Board of Directors, May 1-2, 1976