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Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

Oregon Sends a Message | Volunteer Spotlight | Ecoregion Roundup

Oregon Sends a Message

Mr. Smith will not be going to Washington—at least not in 1996.

by B. J. Bergman

In a special January election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated after 27 years by Bob Packwood, Oregonians nixed Republican State Senator Gordon Smith and narrowly gave the nod to eight-term Democratic Congressman Ron Wyden. A voter survey by the Portland Oregonian found that "concerns about the environment and strong support from women provided the edge" the winner needed.

Wyden, meeting the press for the first time as the next senator from Oregon, agreed. "I think this sends a very clear wake-up call to Congress on environmental issues," he said.

The Sierra Club has been laboring since the 1994 GOP congressional takeover to make the environment a central campaign issue in 1996. Oregon's special election was an early test of how our message is playing with the nation's voters—who, despite calling themselves environmentalists, often fail to prove it on election day. In Oregon, the proof was incontrovertible.

Clean air, pure water, and natural beauty are "part of the quality of life here," says Marcia Anderson, political chair of the Club's Oregon Chapter. "The mountains, the coast, the lakes—they draw people to Oregon. The challenge was to increase awareness and make the environment a criterion for voting."

The Club rose to the challenge. In concert with the League of Conservation Voters, we made an unprecedented commitment to a single electoral race by launching our first-ever "independent expenditure campaign." The designation prohibits direct contact with the candidate, but in return lifts the $5,000 ceiling on campaign contributions. As a result, the autonomous Club/League campaign was able to spend more than $200,000 for a campaign manager, a series of television and radio ads, and a massive get-out- the-vote effort involving hundreds of Club volunteers.

The contest brought into sharp relief the candidates' differences on the environment. Where Wyden had earned a reputation in the House as a solid supporter of green legislation, Smith managed only a dismal 4 percent rating from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters for his record in the state senate. Smith was not just a friend to polluters; as the owner of a notorious food-processing plant in eastern Oregon, he was their role model.

The day after the state's December 5 primary, the Club hit the airwaves with a TV spot exposing Smith's abysmal voting record and a history of clean-water violations at his plant, including a 1991 wastewater spill that killed thousands of fish in a local creek. In the weeks that followed, Club members could be seen toting an ersatz toxic-waste barrel, oozing green slime and labeled "Smith's Frozen Foods," through the streets of Oregon. The provocative, well-timed ads and spirited, high-visibility grassroots events won the attention of the state's newspapers and TV outlets.

With a huge war chest and support from Senator Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), Smith might easily have controlled the agenda. But environmentalists took charge instead. "The major debate in Oregon became, 'Is Gordon Smith a big polluter—or just a little one?' " explains Carl Pope, the Club's executive director. "Instead of using his monetary advantage to savage Wyden, Smith was forced to defend his own record. In the end, voters found it indefensible."

Does Oregon hold the key to a Congress that responds to the people, not to polluters? "We turned out 50,000 votes for Ron Wyden," says Chuck McGrady, chairman of the Sierra Club Political Committee, "and he only won by 20,000 votes. We made the difference." By continuing to put anti-environmentalists on the defensive, Sierra Club members could make an even bigger difference in November.


Volunteer Spotlight: With Unwavering Conviction

by Tracy Baxter

What do you give a 56-year veteran of the Sierra Club who is credited with saving more wilderness than any other person alive? If those rescued areas have already been given names, you might throw a wing- ding celebrating formal recognition of his deeds. And then to add to the festive atmosphere, you could toss out a playful brainteaser among some of the 200 guests.

Many of those gathered in November 1995 at San Francisco's Fort Mason to honor the latest recipient of the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism (past winners include former President Jimmy Carter and children's advocate Marian Wright Edelman) were asked to sum up the citizen activist in a word.

Though a few managed to stick to the prescription ("charming," "personable," "inspiring"), many others enthusiastically bent the rule to laud the character of Dr. Edgar Wayburn.

"A living legend," declared Greg Archbald of the Golden Gate National Park Association, "and a moral force to be reckoned with—always. When he sets his mind on getting something done, it gets done."

"Prescient," said Earth Island Institute President Carl Anthony. "Now we get the benefits of that vision."

When the Macon, Georgia, native arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1939, he was taken by the handsome contours of open space north of the Golden Gate. As the years passed he noted with growing urgency the need to protect those yet undeveloped hills and ridges from the building boom that followed the end of World War II. After coming home in 1946 from a four-year stint in the U.S. Army Air Corps, Wayburn went to the state capitol on behalf of the Tamalpais Conservation Club and the Sierra Club to lobby for the expansion of Mt. Tamalpais State Park, then 870 acres.

His ensuing commitment to public acquisition of surplus military properties and ranchlands led to enlarging the park to 6,300 acres by 1958 as well as to the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 and Golden Gate National Recreation Area in 1972—the most frequently visited of all national parks. He also rose to the defense of California's redwoods. "It struck me," he recalls, "that in this richest of countries there was no national park dedicated to its greatest tree." Violently opposed by lumber companies but bolstered by Congressman Phil Burton, Wayburn helped establish Redwood National Park in California's Del Norte County in 1968 and fought for its expansion to 110,000 acres a decade later.

In another successful collaboration, Wayburn and Burton crafted 1972's Golden Gate National Recreation Area bill with a provision that the Presidio military base in San Francisco would become part of the National Park system if the army vacated the property. When the army pulled up stakes in 1994, Wayburn watched with immense satisfaction as the 1,410-acre base earned public-land status.

Wayburn's environmental concerns have long extended beyond his beloved California. While viewing the splendor of Glacier Bay, Mt. McKinley, and the Kenai Peninsula on a 1967 holiday with Peggy, his wife and partner in conservation, Wayburn was stirred to take on the task of preserving the singular beauty of Alaska's wild terrain. He and Peggy tirelessly fought for its protection, employing in Congress a method he had perfected in Sacramento: seek out the key decision-makers and win their support through the force of his unwavering conviction. The Wayburn duo brought the cause before civic organizations, schools, scores of legislators, and the Sierra Club Board of Directors. Their persistence paid off. The Alaskan conservation packages Wayburn championed in the 1970s provided the foundation for 1980's Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which now protects 104 million acres of wilderness in America's last frontier.

One celebrant who has witnessed the Wayburn tenacity since 1961, Sierra Club Chairman Mike McCloskey, believes this determination is the key to Wayburn's success. "He got Alaska, Redwood, the Presidio, Point Reyes, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area all because he never let up."

Five years as Sierra Club President, nine years as vice-president, chair of sundry committees: Edgar Wayburn has accomplished as much as a phalanx of conservationists. Even now, approaching his 90th year, he continues to put in regular hours at Club headquarters as honorary president and chair of the International Committee and the Alaska Task Force. His dedication and dignified, warm presence offer encouragement to newer Sierra Club staff and volunteers.

At one point in the evening of smiles and eulogies, the courtly doctor tried on the ranger's hat given to him by the superintendent of GGNRA. Looking incongruous but pleased, the environmental stalwart inspired yet another entry in his ledger of esteem: he is a great sport.


Ecoregion Roundup

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work for a healthier planet.

by Tracy Baxter

Great Lakes: Preserving Watery Wilds
The ripple from a $180,000 bequest has helped the Hoosier Chapter promote wetland awareness in communities throughout Indiana over the last three years. Now, with a $20,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the chapter is working to bring the message into the classroom. Teaming up with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Indianapolis Zoo, the chapter put together a wetlands curriculum for grade-school students that stresses the significance of these ecosystems—from their biodiversity to their function as natural water filtration systems—and the need to guard them from development. The chapter is promoting statewide implementation of the program.

Pacific Coast: Building More Livable Communities
For years the Latino, African-American, and white residents of Lopez Canyon in Los Angeles endured the continual roar of trucks carrying hundreds of loads of garbage to a poorly maintained landfill every day, watching in disgust as even light rains washed debris into their neighborhood. Eighty-five percent of the garbage was recyclable. Yet when residents asked the city council for cleanup and an expansion of the city's recycling program, they were stonewalled. Then Lopez Canyon's Lake View Terrace and Kegel civic associations combined muscle with the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club to spotlight the landfill issue. Dozens of letters and phone calls from all sections of the city showed the officials that Lopez Canyon residents were not alone in their outrage. A fierce debate in December 1995 finally convinced the council to close the dump, an action now scheduled for July 1996.

Defending the Ancient Forests
A hunger strike by Oregon Chapter member Tim Ream opposing "lawless logging" ended in December 1995 but will likely linger in the minds of fellow activists. U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan, whose interpretation of a salvage-logging provision in a 1995 congressional budget bill gave the timber industry its fullest opportunity to cut the region's old growth, found himself involuntary host to Ream's two-and-a- half-month peaceful demonstration. Sipping only water, juices, and broth in a tent under the judge's office window, the activist quietly agitated against dismantling environmental protection in our national forests. At the same time, he drew attention to H.R.2745, the bill introduced by Representative Elizabeth Furse (D-Oregon) that would annul the "logging without laws" rider.

Protecting Endangered Species
Governor Pete Wilson's effort to override California's Endangered Species Act has been stopped cold in the courthouse. In a move widely viewed as a cynical ploy to curry favor with developers, the governor had suspended legal protection for endangered wildlife until 2000, claiming that the law hampered emergency relief efforts. But a San Francisco superior-court judge found no evidence that state wildlife protection had caused delays in recovery work and overturned Wilson's executive action. The Sierra Club and a coalition of environmental groups represented by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund scored the legal victory in January.

Great North American Prairie: Ending the Toxic Threat
For nearly a decade, Illinois has had the questionable distinction of being the only state in the nation to offer taxpayer subsidies to incinerator developers. Polluters lined up for a chance to get their hands on part of a potential $10 billion payout. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Illinois Chapter and other environmental groups, Governor Jim Edgar signed a bill in March that abolishes the giveaways. Without the public payoff, the chapter expects few, if any, of the 20 proposed incinerators to see the light of day, sparing communities the facilities' lead, dioxin, and mercury fallout.

American Southeast: Delivering Our Message
Need an aural antidote to the anti-environmental rhetoric saturating the airwaves? If you're in the Johnson City, Tennessee, area, tune in to WETS-FM Environmental News. Opening with the cry and hammering of the pileated woodpecker, The State of Franklin Group's 15-minute program on Sunday evenings covers the latest in national and local environmental issues—from "lawless logging" to billboard ordinances— plus meeting and hearing schedules. The show's ratings have nearly quadrupled in the two years since its first broadcast, prompting the public radio station's management to offer the group additional airtime. Soon the program's 77,000 listeners in northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and west North Carolina will hear GreenLights, the group's new program, on Friday afternoons, just in time to sign up for weekend outings and activism.


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