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  September/October 1997 Features:
Hold Nothing Back
Heat Wave
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Sierra Magazine
Lay of the Land

Fierce Green Fire | GOP Green-bashing | Faces of Environmentalism | Bad-Air Days | Bob and Ted | Flying Blind

Rekindling the Fierce Green Fire

In the Southwest, wolves-and wilds-get a second chance.

"The government spent millions to rid this country of wolves," fumed a spokesman for the New Mexico Cattlemen's Association last year. "Now they want to turn around and spend money to bring them back. It's a seven-million-dollar boondoggle."

The cattleman was right on the first two counts. Despite predictable yowling from the livestock industry, most southwesterners thought the real boondoggle was the near-extermination of El Lobo in the first place. Now, in Arizona's Blue Range Primitive Area--not far from where the young ranger Aldo Leopold, in a celebrated moment of revelation, saw the "fierce green fire" turn to frost in the eyes of a dying wolf--they're taking steps to restore the precarious balance of nature.

The Mexican gray wolf, all but eradicated by the 1930s, is returning. Supporters view the reintroduction as the endangered species' last chance for survival. It's also a rare chance to reclaim a region whose once-rich diversity had seemed irretrievably lost.

"To have a healthy ecosystem you need some large predators," explains Sandy Bahr, a Sierra Club activist from Phoenix who has worked to get the Mexican wolf reintroduced in the Southwest. "We need to adapt to living with wolves, not vice versa."

The wolves, however, will definitely have some adjusting to do. Canis lupus baileyi, which once ranged freely in the Southwest and northern Mexico, hasn't been seen in the Arizona wilds for some 30 years. Since bottoming out at a population of 7 in 1960, the Mexican gray has been bred in zoos, and currently numbers around 150. The Arizona Game and Fish Department now expects three families (up to 15 animals) to be moved to acclimation pens in Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest by year's end. Once the wolves get used to the forest environment--which could take six months or longer for captive-bred creatures like these--they'll be allowed to roam the Apache as well as the adjoining Gila National Forest, across the New Mexico border.

"We're trying to make the ecosystem whole again," says Tom Bauer, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the next decade, the agency hopes to see the region's wild wolf population expand to at least 100.

Not everyone is sanguine about the recovery plans. Siding with ranching and agribusiness interests, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico both opposed reintroduction; in addition to fears that wolves would prey on livestock, foes fretted over possible land-use restrictions. But years of relentless campaigning by conservationists helped rally broad support--including that of a handful of local ranchers--and won crucial backing from the Arizona Game and Fish Commission and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the nation's top wildlife manager.

"Without strong public support this never would have happened," says the Sierra Club's Bahr. She gives much of the credit to veteran Club activist Bobbie Holaday, who founded PAWs (Preserve Arizona's Wolves) to focus on wolf recovery, drawing on financial and volunteer support from the Club as needed. Also vital was the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, which has offered to compensate any ranchers whose livestock are killed by wolves. (Such instances have been rare around Yellowstone National Park, where wild Canadian wolves were relocated in 1995.)

The Mexican wolf's return to Arizona is "a wonderful step in the right direction," Bahr says. "But this is not the way we should be doing things. We shouldn't have to spend so much money, time, and resources to bring an animal back from near-extinction. We should be working to preserve intact ecosystems to begin with."
-- B. J. Bergman


Happy Earth Day, Vladimir!

The GOP just can't stop green-bashing.

What makes people most nervous about Republican control of Congress? According to a post-election poll, the biggest reservation of 24 percent of respondents was the party's approach to the environment. Thus, as the 105th Congress got under way earlier this year, GOP leaders on Capitol Hill spoke soothingly of reconciliation and bipartisanship. "The Republican environmental agenda will consist of more than coining new epithets for environmental extremists or offering banal symbolic gestures," wrote Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in The New York Times. House Speaker Newt Gingrich expressed similar sentiments. "There's a lot of confusion about where we stood on the environment," he complained.

In order to clear up that confusion, Gingrich had established an environmental task force, chaired jointly by anti­Endangered Species Act crusader Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and eco-hero Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.). Despite his new position, Pombo played true to form, attempting to hold a popular flood-relief bill hostage to his plan to gut the Endangered Species Act. Boehlert demurred, causing task-force member Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) to declare that he had "lost respect for the sanctity of private property and human life." Boehlert, she explained, "comes from a mostly concrete district, where they don't have the kinds of floods we have."

In fact, Boehlert's district includes the Catskill and Adirondack mountains, and six of his constituents drowned in the 1996 floods (compared with none of Chenoweth's). But Chenoweth has some odd ideas about geography. For example, in arguing that the U.S. Forest Service should abandon efforts to recruit minorities in Idaho, she maintained that "the warm-climate community just hasn't found the colder climate that attractive. It's an area of America that has simply never attracted the Afro-American or the Hispanic."

Statements by some of Chenoweth's colleagues from the northern Rockies cause one to wonder about the cold-climate community. "It's no accident that Earth Day is Lenin's birthday," insisted former Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallop (R), speaking on National Empowerment Television. Wyoming state Representative Carolyn Paseneaux (R) titillated a "wise-use" convention with stories about how the United Nations "will very much displace people" from the northern Rockies, alluding darkly to "the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the Bilderburgers, the Trilateral Commission, and how our president plays into that." (Sadly, she never did explain.)

Western Republicans remain oddly obsessed with the United Nations. In Colorado, state Senator Charles Duke (R) introduced a measure to support Alaska Representative Don Young's (R) American Land Sovereignty Protection Act, which would prevent blue-helmeted U.N. troops from taking over rural areas of the United States. (See "None Dare Call It Reason," January/ February.) Last year, when questioned by a sheriff's deputy about who might have been responsible for a break-in at his home, Duke fingered Newt Gingrich--a likely suspect, Duke thought, because the speaker had complained in 1994 about the "state sovereignty movement."

"Inasmuch as I was the perceived leader of the movement at the time," said Duke, "I considered [this remark] a direct threat against me personally."

Gingrich didn't seem overly concerned about Duke's allegations, but he did worry about the intraparty squabbling. In May, seeking to cool down anti-environmental westerners, Gingrich reportedly apologized to them for Boehlert's role in ultimately killing Pombo's anti-ESA rider, promising to make Boehlert "irrelevant" in the future. Meanwhile, by mutual agreement, Pombo and Gingrich declared that the environmental task force was "inactive."

The speaker's attempt to soften his party's environmental image ran into reality on the state level too. In Arizona, for example, Republicans authored a bill to allow agricultural pesticide spraying closer to schools and daycare centers. "If you get a dose of it," suggested Senator Pat Conner, "just go take a bath." (A similar formulation was employed by Chuck Shipley, a lobbyist for the Arizona Mining Association, in commenting on a bill to weaken aquifer protection: "If they're thirsty," he said, "they'll drink that crap.")

How will it end? "They [environmentalists] should have a victory parade and just go home," sighed Becky Norton Dunlop, secretary of natural resources for the state of Virginia. Hope springs eternal.
-- Paul Rauber


Faces of Environmentalism

Here's a paradox: measured by self-identification alone, 65 to 80 percent of Americans are environmentalists. But measured by membership in green organizations, only 5 percent are. To get a more accurate picture, enterprising pollster George Pettinico cross-tabulated responses from a number of national surveys, selecting out as "true greens" those who rated the environment as one of the most important issues facing the country; who said it played an important role in their decision in the last presidential election; who thought that the government was doing too little to safeguard the environment; and who favored environmental protection over economic expansion. His results put to rest the claim that the environment is only a concern of middle-class, middle-aged whites. There are more shades of green than commonly thought.

PERCENTAGE OF "TRUE GREENS"

Whites:46%
African-Americans:58%
Latinos:58%
Over 60:39%
50 to 59:40%
30 to 49:50%
Under 30:57%
High school graduate:49%
College and postgraduate:50%


Bad-Air Days

Last April, when the old Mir space station developed problems with its air system, Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) took up the cause of air quality for visiting American astronauts with senior NASA officials.

Sadly, Lewis' concern for air quality does not extend to his Southern California district. For 65 days last year, the city of Redlands violated permissible limits of ozone--a slight improvement on its 98 days of violation in 1994, the year Lewis introduced legislation to cut a third of the EPA's budget, which would have sharply curtailed its ability to enforce clean-air standards. Luckily, Sierra Club activists were able to save the clean-air funds.

Air quality for astronauts, both on Earth and in space, is regulated by OSHA, and ozone may not exceed an average of .1 parts per million over a workday. Ozone levels in Redlands are sometimes double the EPA limit of .12 ppm per hour, so if American astronauts ever stop by to visit their benefactor, they'd better wear their space suits.
--Harold Weston


Bob and Ted's Big Adventure

A rocker and race-car driver take on wilderness.

When three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser got lost for two days while snowmobiling illegally in Colorado's South San Juan Wilderness last December, he got more than a citation from the U.S. Forest Service. Unser became the latest poster child of anti-environmental "wise-use" groups infuriated with the Wilderness Act of 1964, a law that has the audacity to suggest that there are some public lands where natural processes, not human uses, should take precedence. Joined by aging rocker and avid bow hunter Ted Nugent, Unser was the star attraction at a joint congressional hearing in April pillorying management of federal wilderness areas.

"There is something un-American going on at the Forest Service," Unser said before the hearing. "It's become obviously an environmental stronghold. It's worse than the KGB in Russia." Not to be outdone, Nugent, who advocates hunting in national parks, urged Congress to "tear down the walls to wilderness in North America."

Two months after his appeal to patriotism, Unser was convicted in federal court for his snowmobile foray. The judge was not swayed by his claim that he accidentally crossed into the wilderness area in South San Juan. Among the evidence: in an encounter with a ranger in 1993, Unser reportedly stated that he knew where the wilderness boundaries were, and that if he entered the area "nobody would be able to catch him."

If only all such transgressions could be resolved so expeditiously. Last year, the Forest Service reported 1,387 violations of the ban on motorized equipment in wilderness areas, and even larger threats loom. These Capitol Hill hearings may be a prelude to broader efforts in Congress to open up protected federal lands to logging, grazing, and other commercial activities. But some benefits emerged from the sideshow: after Unser's case hit the national media, fewer snowmobilers violated the Wilderness Act in the national forest where the crime occurred.
--Reed McManus


Flying Blind in Florida

Big birds you don't want in the Everglades.

You might think the closure of a smallish Air Force base hard by the Everglades would be a boon to the natural environment, and a blessing for lovers of peace and quiet. But then you probably wouldn't expect a commercial airport on the order of New York's JFK to take its place.

The base, less than 15 miles from Everglades National Park and just 2 miles from Biscayne Bay National Park, has been closed since Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992. The Defense Department is about to lease the shuttered facility for 20 to 30 years to Dade County, which agreed to let a developer turn it into a modest regional airport.

There's one small problem, however. Since the project's environmental impact statement was prepared in 1994, the benign little airport has metastasized into a huge international one, intended not as a backup for Miami International but as a competitor, with at least 230,000 flights annually projected by the year 2015. Opponents-led by the Sierra Club, Friends of the Everglades, and the Izaak Walton League-say the resulting noise and pollution will have devastating effects on the Everglades and environs. Moreover, because the feds are refusing to do a supplemental impact statement on the expanded facility, the planned airport appears to violate the National Environmental Policy Act.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact sierra.magazine@sierraclub.org for more information.


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