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  January/February 1998 Features:
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Sierra Magazine
Home Front

Rocky Mountains:
ON THE GRIZZLY'S TRAIL

To publicize the need for wildland corridors linking grizzly bear habitats, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies sponsored an unusual walkathon last July. Starting at Chief Joseph Pass above Montana's Big Hole Valley, a band of conservationists, including Sierra Club member Jennifer Berenstein and Sierra Club Board member Betsy Gaines, embarked on the Great Grizzly Hike. The 300- mile trek along the Continental Divide followed a path a grizzly would likely travel between the Salmon and Selway rivers ecosystem in central Idaho—an area the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering for grizzly reintroduction — and Yellowstone National Park.

Throughout the 30-day journey, hikers wended their way through fields of glacier lilies, whitebark pine, and swarms of mosquitoes, monitoring forage and habitat conditions. "Without corridors to connect isolated populations, the bears will eventually go extinct," explains Gaines. "Our hike underscored the viability of building those bridges."


Atlantic Coast:
AN UNFAIR FAIR

Having distributed Sierra Club materials at Hampton, Virginiaıs annual Bay Days Festival eight years in a row, York River Group activists were surprised to hear that theyıd be asked to leave if they circulated petitions opposing a dam on the Mattaponi River. "Other groups advocated a variety of issues that day," says volunteer Tyla Matteson. "We had been singled out." It soon came to light that Bay Days officials manufactured the restriction to appease Newport News Waterworks. The principal developer of the proposed dam and 1,500-acre reservoir had threatened to pull its booth from the festival if the Club gathered signatures.

"The Waterworksı empty pitch for growth and jobs hasnıt worked, so they resorted to censorship," says Matteson. "Despite their flip-chart presentations and PR video, they havenıt been able to sell the public on flooding 500 acres of wetlands and disrupting the lives of two Native American tribes." As for muzzling the Sierra Club, the attempt backfired. "We would have reached hundreds at our booth, but because the press got wind of things, we reached thousands."


Great Lakes:
GUNS AND GAMES

The Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 taxes guns, ammunition, and other hunting equipment to fund conservation of wildlife and its habitat. According to the Mackinac Chapter, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceıs disbursement of these funds has mostly benefited hunters. The chapter discovered that the agency does not require sufficient environmental review of the projects it finances.

In 1995, for instance, Fish and Wildlife gave the thumbs-up to clearcut 40,000 acres per year of Michigan forestlands to give hunters a better bead on their prey, and the agency continues to maintain destructively high game populations. Now, after a two-year effort by the chapter to call attention to the much abused statute, Fish and Wildlife and the state have agreed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by evaluating all wildlife restoration proposals for ecological consequences.


American Southeast:
OTHER PEOPLE'S GARBAGE

Fourteen years ago, few in Moody, Alabama, suspected that a garbage dump would befoul their community. "The rumor was that a golf course was under construction," recalls Aaron Head of the Cahaba Group. Before long Acmar Regional Landfill, a 50-acre facility on a fault line near one of the state's primary sources of drinking water, quietly began collecting 1,500 tons of garbage a day, importing much of it from Connecticut and New York.

For a while, a cozy relationship between city and state officials and the landfill operators stymied community action, but as word of the facility's 1992 permit to expand to 750 acres spread throughout the small town, so did an organizing effort that led to a collaboration with the Sierra Club. A week of Sierra Club Training Academy workshops sharpened local activists' media and lobbying skills, and access to Club office equipment helped them keep officials accountable. After years of work, Moody activists have finally convinced the town council to withdraw its approval of the expansion. "It's going to take us some time to close Acmar down," Head says, "but we're off to a good start."


Pacific Coast:
FISHY DEALS

One hundred and fifty years of logging has helped ruin 95 percent of the coho salmon's original habitat by leaving coastal streams too shallow, warm, and muddy for the fish to thrive. But instead of restoring the coho and local fishing economies, the National Marine Fisheries Service settles for half-measures that benefit the timber industry. In California, NMFS listed the coho as endangered but didn't set regulatory guidelines, and refused to list it in Oregon, arguing that the state's salmon conservation plan is adequate, even though it's largely voluntary and doesn't protect fragile watersheds. Activists in both states are fighting for the coho, with the Oregon Chapter suing the feds for strong, enforceable safeguards for the jeopardized fish.


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