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Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

Citizen McClosky | Honor Roll | Home Front

And Now, Citizen McClosky...

Mike McCloskey well remembers the "chaos and desperation" of those dark days in 1969, after the ouster of David Brower as the Sierra Club's first executive director. It was a watershed moment not just for the fledgling environmental movement, but for the low-key Oregon native: when the smoke cleared, McCloskey found himself the second salaried chief executive in the Club's history.

McCloskey, in fact, has been in the thick of a good chunk of the Club's storied history, beginning at age 27 when he hired on as its first Pacific Northwest field representative. This spring, when he turns 65, McCloskey will go home again, ending a 14-year stint as Sierra Club chairman in Washington, D.C-and a conservation career that was launched during John F. Kennedy's first year in the White House.

"I never had any notion of staying so long," he admits. After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard in 1956 and serving two years in the Army, McCloskey intended to get a law degree and go into politics back in Oregon, where he could push the little-known cause of wilderness preservation. A former Eagle Scout, McCloskey was an avid mountain climber who had met Brower-the charismatic head of the 16,000-member Sierra Club-in 1959 at a convention of outdoor organizations. Brower, though not yet a "firebrand," impressed him, and the feeling was clearly mutual: a year later, his fellow mountaineer hired McCloskey to write a mailer rallying opposition to logging in eastern Oregon's Minam River Valley.

Law school, meanwhile, "bored me stiff," he recalls. Environmental law hadn't been born yet, and McCloskey had little interest in the University of Oregon's menu of torts and other business-law classes. The lure of conservation remained strong, but he continued to look to a career in politics-even after landing his full-time job at the Club's Northwest outpost in 1961. The real roots of McCloskey's 38-year marriage to the Club, in fact, may have been planted by a few thousand Oregon Republicans. He ran in 1962 as the Democratic nominee for the state House of Representatives, but lost the election by 2,000 votes. When Brower agreed to raise his $400 monthly salary, McCloskey put away his brand-new law degree and all dreams of elected office. His future lay in conservation work.

In contrast to the mercurial Brower, McCloskey has long been a calming presence at the Sierra Club. This was never so true as when McCloskey, then the Club's conservation director, stepped up in the wake of Brower's controversial firing by a deeply divided Board of Directors. ("He profited from seeing what happened to me," Brower later joked.) "Feelings ran very high," says McCloskey. "It was an extremely polarized situation. I tried to be loyal to Brower and the Board," including his other great mentor, Edgar Wayburn.

As temporary chief of staff and then permanent executive director, McCloskey presided over the rebuilding of the Club's staff, which was wracked by defections by Brower loyalists, and helped heal its fiscal woes. Over the next decade, the pragmatic McCloskey led the Club as it became a serious lobbying force on behalf of what, thanks to Earth Day, was now known as "the environment." By 1981, the era of Ronald Reagan and the fanatically pro-development James Watt-whom McCloskey was instrumental in dumping as Interior secretary-the California-focused club McCloskey had joined in 1961 had burgeoned to nearly 200,000 members, with interests ranging from wilderness preservation to clean air and water.

By 1985, McCloskey was ready for a change. Tired of balancing budgets, he was also becoming conscious of the "cultural difference between my generation and the baby boomers," the next wave of environmental leaders. In the summer of 1986 he moved to the nation's capital to become the Sierra Club's chairman, where-except for a brief reprise as acting executive director after the departure of Douglas Wheeler that October-he has focused on policy and strategic matters, both domestic and international. McCloskey has spent much of his time on the road and in the air, serving as the Club's ambassador at meetings of the World Conservation Union and other global forums.

Now, though, he's looking forward to settling down in Portland, his wife's hometown, where he plans to "spend time with kids and grandkids and friends." He also plans to write a book, to share his unique perspective on the environmental gains of the latter part of the century.

It won't be an autobiography, but it could be.


Honor Roll

Every September Sierra Club movers and shakers gather in San Francisco to celebrate the exceptional achievements of exceptional people. This year, the Club's highest honor, the John Muir Award, went to Angeles Chapter activist Jim Dodson for his role in winning the California Desert Protection Act. The Club's greatest public-lands success story of the decade, the law strengthens protection of 9 million acres of California desert. Starting in the early 1980s, Dodson's stellar negotiating skills impelled former California Senator Alan Cranston to introduce the legislation in 1986 and Congress to pass it eight years later. A self-appointed desert watchdog, Dodson is making sure the lands are managed to the letter of that hard-won law.

Such victories depend on formidable allies and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Among those recognized by the Club in other areas were Representatives Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and Jim Leach (R-Iowa), whose sponsorship of the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, which would ban commercial logging on public lands, earned them the Edgar Wayburn Award, the Club's top honor for a public official; Bill Leonard, editorial writer for the Des Moines Register, and Matt Hammill, reporter for WQAD-TV in Moline, Illinois, who won the David R. Brower Award for environmental reporting; Buck Parker of Earth Justice Legal Defense Fund, who received the William O. Douglas Award for environmental law; Jim Stimson, who won the Ansel Adams Award for photography; and Tayloe Murphy Jr., who won the Distinguished Service Award for his work in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Also honored were former Board director Rebecca Falkenberry, who won the Walter A. Starr Award for a former director's continuing support of the Club; Vicky Hoover, for service to the Outing program; and the Santa Fe Group and the Rio Grande Chapter, for their guide to fighting mining interests.


Home Front

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural heritage.

Across the Nation: FOR STUDENTS BY STUDENTS

Some kids might shrug when asked what they did over summer vacation. Not Audra Ransburg. When the Kenyon College sophomore returns to the Ohio school next fall, she'll be able to talk about what it's like to turn kids into committed environmental advocates. As coordinator of the Sierra Student Coalition summer training program, Ransburg will orchestrate workshops teaching high school students "the things that kids don't normally know how to do but should," including lobbying, public speaking, and creative fund-raising. They'll also have plenty of time for hiking and vegetarian cooking.

After each weeklong session, students will go home prepared to launch an activist campaign in their area-but that's not all. "You can't get this kind of camaraderie and respect anywhere else," says Ransburg. "Some students who have gone through the program have called it the most important event of their lives." For more information, call (888) JOIN-SSC.

Southeast: A KICK IN THE SHINTECH

The citizens of Convent, Louisiana, have a message for corporate polluters: take your dirty business elsewhere. That's just what Shintech did after residents waged a two-year battle against the international chemical giant's bid to construct a $700 million complex of polyvinyl chloride manufacturing plants in their midst. Already surrounded by 11 major industrial facilities, Convent was not about to let Shintech set up another; the company's hazardous-waste incinerator alone was expected to pump 600,000 pounds of toxic emissions annually into the city's already overburdened air.

Green groups from every corner of the state, including the Sierra Club's Delta Chapter, lent their support to the beleaguered community's fight. Chapter members flocked to public hearings, rallied on the steps of the state capitol, and marched alongside Convent activists to the governor's office to demand environmental justice. They also signed on to an administrative complaint that succeeded in blocking the company's application for four air permits. The combined efforts sent Shintech 25 miles out of town, where it plans to build a scaled-down version of its original operation. Activists are now working to chase Shintech out of the state completely.

Hawaii: LINKS JINXED

Hawaii has more golf courses than you can shake a nine iron at. Though the Hawaii Chapter has been fighting to block new links along Oahu's paradisiacal Ka Iwi coast, the recent showdown over Queen's Beach was especially critical. "This is a rugged, volcanic landscape with spectacular views of the ocean," Club member Anna Hoover says. "It's the last open space in east Honolulu." Joining with local surfers, anglers, paddlers, and beachcombers in the Ka Iwi Action Council, the chapter helped with a music festival, a traveling slide show, and the collection of 7,000 signatures on a petition that was unfurled from the third floor of the capitol rotunda. Governor Ben Cayetano responded with $11 million to purchase a sizable chunk of the property for recreation and respite.

Pacific Coast: TEACHING BY EXAMPLE

Keresha Durham, a five-year member of the Sierra Club and a bilingual-education teacher in California, augments the usual three R's with lessons in planetary stewardship. For example, her third-grade students do their classwork on the back of recycled paper or on chalkboards, and separate their trash-from aluminum lunch trays, paper, plastics, and cardboard-for Durham to tote to a recycling center.

As chair of the city of Santa Cruz's transportation committee, Durham is also working to make it easier and safer to get around on two wheels so that when her students turn 16, they won't automatically demand a driver's license and a car. And in steering clear of what she calls "auto madness" by busing or biking to work, she's setting a strong example for the children to follow. "At first they thought it was strange for an adult to bike everywhere," Durham says. "But then they began to understand that it's all part of living lightly."

Atlantic Coast: A+ ACTIVISM

Taking their cue from the old Burma Shave roadside advertisements, Maryland Sierra Student Coalition members lined up along a congested highway near Chapman Forest with signs reading, "Traffic snarls/Got ya down?/Save Chapman Forest/Before it becomes a town." Local environmentalists had long been battling Legend Properties' plan to construct Chapman's Landing-a car-dependent development of 4,600 homes, a golf course, and vast commercial space that would imperil Maryland's healthiest fishery in Chesapeake Bay. The campaign got a boost when SSC activists joined the fray in 1996 to help implement a strategy that included "Burma Shaving," phone-banking, and leafleting in the state capital. The plucky bunch even snagged CNN coverage.

When Legend began bulldozing the forest, SSCer Ben Wyskida helped turn up public pressure by staging protests at Legend's annual shareholder meeting and other events. In October, activists of all ages rejoiced when the state and the nonprofit Conservation Fund purchased 2,225 acres of Chapman Forest for $28 million.

Great North American Prairie: SUSPENDED SENTENCE

A prison isn't quite what the Illinois Chapter had in mind for the last remaining tract of sand prairie in their state. But that's what Governor Jim Edgar proposed for the old Savanna Army Depot, home to endangered species like the James Clammyweed and the grasshopper sparrow. The chapter and other prairie boosters responded to the ill-advised proposal with a letter-writing campaign. Objections rolled in, including opposition from both gubernatorial candidates and the Chicago Tribune. Last summer, the public outcry convinced the governor to put his prison elsewhere.

To spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area, contact Jennifer Hattam at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail jennifer.hattam@sierra club.org; or fax (415) 977-5794.


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