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Sierra Magazine
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.

Colorado Plateau: SACRED, NOT STONEWASHED

Arizona Sierra Club members gave the Forest Service an unusual "gift" in March: ten pairs of stonewashed jeans covered with signatures. The denim petition asked the agency to deny all new mining claims on San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, and halt a proposed expansion of the White Vulcan Mine, which provides pumice used for stonewashing.

"The Peaks are important symbolically and ecologically to people around the state," explains Sandy Bahr of the Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. The mountain chain is sacred to several American Indian tribes, who use the plants that grow there for medicine. The mine, owned by Tufflite, also endangers the Mexican spotted owl, which nests nearby. The dual threat has brought environmental and Indian activists together in opposition to mining the Peaks. Of some 1,700 comments recently submitted to the Forest Service, only two supported the mine-they were written by Tufflite's consultant and attorney.

Pacific Coast: HIKING TO HELP OTHERS

Nathan Martin could have taken it easy on his six-month leave of absence. Instead, the Sierra Club member and energy-efficiency researcher is hiking the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada.

Only a fourth of the 200 or so people who attempt to hike the entire trail each season succeed. For months Martin trained rigorously for the journey that is taking him across the California desert, over 11,000-foot Sierra Nevada passes, and through the temperate rainforests of the Cascades in Washington. (His trip journals are on the Web at www.znet.com/~martin/.) Physical challenges aside, "my biggest concern is feeling mentally strong," Martin said in April before starting out. "Every day, you have to motivate yourself to walk for eight to ten hours."

But Martin has an added incentive: he's raising money for the San Francisco Bay Chapter's Inner City Outings program, which takes low-income youth and the physically disabled on wilderness adventures. "I knew this hike would have a lot of personal benefits," Martin said, "so I wanted to do what I could to give someone else that opportunity."

Great North American Prairie: STUDENTS SCORE AT CITY HALL

Sixteen-year-old Myroslava Tataryn and her classmates in Saskatchewan taught their elders a thing or two about restoration last December. As part of a prairie-regeneration project at Tataryn's high school, the students restored several acres of prairie grass, which requires no pesticides or fertilizer.

"The idea was to do something that's good for the soil and educational," says Tataryn, a member of Canada's Sierra Youth Coalition. "Prairie grasses are native to this area, but only ten percent of the ecosystem is left."

The city called the grass an "eyesore" and demanded that the school replace it. After Tataryn explained the ecological benefits of the project at a city council meeting, however, she won a reprieve for the schoolyard lab.

Mississippi Basin: CANOEING CHEMISTS

Every January 1, a group of Louisiana Sierra Club members celebrates the new year by canoeing Alligator Bayou, a popular swamp near Baton Rouge. "You can get lost back there and be the only one around, but it's fifteen minutes from the city," says Beverly Bauer of the Club's Baton Rouge Group. "There are huge wading birds, a bald-eagle nest, cypress trees, and alligators."

Bauer's love for the area inspired her to help found a "Bayoukeepers" program that combines canoeing with chemistry. Once a month, she leads a small group of volunteers who measure chemical and bacterial levels in the water. Bauer hopes to motivate the local Department of Environmental Quality to enforce its water-quality standards more stringently. In the meantime, she says, "We're finding out what a normal, healthy bayou looks like, and what we can do to protect it."

Great Lakes: INHOSPITABLE BEHAVIOR

Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit incinerates all its trash, plaguing the surrounding community with mercury, dioxin, and other toxic emissions. "It's burning plastic and Styrofoam from the dining room, pillows, sheets, office paper, even construction debris," says Anna Holden, chair of the Sierra Club's Southeast Michigan Group.

Club members and other community organizations are calling on Henry Ford to reduce its total waste, limit its use of polyvinyl chloride plastics, and stop incinerating its garbage in this inner-city neighborhood. Local children are almost three times as likely to get asthma as those who live in more-affluent suburbs, where other hospitals owned by the Henry Ford Health System dispose of their trash in a safer manner. "It's definitely an issue of environmental justice," says Holden.

American Southeast: EVERGLADES AIRPORT

Oliver Bernstein, a Florida high school senior, has a bigger worry than his postgraduation plans. For the past two years, he's helped the Sierra Club crusade against a proposed commercial airport at the site of the former Homestead Air Force Base that would bring 236,000 annual flights within a few miles of Biscayne and Everglades national parks. Bernstein led a postcard drive that delivered 5,000 anti-airport messages to Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.

"Putting this airport there would poison the national parks," says Bernstein, a member of the Club's Miami Group and the local Youth Environmental Senate. Environmental groups have fought the plan since 1994, arguing that it would increase air, water, and noise pollution, damage wildlife habitat, contribute to sprawl, and set a devastating precedent for development near national parks. In December, a local court suspended the project temporarily, giving Bernstein time to pass his torch to new student leaders before heading off to Dartmouth in the fall.

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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