Before Edgar Wayburn's first visit to Alaska in 1967, few Sierra Club members
knew much about the great wilderness to the north. All that changed when the
Club's then-president presented the Board of Directors with an expansive vision:
to save the wildlands of the last frontier.
"My wife, Peggy, and I were overcome by the sheer magnificence, beauty, and
wildness of Alaska," says Wayburn, who was recently awarded the Presidential
Medal of Freedom for his lifetime of conservation work. "I felt as if I was
seeing what Lewis and Clark saw when they crossed the Great Plains, what Muir saw
when he wandered in the Sierra." With passion and persistence, the already busy
physician turned his dream into action.
"Ed's infectious enthusiasm and recitation of details captured everyone's
imagination," says former Sierra Club Chairman Michael McCloskey, who served as
conservation director when the Alaska campaign began. Wayburn sparked a
decade-long effort that culminated in the passage of the Alaska National Interest
Lands Conservation Act of 1980. The measure doubled the size of the national park
system and established new national forests and wildlife preserves, protecting
100 million acres in all.
Over the past 50 years, Wayburn has led many successful campaigns, including one
that established Redwood National Park in 1968. When you add up the acres, he has
saved more wilderness than any other person alive. In August, Wayburn joined
activist luminaries such as Rosa Parks and Cesar Chavez-people whom President
Clinton has described as "the best of America"-in the pantheon of Medal of
Freedom winners. In his congratulatory remarks, Clinton noted that Wayburn "has
helped to preserve the most breathtaking examples of the American landscape" and
lauded his love for the natural world.
"I wish we all had been there with Edgar Wayburn when he first laid eyes on the
spectacular vistas of the land north of San Francisco-for then we could have
experienced the wilderness from his unique and wonderful perspective," Clinton
Although Wayburn has helped protect wildlands throughout the United States, the
natural environment of the San Francisco Bay Area-his home since 1933-may have
benefited the most. Wayburn's efforts helped establish Point Reyes National
Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), the nation's
largest urban park. The 76,500-acre GGNRA, created in 1972, boasts the Presidio
of San Francisco, Alcatraz Island, Marin Headlands, and Muir Woods National
Monument among its natural and historic treasures.
"Without Dr. Wayburn's leadership and his imagination, the Bay Area would be
quite a different place," says Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who
recommended Wayburn for the award. "Imagine the hills of western and southern
Marin covered with condominiums, and what a different and diminished place the
Presidio would be without that vista. Visually, recreationally, culturally-in
every way-Dr. Wayburn made a tremendous difference."
Pelosi also lauds Wayburn's "absolute relentlessness" as an environmental
advocate: "Legislators know that if Dr. Wayburn comes into your office, what
might have been inconceivable at the beginning of the conversation is inevitable
by the end of it."
During the GGNRA battle, when he worked closely with the late Representative
Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), the powerful chair of the National Parks Subcommittee
of the House Interior Committee, Wayburn demonstrated his ability to merge
political acumen with conservation knowledge.
"When he met with high government officials, he really knew what he was talking
about, so few people could ever trip him up," says McCloskey.
At age 92, Wayburn has retired from his medical practice but is still actively
engaged in the conservation fight. "It is my life," he says. "I have a passion
for seeing that as much of the natural world as possible is protected." A Sierra
Club president five times, he holds the title of honorary president and works
regularly in the San Francisco headquarters, where a huge map of Alaska nearly
covers one wall in his office.
"At the Medal of Freedom reception, Ed was talking to the president of the United
States about further things he ought to do," McCloskey says. "Even at this stage
in his career, he's still at it." by Jennifer Hattam
Five Years of The Planet
Tree-huggers. Hunters. Schoolkids. Grandmothers. If you want to know who Sierra
Club activists really are, read The Planet, the Club newspaper that puts a face
on the 585,000-member organization with profiles and victory tales.
"We're painting a picture of a movement and helping to create it at the same
time," says managing editor/designer John Byrne Barry. "For example, by reading
The Planet month after month during the Clean Air Act campaign in 1997, you got a
sense of the Sierra Club movement growing over time, as opposed to just watching
the progress of a particular bill."
The Planet's launch in 1994 helped the Sierra Club refocus its activism from
inside-the-Beltway lobbying to community-based grassroots action. "We want to be
as useful a tool as possible for activists," says senior editor Jenny Coyle. The
eight-page tabloid is packed with primers on the Club's most important campaigns,
as well as stories heralding local conservation victories and explaining how readers can
take action on environmental issues. The Planet's staff prides itself on sharing
practical activist skills-what to say when you meet with your senator, how to
craft a press release or organize a "Tour de Sprawl"-that can be applied
"We want to celebrate, support, and nurture the grassroots by telling what they
do, how they do it, and who they are," Barry says. "By telling their stories, we
contribute to their success and help build the movement."
The Planet goes out ten times a year to more than 5,000 Club leaders, as well as
25,000 members of the Sierra Club activist network.
In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups
spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural
American Southeast: CEMENT NIX-ERS
Rising from northern Florida's underground springs, the Ichetucknee River courses
through rural Columbia and Suwannee counties. Its lush banks burst with
old-growth cypress, palmettos, oaks, and green sea grass, while its clear waters
provide a home for manatees, otters, and beavers, plus recreation for
"The area is the last bastion of old Florida. It's like paradise," says
Virginia Seacrest of the Sierra Club's Suwannee/St. Johns Group. Local developers
agreed that the area was perfectfor a cement plant.
Activists mobilized quickly when they heard about the proposed facility, which
would have spewed pollutants 24 hours a day. Club members testified before
Suwannee County commissioners, gathered 8,000 anti-cement-plant signatures, and
held a protest march. Their hard work paid off in June when state Department of
Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs denied a permit for the cement
plant, just one week after seeing the Ichetucknee's beauty on a canoe trip.
Central Appalachia: FROM BROWNFIELD TO GREENWAY
What do you get when you add a group of artists, a dedicated attorney, and a
former industrial dump site in Pittsburgh's East End? A beautiful greenwayor so
lawyer John Stephen hopes.
Stephen, a Sierra Club volunteer, is working with artists at Carnegie Mellon
University's Studio for Creative Inquiry to design a better future for Nine Mile
Run, a polluted urban stream where slag, a by-product of steel-making, was dumped for decades. Their ambitious,
community-oriented project aims to transform the postindustrial "brownfield" site
into a 100-acre addition to Frick Park. The team is enlisting local residents to
help monitor the site and plant native streamside vegetation.
"It's one of the last open streams
in Pittsburgh," Stephen says. "Our watersheds have been neglected during the
twentieth century, but hopefully people can be awakened to that and start
Atlantic Coast: THE WORLD IS THEIR CLASSROOM
While other junior-high students read about Huck Finn's exploits, Discovery
Program students in Orange County, Virginia, will be having adventures of their
own as they hike the Blue Ridge Mountains. Former eighth-grade history teacher
Andy Mink created the program in 1996 as a supplement to classroom education, but
this year Discovery will be the main event for 48 students. "Most kids learn
information for their tests and forget it by the next week," Mink says. "But the
Discovery Program teaches them how to apply a core of knowledge."
The students still learn science, math, English, and social studies, but each
element of the curriculum is tied to wilderness activities and service
projects-including trail maintenance, river cleanups, and environmental
data collection-with the Sierra Club's Battlefields Group and other
organizations. "Our participation is an ideal way to help teach the next
generation of environmental stewards," says group Chair Doris Whitfield.
Pacific Coast: A BREAK FOR BALLONA
Amid the malls and subdivisions of Los Angeles, Rose MacHardy has found her
conservation calling: taking a stand against sprawl. "When I moved here, I wasn't
an environmentalist," says MacHardy, now a member of the Sierra Club's Ballona
Wetlands Task Force. "But when I looked at what would be going under concrete
with the Playa Vista development, I realized that I needed to work to save
At the Club's well-attended town-hall meetings, MacHardy and other activists have
rallied opposition to the Playa Vista project. The development would bring 13,000
residential units, 5.6 million square feet of commercial space, 190,000
commuters, and 10 tons of daily air pollution into Ballona's wetlands and
wildflower fields, threatening the brown pelicans, snowy egrets, and monarch
butterflies that dwell there. But the development's financial outlook took a big
hit in July when entertainment giant DreamWorks announced it was pulling out of
the project. "Everyone thinks that Los Angeles is a goner," MacHardy says, "but
there's a real chance to save the last remaining coastal wetlands."
Southern Appalachia: BLACK MOUNTAIN WON'T GO BARE
If coal-mining interests had their way, the top of Kentucky's Black Mountain
would be gone by now. In the environmentally devastating procedure known as
"mountaintop removal," hills are bulldozed to expose the coal beneath. (See "Coal
Miners' Slaughter," November/December 1998.) Black Mountain, the Bluegrass
State's highest point-home not just to Kentucky's only northern hardwood forest
but also to the Cumberland River's headwaters-was the earth-movers' next target.
But outcry from the Sierra Club's Cumberland Chapter, Kentuckians for the
Commonwealth, and other concerned citizens saved "Big Black," as the locals call
it, from the fate of numerous Appalachian hilltops in neighboring West Virginia.
In May, coal companies agreed to halt strip-mining on the higher reaches of Black
Mountain. The high-elevation forest habitat will also be protected from logging,
thanks to a related deal in which the state will purchase all timber above 3,800
Great North American Prairie: BORDER SHOWDOWN
Night could turn into day for the endangered ocelot and jaguarundi, two nocturnal
cats that inhabit south Texas' lower Rio Grande Valley, if the Immigration and
Naturalization Service continues to implement "Operation Rio Grande." The
proposal calls for floodlights along 49 miles of the Rio Grande, new fences on
the Brownsville border, the conversion of dirt roads into all-weather ones, and
triple the current number of border-patrol agents.
In an attempt to protect the region and its 90,000-acre Lower Rio Grande Valley
National Wildlife Refuge, the Sierra Club has filed suit against the INS and
joined Defenders of Wildlife and 30 other environmental and human-rights
organizations to protest the operation. "It's not right for one arm of government
to undo a refuge project that another arm has been working on for twenty years,"
says Jim Chapman, chair of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Group.
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.