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The Sierra Club Bulletin: News for Members

Greening Capitol Hill | Awards | 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.

by Elisa Freeling

Hawaii: Forty Acres and a Mansion

When most people think of farmland, they don't imagine gated communities and golf courses. But a developer on the island of Hawaii does: Last September Lyle Anderson and Pacific Star proposed building 125 luxury homes, a 100-room private lodge, and an 18-hole golf course on 660 acres of designated farmland by calling the subdivision "agricultural." The claim meant the project needed only county approval, avoiding scrutiny by the state Land Use Commission. Realizing that the developer-friendly county would rubber-stamp the plan, Hawaii Chapter chair David Frankel petitioned the commission to intervene. Exposing the developer's blatant attempt to circumvent the law, Frankel noted that the 30 or so acres that could still support crops would hardly make the million-dollar mansions "farm dwellings."

The land in question is on the Kona slope above Kealakekua Bay-designated a state marine conservation district because of its abundant sea life-and adjacent to a state historical park where British explorer Captain Cook first landed and was later killed. Because the land is largely lava, soil would have to be imported for both the housing lots and the golf course. (Soil at another nearby Lyle Anderson project ran off into the sea during heavy rains, suffocating coral in two inches of mud.) The "farms" would also have limited public access to the coast and ancient trails, while desecrating Native Hawaiian burial sites and dozens of archaelogical sites.

Chapter organizer Jack Kelly rallied 300 people to oppose the new housing at the Land Use Commission's hearing. After six hours of testimony, the commission rejected the proposal, ruling unanimously that the development was in fact urban. Although the land's agricultural zoning has saved the area for the time being, its status isn't necessarily secure. "Our next effort is to get the land put into the conservation district," says Frankel, "so it can be protected for all time."

Atlantic Coast: Long Live the Monarch!

Concerned that the monarch butterfly's remarkable migration from Mexico to Canada may end in the next few decades, as the fields of plants that support it give way to development, Sierra Club East Coast chapters are rallying their members and others to restore the insect's habitat. "People can help just by planting milkweed," reports Maria Bechis of the Pennsylvania Chapter. "Caterpillars feed on its poisonous sap, giving the adult butterfly its ability to fend off predators." The chapter is providing teachers with planting instructions and lesson plans to educate students about the beautiful insects, whose arduous annual 2,000-mile trip can take four or five generations to complete.


After arguing for years that South Carolina shouldn't be the nation's nuclear-waste dumping ground, the state's Sierra Club chapter helped pass state legislation last June to finally clean up the disposal facility in the rural community of Barnwell. The new law will dramatically reduce the amount of radioactive waste coming into the state and greatly improve safety and oversight, both at the disposal facility and at the sites generating the waste.

Previously, low-level radioactive waste from 38 states was sent to Barnwell for burial. With thousands of customers (mostly nuclear power plants and hospitals) transporting waste across the nation, state regulators were hard-pressed to ensure safe shipping of all the hazardous material. Now that the facility will accept waste from only two other states, on-site inspections are much more feasible. "This isn't just good for South Carolina," says chapter legislative representative Robert Barber. "Ultimately this should make everyone more responsible in both the production and disposal of nuclear waste."

Rocky Mountains: Blazing Shovels

When blazes tore through western Montana in the worst wildfire season in 50 years, "there was a lot of smoke and worry," says Montana Chapter chair Len Broberg. By mid-August it became urgent for people in the Bitterroot Valley to fireproof their homes: During wildfires, houses need "defensible space," a 40-foot perimeter with no combustible materials that could carry flames to the house. But not all valley residents were up to the backbreaking labor required for the task, so members of the Montana Chapter offered to help.

Wearing dust masks and wielding rakes and shovels, the volunteers hauled brush, moved woodpiles, cleared away dead vegetation, and pruned branches from trees close to the homes, protecting 15 in all. The gritty work was rewarding: "We had felt so helpless against the fires," Broberg noted. "It was nice for people to feel like they could do something."

Pacific Northwest: Steens Mountain Marvel

Democrats and Republicans often disagree, but the rugged beauty of Steens Mountain--and the persistence of the Oregon Chapter-led them onto common ground in October. Both houses of Congress voted unanimously to designate 1.15 million acres of rocky outcroppings and glacier-cut gorges in southeastern Oregon as the Steens Mountain Protection Area, including 172,000 acres protected as wilderness. Months of careful negotiation by the Oregon Chapter and other environmental groups helped hammer out legislation all sides would accept. The precedent-setting act removes livestock from more than half of the wilderness acres (going beyond the Wilderness Act, which permits existing grazing to continue).

Had the bill not passed, President Clinton would likely have designated the mountain--whose dramatic eastern side drops one vertical mile to the old Pleistocene lake bed below--a national monument. But "this deal is much better: It prevents new roads from being built, provides for federal acquisition of private lands within the area, and establishes a redband trout reserve along with three wild and scenic rivers," says Jill Workman, a member of the chapter's High Desert Committee. "When you have your whole congressional delegation together, you can do marvelous things."

To spotlight Sierra Club activism in your area, contact Elisa Freeling at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3441; e-mail; fax (415) 977-5794.

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