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HOME FRONT

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

Montana | Texas | Grease Guzzler | Welcome Wagon | Bulletin

by Elisa Freeling

Montana
Anschutz's Last Stand?
"The Valley of the Chiefs is an old Indian prayer place, a place of peace, where all the different tribes, even warring ones, came together," says Howard Boggess, oral historian of the Crow tribe. "When you went there, you had no enemies." But now strife has come to these 4,200 acres, known as Weatherman Draw to the Bureau of Land Management.

Anschutz Exploration plans to drill for oil in the dry, secluded valley southwest of Billings, where Boggess and other Native Americans still go for prayer ceremonies and vision quests. Ignoring the 80 known archaeologically significant rock art sites--some dating back a thousand years--as well as its own designation of the area as one of "critical concern," the BLM granted a permit early this year for an exploratory well and access road.

The Crow, Northern Arapahoe, Oglala Sioux, and seven other tribes are battling the BLM and Anschutz with the help of the Sierra Club's Montana Chapter and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The coalition requested a stay from the Interior Board of Land Appeals and took its case to Washington, D.C., where it convinced Representative Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) to introduce the Valley of Chiefs Native American Sacred Site Preservation Act. The legislation would overturn the BLM's decision and protect the area.

The group has also set its sights on company owner Philip Anschutz, who is not only the sixth richest American and a major Republican donor, but also a prominent collector of western art. Painters and the American West: The Anschutz Collection, with works by Frederic Remington, George Catlin, and others, is currently making the museum rounds. At the exhibitions, activists are handing out brochures that publicize the risk to the far older western art not represented in Anschutz's private holdings.

"People call it 'rock art.' We call it stories. They're the stories of our ancestors' lives," says Boggess. "This land is our history, our church, our cemetery. If I wanted to drill for oil in Gettysburg or Arlington or St. Patrick's, would they let me?" To help keep oil wells out of Weatherman Draw, contact your representative (see "Express Yourself,"), and Philip Anschutz.

Texas
Don't Mess With Texas
Shopping around for a replacement for its unpopular bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the Navy chose an unpopulated spot on the south Texas shoreline. To reach the land from ships offshore, the Navy planned to send amphibious assault vehicles tearing across the dunes of Padre Island National Seashore, an island just off the coast. At 70 miles long and one-half to three miles wide, Padre Island is the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world.

But the Navy had to hold its fire. For 20 years, biologists at Padre Island have labored to save sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico, all species of which are either endangered or threatened with extinction. Padre Island is now the site of a turtle-repopulation project. To protect eggs and hatchlings from predators, volunteers and staff search for nests and collect eggs for incubation. Once the turtles hatch, they must be released immediately so that their frenetic energy can carry them into the sea. According to Coastal Bend Group member Mina Williams, "the sight is awe-inspiring."

"I can't describe how the Navy's idea offended thousands of south Texans," says Williams. "It was beyond bizarre. It was reckless. The military maneuvers would have done irreparable damage to the dunes and the sea grass and the wildlife they support. That would have been the end of the turtles."

Five thousand angry Texans were poised to march in protest when in July the Navy suddenly decided the site was "impractical" and removed it from its prospect list--for now. "We're staying on the alert," says Coastal Bend Group chair Pat Suter, who heads a new coalition of environmentalists, fishermen, birders, religious groups, and other concerned citizens called SOS, Save Our Seashore, to guard against a sneak naval attack.

Grease Guzzler
Stopping by fast-food joints on his summer road trip, Mark Wienand had an unusual request at the drive-thru: one order of grease, hold the fries. A member of the North Carolina Chapter, Wienand modified his 1985 diesel-engine Volkswagen to run on used restaurant-fryer vegetable oil and then spent six weeks touring the nation to extol the virtues of non-fossil fuels. "By running vehicles on vegetable oil, most harmful emissions are reduced or eliminated," Wienand says. As a bonus, "the exhaust smells like French fries or Chinese food--whatever the grease was used to cook."

With "Powered by Vegetable Oil" splashed across his car, Wienand witnessed an array of reactions in his loop around the nation: "Some people were into the novelty of it, asking silly questions like, 'Can you fry a chicken while you drive?', but others were on-the-spot converts, wanting to know how it worked and saying they were going to get their own biodiesel cars."

Two earlier projects, the Grease Car and the Veggie Van, provided ready methods for running diesel vehicles on vegetable oil; Grease Car's technique modifies the car, while Veggie Van's converts grease into "biodiesel." (The engines have to be diesel because those use a thicker fuel that depends on tighter air compression, instead of spark plugs, for ignition. That means most semis, buses, and even humvees could be running on biodiesel.) For his trip Wienand bought a $600 conversion kit from Grease Car, allowing his Jetta to run on fuel ranging from bacon grease to light salad oil.

Vegetable oil isn't perfect: Emissions aren't completely eliminated, and if everyone were doing it, Wienand admits, it'd be expensive. If he had to buy the vegetable oil, it might cost him $6 or $7 a gallon.

Once summer ended, Wienand went back to teaching and playing sax at Pfeiffer University and in his hometown of Winston-Salem, but he still promotes his grease car, visiting classrooms and trying to convince schools to run their buses on biodiesel. "My dream is to have a zero-emission vehicle," Wienand says, but the grease car is a start. "It's the first time I'm really walking my talk as an environmentalist." To walk (or drive) your own talk, check out www.greasecar.com or www.veggievan.org.

Welcome Wagon
As President Bush and his staff have stumped across the country, pushing their plans to turn national forests and other public lands into stripmines and clearcuts, Sierra Club members have been there to welcome them. In Chicago in June, protestors greeted Energy Department secretary Spencer Abraham with an inflatable White House supplemented with smokestacks. Local Sierra Club organizer Jennifer Johnson, working with Clear the Air, the American Lung Association, and Citizen Action Illinois, rallied demonstrators and called a press conference to criticize the administration's energy policies. People who enjoy breathing have a lot to worry about: Bush plans to weaken pollution-control requirements for utilities and plunk down 1,300 new power plants nationwide.

During a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in August, the president stopped in Estes Park, where colorful protestors met his motorcade. Rocky Mountain Chapter member Janna Six impersonated a creek chub, a fish native to Colorado that she calls "one of those unknown, uncharismatic creatures" whose habitat is threatened by Bush policies, including one he was promoting that day: logging and the so-called smart management of national forests, ostensibly to prevent wildfires.


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 elisa.freeling@sierraclub.org; fax (415) 977-5794.

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