When Britt Jefferson and three friends got trapped in the Sierra Nevada during a fierce October snowstorm, the 57-year-old Wells Fargo employee wasn't worried. A weekend blizzard had stranded three groups of hikers throughout the mountain range, and heavy snow and freezing temperatures had stymied rescuers for days. But Jefferson and his companions, experienced hikers all, knew the most important rules: Stay in one place and keep dry. "There was absolutely no panic with our group," Jefferson says. "We knew we were doing everything right."
A San Francisco Bay Area native, Jefferson started joining Sierra Club service trips (or "volunteer vacations") after graduating from college in the 1970s. He steadily moved on to more ambitious outings, eventually becoming an assistant leader with the San Francisco Bay Chapter's snow-camping section. Over the last two decades, the group has introduced more than 3,000 people — most with limited winter-camping experience — to the joys of traveling in the snow. "It's a wonderful way to experience the wilderness," Jefferson says. Novices learn to surmount winter's challenges — how to secure tents, build snow shelters, and stay dry — on short weekend trips to Tahoe or Yosemite.
The skills Jefferson teaches came in handy during the sudden storm. "The biggest mistake people make is to go off course," he says. "Once you get lost, it's hard to be found. The Sierras are a big place." His group tried to hike out, but quickly realized they needed to hunker down at their last campsite, which they had listed on their wilderness permit, and wait. That's where a rescue helicopter found them four days later. (The other groups were rescued as well.)
The men had kept their clothes and tent as dry as possible, and built a fire from dead branches. Gale-force winds didn't capsize their tent because they had set it right. "Stakes are worthless in the snow because they just pop right out," Jefferson says. "Instead, you wrap sticks horizontally through the tent loops and bury them so the snow freezes over them. We call the sticks 'dead men,' and those dead men saved my life."
It's time once again for Sierra Club members to elect five representatives
to the volunteer board of directors. Each will serve a three-year term on the 15-member board, which votes on the Club's officers, oversees staff and volunteer activities, sets conservation priorities, and approves the annual budget. This year's ballot also includes two proposed bylaws amendments to alter the rules for future elections and one issue question about changing the Club's population policy.
The board has recommended that members vote "no" on the issue question and "yes" on the two bylaws amendments. Your ballot should arrive in the mail by mid-March. Follow the instructions to vote online, or return the completed ballot by noon eastern daylight time on April 25. Sierra will report the election results in the July/August issue.
Letter From the Field:
A Sierra Club staffer shakes the postelection blues By Jim Young
Seven crumpled dollars. Eighteen quarters. Thirteen dimes. Six nickels. It adds up to $13.10. That's what six-year-old Ezekiel Ward held carefully cupped in his hands when he shyly walked up to me at the Tacoma Public Library. I'd just finished speaking about the Sierra Club's current land-protection
efforts and was ringed by a group of adults asking heavy, hard
"Is there any chance left to keep drilling out of the Arctic Refuge?"
"How could any president want to take away protections from our wild national forests?"
"Is there any possible hope of stopping the Bush administration's assault on our environment during the next four years?"
Young Ezekiel had a question for me, too: "Can I make a contribution to the Sierra Club?" His hands were overflowing with the mix of loose change and balled-up bills.
I looked around, trying to spot his parents, and asked if this was OK with his mom and dad. Ezekiel looked me right in the eye and said, "This is my money. I took it out of my piggy bank."
And indeed, sitting on a chair nearby was a plastic, see-through piggy bank that was now almost empty. Ezekiel asked again, "Who can take my contribution?"
I smiled my biggest, most genuine smile since November 2 and told him I could. As we awkwardly dumped the money from his cupped hands into mine, some of the coins spilled onto the ground and rolled off in all directions. The other adults were smiling too, and scrambling around on their hands and knees to collect every last coin.
What did it feel like leaving the library with renewed hope for the next four years and that $13.10
jingling around in my lumpy back pocket? Priceless.
Jim Young is a representative in the Sierra Club's Northwest/Alaska Regional Office in Seattle.
Visit the Sierra Club's Web site at www.sierraclub.org/takeaction, where you
can sign up for the Take Action Network to send free messages to your elected officials.
For the inside story about Club conservation campaigns and how you can help, ask for a free subscription to the
bimonthly print newsletter the Planet. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, 85 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94105-3459.
Texas: Sticky Thicket
The battle to protect the hardwood and pine forests of east Texas's Big Thicket was long and acrimonious, culminating with the designation of the country's first national preserve in 1974. Thirty years later, Big Thicket is still under threat, but this time from below.
At the behest of a Houston energy company that owns subsurface mineral rights at Big Thicket, in 2001 the National Park Service weakened environmental rules governing "slant drilling." Using this technique, oil and gas operators set up rigs on private land and drill at an angle to tap reserves underneath adjacent parks. The new regulations allow the agency to exempt well operators from detailed reporting of their environmental impacts.
Adopted without public input, the rules affect more than a dozen parks nationwide, including Padre Island and Lake Meredith in Texas, Big Cypress in Florida, and Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas. Since 2002, the agency has approved or is in the process of approving 19 wells near Big Thicket, which increases the risk of air and water pollution in its 97,000 acres of plains, forest, swamps, and bayous.
In November the Sierra Club sued the National Park Service and the Interior Department, hoping to negate the policy change. "The Bush administration bent over backwards to help its friends in the oil and gas industry," says Brandt Mannchen, chair of the Lone Star Chapter's Big Thicket Committee.
Washington: Somebody;s Gotta do it
Add "wrist action" to an environmental activist's toolkit. Last fall, the Northern Rockies Chapter's Upper Columbia River Group initiated one of the cushiest conservation projects ever: providing fly-fishing lessons to eastern Washington residents on the Spokane River, a surprisingly prolific stream that flows through its namesake city of 200,000.
"Fly-fishing 101" is the first in a series of outings designed to get residents' feet wet and recruit sportspeople who share the Club's conservation ethic. Swede's, a local "flyshop," rented gear and provided leaders and flies, even though it's not normally a rental operation.
Spokane's urban trout fishery has suffered for years from mining wastes, PCBs, sewage effluent, and dangerously low summer flows. The best fishing on the river, in fact, is sandwiched between Superfund sites in the Coeur d'Alene Basin and along the Columbia River. (Needless to say, catch-and-release fishing is advised.) This year, the Club is also planning excursions to Idaho's Kelly Creek and St. Joe and North Fork Coeur d'Alene Rivers, among the best — and unprotected — native cutthroat streams in the West. It sure beats phone-banking.
MORE INFORMATION Contact self-proclaimed "fishing fiend" and Sierra Club organizer Jeff Holmes at (509) 868-3337 or email@example.com.
Hawaii: A Telescope Too Manay
They've been likened to money changers in the temple, or a ring of McDonald's restaurants around Stonehenge. Thirteen telescopes crown the summit of Hawaii's Mauna Kea, cluttering a site sacred to Native Hawaiians and threatening unique plants and animals atop the highest point in the Pacific.
Enough is enough, say Native groups and the Sierra Club's Hawaii Chapter, who filed a lawsuit in November to stop a $50
million NASA-funded expansion. The groups contend that the 13,796-foot peak already supports the maximum number of telescopes allowed by Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources, that decades of observatory construction and operation have caused significant damage, and that a comprehensive management plan should be
approved before any additions are considered.
Contact Us: Spotlight Sierra Club
activism in your area by writing to Reed
McManus at Sierra, 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105-3459;
e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; fax (415) 977-5794.