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|Motto||Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.|
|Formation||May 28, 1892|
|Headquarters||San Francisco, CA, USA|
|Exec. Dir.||Michael Brune|
|Motto||Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.|
|Formation||May 28, 1892|
|Headquarters||San Francisco, CA, USA|
|Exec. Dir.||Michael Brune|
The Sierra Club is one of the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organizations in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892, in San Francisco, California, by the Scottish-born American conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president.
Traditionally associated with the progressive movement, the club was one of the first large-scale environmental conservation organizations in the world, and currently engages in lobbying politicians to promote green policies. In recent years, the club has gravitated towards green politics and especially towards bright green environmentalism. Recent focuses of the club include green energy and preventing climate change, although traditional concerns such as the preservation of public lands and mitigating pollution remain policy priorities.
In addition to political advocacy, the Sierra Club organizes many outdoor recreation activities, and is a notable organization for mountaineering and rock climbing in the United States, having pioneered the Yosemite Decimal System of climbing. The Sierra Club does not set standards for or regulate alpinism, but it frequently organizes wilderness courses, hikes, rock climbs, and alpine expeditions for members.
The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the United States. It is affiliated with Sierra Club Canada.
The Sierra Club's mission is:
The Sierra Club is governed by a 15-member volunteer Board of Directors. Each year, five directors are elected to three-year terms, and all club members are eligible to vote. A president is elected annually by the Board from among its members and receives a small stipend. The Executive Director runs the day-to-day operations of the group and is a paid staff member. On January 20, 2010, the club announced that its new executive director is Michael Brune, formerly of Rainforest Action Network. Brune succeeded Carl Pope, who continued in the role of chairman before stepping down in November 2011.
All club members also belong to chapters (usually state-wide, except in California) and to local groups. The state of California has 14 chapters. National and local special-interest sections, committees, and task forces address particular issues. Policies are set at the appropriate level, but on any issue the club has only one policy.
The club also plays host to a number of outdoor sport societies, especially relating to mountaineering, such as the Sierra Peaks Section.
In addition to the members who are active as volunteers, the club has approximately 500 paid staff members. Many of them work at the national headquarters in San Francisco, California, but some work in the lobbying office in Washington, D.C. and in numerous state and regional offices.
All members receive Sierra magazine, a bimonthly glossy magazine describing the club's activities and spotlighting various environmental issues. Each chapter publishes a newsletter and/or schedule of activities, as do many local groups. The Sierra Club also has a weekly radio show called Sierra Club Radio.
Journalist Robert Underwood Johnson had worked with John Muir on the successful campaign to create a large Yosemite National Park surrounding the much smaller state park which had been created in 1864. This campaign succeeded in 1890. As early as 1889, Johnson had encouraged Muir to form an "association" to help protect the Sierra Nevada, and preliminary meetings were held to plan the group. Others involved in the early planning included artist William Keith, Joseph LeConte and David Starr Jordan.
In May 1892, a group of professors from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University helped Muir and attorney Warren Olney launch the new organization modeled after the eastern Appalachian Mountain Club. The Sierra Club's charter members elected Muir president, an office he held until his death in 1914.
The Club's first goals included establishing Glacier and Mount Rainier national parks, convincing the California legislature to give Yosemite Valley to the US Federal government, and saving California's coastal redwoods.
Muir escorted President Theodore Roosevelt through Yosemite in 1903, and two years later the California legislature ceded Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to the Federal government. The Sierra Club won its first lobbying victory with the creation of the country's second national park, after Yellowstone in 1872.
In the first decade of the 1900s, the Sierra Club became embroiled in the famous Hetch Hetchy Reservoir controversy that divided preservationists from "resource management" conservationists. For years the city of San Francisco had been having problems with a privately owned water company that provided poor service at high prices. Mayor James D. Phelan’s reform administration wanted to set up a municipally owned water utility. He revived an earlier proposal to dam the Hetch Hetchy valley. The final straw was the water company's failure to provide adequate water to fight the fires that destroyed much of the city following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Gifford Pinchot, a progressive supporter of public utilities and head of the US Forest Service, which then had jurisdiction over the national parks, supported the creation of the Hetch Hetchy dam. Muir appealed to his friend US President Roosevelt, who would not commit himself against the dam, given its popularity with the people of San Francisco (a referendum in 1908 confirmed a seven-to-one majority in favor of the dam and municipal water). Muir and attorney William Edward Colby began a national campaign against the dam, attracting the support of many eastern conservationists. With the 1912 election of US President Woodrow Wilson, who carried San Francisco, supporters of the dam had a friend in the White House.
The bill to dam Hetch Hetchy passed Congress in 1913, and so the Sierra Club lost its first major battle. In retaliation, the Club supported creation of the National Park Service in 1916, to remove the parks from Forest Service oversight. Stephen Mather, a Club member from Chicago and an opponent of Hetch Hetchy dam, became the first National Park Service director.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the Sierra Club served its members as a social and recreational society, conducting outings, improving trails and building huts and lodges in the Sierras. Preservation campaigns included a several-year effort to enlarge Sequoia National Park (achieved in 1926) and over three decades of work to protect and then preserve Kings Canyon National Park (established in 1940). Historian Stephen Fox notes, "In the 1930s most of the three thousand members were middle-aged Republicans."
The New Deal brought many conservationists to the Democrats, and many Democrats entered the ranks of conservationists. Leading the generation of Young Turks who revitalized the Sierra Club after World War II were attorneys Richard Leonard and Bestor Robinson, nature photographer Ansel Adams, and David Brower. Brower was 21 when he met Adams on a trail in the Sierras in 1933.
Adams sponsored Brower for membership in the Club later that year, and he was appointed to the editorial board of the Sierra Club Bulletin. After World War II Brower returned to his job with the University of California Press, and began editing the Sierra Club Bulletin in 1946.
In 1950, the Sierra Club had some 7,000 members, mostly on the West Coast. That year the Atlantic chapter became the first formed outside California. An active volunteer board of directors ran the organization, assisted by a small clerical staff. Brower was appointed the first executive director in 1952, and the Club began to catch up with major conservation organizations such as the National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, and Izaak Walton League, which had long had professional staff.
The Sierra Club secured its national reputation in the battle against the Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, which had been announced by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1950. Brower led the fight, marshaling support from other conservation groups. Brower's background in publishing proved decisive; with the help of publisher Alfred Knopf, This Is Dinosaur was rushed into press. Invoking the specter of Hetch Hetchy, conservationists effectively lobbied Congress, which deleted the Echo Park dam from the Colorado River project as approved in 1955. Recognition of the Sierra Club's role in the Echo Park dam victory boosted membership from 10,000 in 1956 to 15,000 in 1960.
The Sierra Club was now truly a national conservation organization, and preservationists took the offensive with wilderness proposals. The Club's Biennial Wilderness Conferences, launched in 1949 in concert with The Wilderness Society, became an important force in the campaign that secured passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.
In 1960, Brower launched the Exhibit Format book series with This Is the American Earth, and in 1962 In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, with spectacular color photographs by Eliot Porter. These elegant coffee-table books, published by their Sierra Club Books division, introduced the Sierra Club to a wide audience. Fifty thousand copies were sold in the first four years, and by 1960 sales exceeded $10 million. Soon Brower was publishing two new titles a year in the Exhibit Format series, but not all did as well as In Wildness. Although the books were successful introducing the public to wilderness preservation and the Sierra Club, they lost money for the organization, some $60,000 a year after 1964. Financial management became a matter of contention between Brower and his board of directors.
The Sierra Club's most publicized crusade of the 1960s was the effort to stop the Bureau of Reclamation from building two dams that would flood portions of the Grand Canyon. Opposing the Bridge Canyon and Marble Canyon dam projects, full-page ads the Club placed in the New York Times and the Washington Post in 1966 exclaimed, "This time it's the Grand Canyon they want to flood," and asked, "Should we also flood the Sistine Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?" The ads generated a storm of protest to the Congress, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to announce it was suspending the Sierra Club's 501(c)(3) status pending an investigation. The board had taken the precaution of setting up the Sierra Club Foundation as a (c)(3) organization in 1960 for endowments and contributions for educational and other non-lobbying activities. Even so, contributions to the Club dropped off, aggravating its annual operating deficits. Membership, however, climbed sharply in response to the investigation into the legitimacy of the society's tax status by the IRS from 30,000 in 1965 to 57,000 in 1967 and 75,000 in 1969.
Despite the Club's success in blocking plans for the Grand Canyon dams and weathering the transition from 501(c)(3) to 501(c)(4) status, tension grew over finances between Brower and the board of directors. The Club's annual deficits rose from $100,000 in 1967 and 1968 to some $200,000 in 1969. Another conflict occurred over the Club's policy toward the nuclear power plant to be constructed by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) at Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo, California. Although the Club had played the leading role blocking PG&E's nuclear power plant proposed for Bodega Bay, California in the early 1960s, that case had been built around the local environmental impact and earthquake danger from the nearby San Andreas fault, not from opposition to nuclear power itself. In exchange for moving the new proposed site from the environmentally sensitive Nipomo Dunes to Diablo Canyon, the board of directors voted to support PG&E's plan for the power plant. A membership referendum in 1967 upheld the board's decision. But Brower concluded that nuclear power at any location was a mistake, and he voiced his opposition to the plant, contrary to the Club's official policy. As pro- and anti-Brower factions polarized, the annual election of new directors reflected the conflict. Brower's supporters won a majority in 1968, but in the April 1969 election the anti-Brower candidates won all five open positions. Ansel Adams and president Richard Leonard, two of his closest friends on the board, led the opposition to Brower, charging him with financial recklessness and insubordination and calling for his ouster as executive director. The board voted ten to five to accept Brower's resignation. Eventually reconciled with the Club, Brower was elected to the board of directors for a term from 1983 to 1988, and again from 1995 to 2000.
Michael McCloskey, hired by Brower in 1961 as the Club's first northwest field representative, became the Club's second executive director in 1969. An administrator attentive to detail, McCloskey had set up the Club's conservation department in 1965 and guided the campaigns to save the Grand Canyon and establish Redwoods National Park and North Cascades National Park. During the 1970s, McCloskey led the Club's legislative activity—preserving Alaskan lands and eastern wilderness areas, and supporting the new environmental agenda: the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the Clean Air Act amendments, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, passed during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. The Sierra Club made its first Presidential endorsement in 1984 in support of Walter Mondale's unsuccessful campaign to unseat Ronald Reagan. McCloskey resigned as executive director in 1985 after 16-1/2 years (the same length of time Brower had led the organization), and assumed the title of chairman, becoming the Club's senior strategist, devoting his time to conservation policy rather than budget planning and administration. After a two-year interlude with Douglas Wheeler, whose Republican credentials were disconcerting to liberal members, the Club hired Michael Fischer, the former head of the California Coastal Commission, who served as executive director from 1987 to 1992. Carl Pope, formerly the Club’s legislative director, was named executive director in 1992.
In the 1990s, club members Jim Bensman, Roger Clarke, David Dilworth, Chad Hanson and David Orr along with about 2,000 members formed the John Muir Sierrans, an internal caucus, to promote changes to club positions. They favored a zero-cut forest policy on public lands and, a few years later, decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam. JMS was successful in changing club positions on both counts.
In September 2005, the Sierra Club held its first Sierra Summit in San Francisco. Approximately 1,000 volunteers from around the country, selected by their chapters and groups, were delegates; some nondelegate members also attended. There were seminars and exhibit presentations about current environmental issues and about techniques for more effective activism. Prominent guest speakers included Al Gore; Bill Maher; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; and Arianna Huffington.
In January 2013, executive director Michael Brune announced  that the Sierra Club would officially participate in the first civil disobedience action in its 120-year history as part of the ongoing protest calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, stating, “we are watching a global crisis unfold before our eyes, and to stand aside and let it happen – even though we know how to stop it – would be unconscionable." On 13 February 2013, Michael Brune was arrested along with forty-eight people, including civil rights leader Julian Bond and NASA climate scientist James Hansen.
In 1901, William Colby organized the first Sierra Club outing to Yosemite Valley. The annual High Trips were led by accomplished mountaineers (some of them Sierra Club directors), such as Francis P. Farquhar, Joseph Nisbet LeConte, Norman Clyde, Walter A. Starr, Jr., Jules Eichorn, Glen Dawson, Ansel Adams, and David R. Brower. Many first ascents in the Sierra Nevada were made on Sierra Club outings. Sierra Club members were also early enthusiasts of rock climbing and pioneers of the craft. In 1911, the first chapter was formed, Angeles, and it immediately started conducting local outings in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles and throughout the West. In World War II, many Sierra Club leaders joined the 10th Mountain Division, bringing their expertise to the war effort. Among them was Brower, who managed the High Trip program from 1947 to 1954, while serving as a major in the Army Reserve.
The High Trips, sometimes huge expeditions with more than a hundred participants and crew, have given way to smaller and more numerous outings held across the United States and abroad. The National Outings program conducts hundreds of outings, most of which are between 4 to 10 days in length. Local chapters, groups, and sections lead thousands of generally shorter trips in their regions and beyond (mostly hiking, but also including cycling, cross-country skiing, etc.). Inner City Outings groups help make wild places accessible to children who are only familiar with the urban environment.
The Sierra Club has official policies on many conservation issues. They group these into 17 categories: agriculture, biotechnology, energy, environmental justice, forest and wilderness management, global issues, government and political issues, land management, military issues, nuclear issues, oceans, pollution and waste management, precautionary principle, transportation, urban and land use policies, water resources, and wildlife conservation.
Some Sierra Club members have urged the Club to be more forceful in advocating for the protection of National Forests and other federally owned public lands. For example, in 2002 the Club was criticized for joining with the Wilderness Society in agreeing to a compromise that would allow logging in the Black Hills in South Dakota.
The Sierra Club opposes building new nuclear reactors based on fission, until specific inherent safety risks are mitigated by conservationist political policies, and regulatory agencies are in place to enforce those policies.
The Sierra Club's Energy Resources Policy, adopted in 2006 and last amended in 2011, is currently silent on nuclear fusion. Earlier opposition to fusion, due to its "probable" release of the hydrogen isotope, tritium, has not been revisited since 1986.
According to the Sierra Club, coal power plants are one of the nation's largest and dirtiest sources of energy, a leading cause of respiratory illness, and account for over 40% of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions. It argues that there are readily available alternatives to coal. A 2009 report commissioned by the Sierra Club concluded that the costs associated with coal mining in Appalachia are five times greater than its economic benefits to the region. The report concluded that residents of coal mining regions would be best served by transitioning away from economic dependence on coal.
One long-standing goal of the Sierra Club has been opposition to dams it considers inappropriate. In the early 20th century, the organization fought against the damming and flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Despite this lobbying, Congress authorized the construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River. The Sierra Club continues to support removal of the dam. Restore Hetch Hetchy, originally an offshoot of the Sierra Club, however is the group that is actively campaigning for the restoration of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley. They point out that San Francisco's water needs can be accommodated by diverting the Tuolumne River downstream, and by investing in other modest water system improvements - a small fraction of what other California cities have done to reduce the impact of their water systems.
The Sierra Club advocates the decommissioning of Glen Canyon Dam and the draining of Lake Powell. The Club also supports removal, breaching or decommissioning of many other dams, including four large but high-cost dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington.
In June, 2006, the Sierra Club announced the formation of a Blue-Green Alliance with the United Steelworkers, the largest industrial union in North America. The goal of this new partnership is to pursue a joint public policy agenda reconciling workers' need for good jobs with mankind's need for a cleaner environment and safer world.
|This article's factual accuracy is disputed. (January 2009)|
Some critics of the Sierra Club have charged that the club's views on population growth, and the efforts of some club members to restrain immigration, are a continuation of aspects of the Eugenics movement.
In 1969, the Sierra Club published Paul R. Ehrlich's book, The Population Bomb, in which he said that population growth was responsible for environmental decline and advocated coercive measures to reduce it. Some observers have argued that the book had a "racial dimension" in the tradition of the Eugenics movement, and that it "reiterated many of Osborn's jeremiads."
During the 1980s, some Sierra Club members, including Paul Ehrlich's wife Anne, wanted to take the Club into the contentious field of immigration to the United States. The Club's position was that overpopulation was a significant factor in the degradation of the environment. Accordingly, the Club supported stabilizing and reducing U.S. and world population. Some members argued that, as a practical matter, U.S. population could not be stabilized, let alone reduced, at the then-current levels of immigration. They urged the Club to support immigration reduction. The Club had previously addressed the issue of "mass immigration," and in 1988, the organization's Population Committee and Conservation Coordinating Committee stated that immigration to the U.S. should be limited, so as to achieve population stabilization.
Other Sierrans thought that the immigration issue was too far from the Club's core environmentalist mission, and were also concerned that involvement would impair the organization's political ability to pursue its other objectives. In 1996, the Board of Directors accepted this latter view, and voted that the Sierra Club would be neutral on issues of immigration.
The advocates of immigration reduction sought to reverse this decision through the referendum provision of the Bylaws of the Sierra Club. They organized themselves as "SUSPS", a name originally derived from "Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization" (although that name is no longer used since the Sierra Club objected to infringing the Club's trademark in the term "Sierrans"). SUSPS and its allies gathered the necessary signatures to place the issue on the ballot in the Club's election in the spring of 1998. The Board's decision that the Club would take no position on immigration was upheld by the membership by a three-to-two margin.
The controversy resurfaced when a group of three immigration reduction proponents ran in the 2004 Board of Directors elections, hoping to move the Club's position away from a neutral stance on immigration, and restore the stance previously held. Groups outside of the Club became involved, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and MoveOn. Of the three candidates, two (Frank Morris and David Pimentel), were on the board of the anti-immigration group Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America and two (Richard Lamm and Frank Morris) were on the board of directors or the board of advisors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform; both had also held leadership positions within the NAACP. Their candidacies were denounced by a fourth candidate, Morris Dees of the SPLC, as a "hostile takeover" attempt by "radical anti-immigrant activists." The immigration reduction proponents won only 3% of all votes cast in the election, and the controversy subsided.
Each year, the Sierra Club presents a series of national-level awards. These awards are:
The Sierra Club Canada has been active since 1963. It is now an independent corporation with its own national structure and local entities throughout Canada working on pollution, biodiversity, energy, and sustainability issues.
In 1971, volunteer lawyers who had worked with the Sierra Club established the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. This was a separate organization that used the "Sierra Club" name under license from the Club; it changed its name to Earthjustice in 1997.
The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is the student-run arm of the Sierra Club. Founded by Adam Werbach in 1991, with 14,000 members, it purports to be the largest student-led environmental group in the United States.
The Sierra Club Voter Education Fund is a 527 group that became active in the 2004 Presidential election by airing television advertisements about the major party candidates' positions on environmental issues. Through the Environmental Voter Education Campaign (EVEC), the Club sought to mobilize volunteers for phone banking, door-to-door canvassing and postcard writing to emphasize these issues in the campaign.
The organization maintains a publishing imprint, Sierra Club Books, publishing books on environmental issues, wilderness photographic essays, nature guides, and other related subjects. They publish the Sierra Club Calendars, perennial bestsellers, featuring photographs by well-known nature photographers such as Galen Rowell. They also publish the John Muir library, which includes many of their founder's titles.
The Wilderness Travel Course is a basic mountaineering class that is administered by the Sierra Club.
Restore Hetch Hetchy is an organization created by the Sierra Club to advocate the restoration of the Hetch Hetchy Valley.
On February 2, 2012, Time Magazine reported that the Sierra Club had accepted over $26 million in gifts from the natural gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy. When Michael Brune succeeded Carl Pope as Executive Director of the Sierra Club in 2010 he learned of the gifts (Pope became Chairman). Brune ended the financial agreement but did not disclose the donations publicly at that time.
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