Will the Real Sierra Club Please Stand Up?

"This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York islands; from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me."

- Woody Guthrie (Folkways, 1944)

It seems America's oldest conservation group has decided to change the lyrics of this historic folk song to "your land is our land, your land is our land," and adopt it as their rallying cry.

In a recent vote by the Sierra Club's national membership, a new policy was adopted by a 2-to-1 margin supporting a ban on all logging on all public lands. Ignoring the fact that Sierra Club founder John Muir supported, and Congress made law, the multiple use of our national forests, this usually moderate conservationist organization has, as Kim Murphy reports in the Los Angeles Times, reached "an important turning point."

By adopting such a stringent and ill-conceived posture, the normally mainstream environmental group has joined the ranks of the radical extremist groups like Earth First! and Greenpeace. The author of the new policy, activist Chad Hanson, believes the environmental movement has become "too oriented toward compromise" and it is therefore necessary to "fight for their [ecosystems'] defense as passionately and forcefully as we are able." Chilling words for a group that actively professes to support constructive compromise and sustainable forest practices. Is the real Sierra Club a true conservationist organization or a radical preservationist organization?

Environmentalists split

As Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace, stated in a 1994 speech, the environmental movement in the 1990s has split into two factions: those who advocate a pragmatic approach of working with mainstream business and government to promote the idea of "sustainable development," where truth matters and science is respected; and those with more-extreme positions in the name of "deep ecology," who are calling for a "grass-roots revolution against pragmatism and compromise" and taking a "zero-tolerance" and "antidevelopment" stance at any cost.

Mr. Moore, who left Greenpeace because of its movement toward the latter extremist position, is included in his former organization's list of "anti-environmental organizations" and has been described by Greenpeace as the "eco-Judas." Moore believes this new variant of the environmental movement is so extreme that its agenda is a greater threat to the global environment than that posed by mainstream society.

Environmental surrogates

And what is the policy of the real Sierra Club with regard to logging timber on private property? Andy Stahl of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund admits to using the Northern Spotted Owl as the wildlife species of choice to act as a surrogate for timber protection.

Randall O'Toole, another "eco-activist," is quoted in Newsweek as saying, "Cumulatively, the environmental movement is interested in shutting down the timber industry. Period." Numerous instances of logging restrictions on private property throughout the Pacific Northwest, as well as in the Southeast US, are direct results of lawsuits brought by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

It doesn't matter to the preservationist groups that this nation has two-thirds as much forest land as it did in 1600. This in spite of the conversion of 370 million acres of forest land to other uses, principally agriculture.

Add to this the enormous harvest that was used to build the nation's homes, warm its citizens, and fuel its early-day engines. And to this total, add all the losses to forest fires, diseases, and insect infestations.

Even after all of this, the nation still has two-thirds as much forest land as it did when the Pilgrims landed.

Nor does it matter to the preservationists that more trees are growing in America's forests today than at any time since the early 1900s, and that forest growth exceeds harvest by 37%. Furthermore, 70% of America's national-forest land base is in land-use categories where timber production is forbidden.

It doesn't matter to preservationists, but it makes for emotional fodder to stir up people who have never seen a national forest nor known the facts about sustained harvesting or forest management. Most people in this country have never even seen an old-growth forest or a commercial tree farm and couldn't tell the difference between a 200-year-old fir and an 80-year-old pine. And yet preservationists feel they can dictate land-management and biological-management practices in the Pacific Northwest or the forests of the Southeast from the plains of Iowa and the halls of Washington.

The other Sierra Club soundly defeated this new policy in a referendum two years ago, because members thought it would weaken the group's ability to "fashion constructive compromises" on important forest issues. If our mainstream environmental organizations are no longer willing to compromise, the future of the environmental movement is in great jeopardy.

Hopefully 1/10th of 1% of the nation's population will not be able to eliminate pragmatism, compromise, and common sense for the other 99.9% of us.

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