"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings": A History of the Sierra Club
By: Michael Mitchell.

Michael is a Physics major at Valdosta State University in the Regent's Engineering Transfer Program with Georgia Tech. He was a Cooperative Education student with IBM from 1995 to 97 where he worked in Networking Support and Intranet Development.

"I have run wild! As long as I live I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. I drifted about from rock to rock, from stream to stream, from grove to grove. Where night found me, there I camped. When I discovered a new plant, I sat down beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance and hear what it had to tell . . . I asked the boulders I met, whence they came and whither they were going." 1

Such was the experience of young Scottish immigrant John Muir who arrived in California in 1868 planning to stay only a few months before traveling to the Amazon to study botany. This transformation of John Muir by the majestic beauty of the Sierra Nevada is the spark that would drive the experience of John Muir, moving him to a life of passionate environmentalism exemplified and honored by the contributions of the Sierra Club which he founded in 1892, some 28 years after his initial Yosemite experience. It is this passionate environmentalism that drives the Sierra Club=s impressive ability to shape American environmental policy, and gives pause to corporations like Dupont that might otherwise go unchecked in their pattern of environmental exploitation. It is this passionate environmentalism that has characterized the Sierra Club since its inception.

During a camping trip in 1889 with Robert Underwood Johnson, an influential editor of the day, John Muir shared his idea for the establishment of a Yosemite National Park that would culminate a year later when Congress established the park. Muir and Johnson inevitably realized that an organization would be required to protect the Yosemite. They later met with a group at the University of California who were interested in promoting recreation in the Yosemite region of the Sierra Nevada and thus, on May 28, 1892,

"explore, enjoy, and rendure accessible the mountain regions of the Pacific Coast and to publish authentic information concerning them, and to enlist the support and cooperation of the people and government in preserving the forests and other natural features of the Sierra Nevada."
These three purposes, recreational, educational, and conservationist, constituted the Club's motives, means, and final object.2

Since its inception the Sierra Club, a nonprofit conservation and outdoors organization, dedicated to the exploration and preservation of American wilderness and wildlife3, has sponsored extensive outings and hiking programs throughout the United States and internationally. It also sponsors public talks, exhibitions, and environmental activism. Through its publication of books, its magazines The Sierra and The Planet, its newsletter on environmental issues The National News Report, and its World Wide Web site the Sierra Club continues to cultivate and inform its support base of concerned citizens, moving them toward Stewardship and considered political activism, thereby applying political pressure and shaping environmental policy.

Notable examples of the Sierra Club's impact on national and international environmental policy are described in the attached time line from the Sierra Club web site4. An example of particular interest to the citizens of our region (south Georgia) is the organization's involvement in the discouragement of Dupont's plans to strip mine Trail Ridge, a sensitive region bordering the Okefenokee Swamp, for Titanium Dioxide, a compound required for the production of paint and other commercial products. The proposed strip­mining operation could have disastrous environmental consequences for indigenous endangered and threatened species ­­ including the wood stork, the red cockaded woodpecker, the indigo snake and the parrot pitcher plant ­­ by damaging both the air and water quality within the wetland. It is the Sierra Club's campaign to stop Dupont that prompted Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to speak out against the proposal. "This is not an appropriate neighbor for a national wildlife refuge," Babbitt told a crowd of more than 200 people gathered at the Okefenokee refuge5. He announced that he plans to urge Du Pont's board of directors to abandon its mining plan. His public statement that the proposed operation posed unacceptable risks to water flows, wildlife and vegetation rejected the corporation's arguments that their mining plans would not harm the 354,000­acre designated wilderness. Subsequent to these remarks, the company announced that it would postpone the project until it "conducts a collaborative process with all stakeholders." This delay is a testament to the concerted pressure brought by opponents of the mine, organized into action by the Sierra Club who's ability to respond quickly to Dupont's proposal was key to its cessation. (We should be cautioned, however, that Du Pont is not abandoning the mine, just waiting for opposition to die down. "They were smart to postpone," said Sierra Club Georgia Chapter leader Judy Jennings, "We had built up a good head of steam. We have to keep up the pressure.")6

It is this type of struggle that characterizes the Sierra Club's efforts and describes their difficult role in ensuring that the definition of American environmental policy is one that ensures the protection of our diminishing natural resources, and not one that simply facilitates the desires of those that would profit from their exploitation. One that desires to balance the needs of business with our requirement for a healthy environment, today and tomorrow.

Time Line, 1996 to 18924

1996 President Clinton creates Staircase­Escalante National monument, thereby protecting 1.7 million acres in Utah.

1995 Club delivers over a million signatures on the Environmental Bill of Rights to defend the "War on the Environment" waged by Congress.

1994 California Desert Protection Act signed into law, after an eight year effort.

1993 After a decade­long campaign, the Colorado Wilderness Act passes.

1992 Sierra Club begins its second century.

1991 Sierra Club helps defeat Johnston­Wallop energy bill, which would have destroyed Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

1990 Strengthened Clean Air Bill passes the House and Senate despite threat of veto by President Bush

1989 Sierra Club presses World Bank to withdraw $500 million loan to Brazil, which kills plans to build 147 dams and flood large areas of Amazon. Northern spotted owl listed as threatened species, highlighting plight of ancient forests of Pacific Northwest. Wilderness bill passed, protecting 733,000 acres in Nevada.

1987 Congress passes reauthorization and expansion of the Clean Water Act over veto by President Reagan.

1986 Sierra Club wins designation of 270,000 acre Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, and supports enactment of 76,000 acre Great Basin National Park in Nevada.

1985 Sierra Club successfully supports reauthorization of strengthened Superfund law and Clean Water Act.

1984 Congress passes law to protect 6.8 million acres in national forests and 1.4 million in national parks. Sierra Club wins lawsuit requiring EPA to regulate release of radioactive pollutants.

1983 Lawsuit compels Forest Service to comply with state regulation of aerial herbicide spraying. Sierra Club's 10­year effort pays off as Congress lops funding for Clinch River Breeder Reactor. Interior Secretary James Watt resigns.

1982 Sierra Club members involved in more than 170 congressional races and 150 state and local contests. Sierra Club­backed candidates win 80% of their races. Membership reaches 325,000.

1981 Sierra Club helps block oil and gas leasing off the California coast.

1980 Congress passes Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, designating more than 103 million acres of parks, wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas. Sierra Club gets into electoral campaigns for the first time.

1979 Following the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, Sierra Club calls for phased closure of all commercial reactors.

1978 Sierra Club wins a 48,000 acre addition to Redwood National Park, protecting the watershed of the world's tallest trees. Sierra Club supports reform of offshore oil and gas leasing laws.

1977 Sierra Club leads coalition to preserve Alaska's national­interest lands and persuades President Jimmy Carter to support a natural gas pipeline route that avoids the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

1976 Sierra Club wins reform of obsolete land disposal policy and adoption of wilderness review program for the Bureau of Land Management's 341 million acres. Sierra Club promotes National Forest Management Act, which would provide greater protection for national forests.

1975 Sierra Club wins long­sought additions to Grand Canyon National Park and blocks transfer of several national wildlife ranges from the Fish and Wildlife Service to other agencies.

1974 Sierra Club successfully lobbies for the creation of Big Thicket Preserve in Texas and Big Cypress Preserve in Florida.

1973 Sierra Club launches campaign to defend Clean Air Act against auto industry opposition. Club's lawsuit halts clearcutting of timber in West Virginia.

1971 Sierra Club's International Program begins operation. Inner City Outings Program established. Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund founded.

1969 Sierra Club wins suit to stop pollution in Lake Superior. Michael McCloskey becomes Sierra Club's second Executive Director.

1968 Sierra Club succeeds in campaign to stop the damming of Grand Canyon. Redwood National Park established after long fight.

1966 Sierra Club's full­page newspaper ads urging protection for the Grand Canyon prompt IRS to take away Sierra Club's tax­deductible status. Ruling stimulates an outpouring of contributions.

1964 After years of battle, Congress passes Wilderness Act, first wilderness protection in the world. Congress also creates Land and Water Conservation Fund.

1963 Sierra Club launches campaign to protect the Grand Canyon following proposals to dam parts of it. Sierra Club opens Washington, D.C. office.

1961 Sierra Club opposes use of nuclear explosives to excavate harbor in Alaska.

1960 The Sierra Club Foundation established. Sierra Club's Exhibit Format book series launched with This is The American Earth.

1956 Federal water developers drop plans to dam Dinosaur National Monument, but construction of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River begins. Membership reaches 10,000.

1952 Interior Secretary Oscar Chapman temporarily protects Dinosaur National Monument by ordering a study of alternative dam sites. David Brower becomes Sierra Club's first Executive Director.

1951 Sierra Club fights to protect Dinosaur National Monument from two dams proposed by the federal government. Special issue of The Sierra Club Bulletin covers the issue for members.

1950 The Atlantic Chapter, comprising 18 eastern states and the District of Columbia, becomes the first Sierra Club chapter outside of California.

1948 Sierra Club opposes construction of Glacier View Dam, which would flood 20,000 acres of Glacier National Park. Sierra Club successfully protests hydroelectric dams proposed for Kings Canyon National Park.

1940 Congress establishes Kings Canyon National Park.

1938 Sierra Club Directors meet with Interior Secretary Harold Ickes to support establishment of Kings Canyon as a wilderness national park.

1936 Ansel Adams, armed with photographs, travels to Washington to lobby Roosevelt administration to preserve Kings Canyon and surrounding High Sierra.

1935 Sierra Club supports legislation to create Kings Canyon and Olympic national parks urges that boundaries of Death Valley National Monument be extended.

1927 Legislature establishes State Park Commission, with William Colby as first secretary.

1924 Sierra Club advocates establishment of California State Park Commission and a statewide survey of lands suitable for parks.

1920 Sierra Club opposes dams proposed for Yellowstone National Park.

1916 National Park Service is established by Congress, with Sierra Club member Stephan Mather as its first director.

1911 Devils Postpile National Monument established, largely through the work of Sierra Club member Walter Huber.

1907 Sierra Club submits resolution to Secretary of the Interior opposing the damming of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite.

1903 President Theodore Roosevelt visits Yosemite with John Muir. Membership reaches 663.

1899 Congress establishes Mt. Rainier National Park. by legislation based on a statement prepared by the Sierra Club and other organizations.

1892 The Sierra Club is founded by 182 charter members. John Muir is elected president. In its first conservation effort, the Sierra Club leads campaign to defeat a proposed reduction in the boundaries of Yosemite National Park.

Works Cited

1. My First Summer in the Sierra, John Muir.

2. Origins and Early Outings: A history of the Club's Birth and its Early Wilderness Travels, Michael Cohen, (http://www.sierraclub.org/history/origins.html).

3. Entry for the Sierra Club in Microsoft Encarta 96.

4. http://www.sierraclub.org/history/timeline.html.

5. Okefenokee Gets Lift from Babbitt, Mary­Beth Baptista, The Planet, May 1997, Volume 4, number 4.

6. Du Pont Puts Brakes on Okefenokee Mine, The Planet, June 1997, Volume 4, number 5.