by Pia Hansen
The famous redwoods in California, the grizzlies in Montana and the Grand Canyon have something in common with many other national treasures: at some point the Sierra Club stepped up on the political barricades and went to battle for their protection. In the more than 100 years the club has been around, it has won many battles. While many areas have been declared state parks or national monuments, other battles, like the fight to protect the grizzlies or the wild salmon, still rage.
On Saturday, the Sierra Club's top activist, President Jennifer Ferenstein, comes to Spokane to speak about the Club and to participate in a gathering entitled "A Community Conservation Conference: Saving the Salmon, Guarding the Grizzly and Protecting Wild Forests," hosted by the local chapter of the Sierra Club.
Though the Sierra Club continues to push for the protection of natural treasures, the organization has evolved into an environmental powerhouse, with policies on issues as varied as population growth, oil drilling and salmon protection.
Elected for a one-year term this May, Ferenstein says her main goal is to define the Sierra Club in the affirmative.
"I want people to know what the Sierra Club stands for, rather than just what we are against," says Ferenstein, who lives in Missoula.
That's a tall order. The Sierra Club has been opposed to many things since it was started by John Muir in 1892, but its tenacity has led to the preservation of some of the natural monuments that today are national treasures.
But it's no longer enough just to be opposed to environmental exploitation or to champion the protection of cuddly bear cubs.
"Coming from the Inland Northwest, I mean, this is not an area that is traditionally friendly toward environmentalists," says Ferenstein. "Having grown up here, I'm trying to figure out why it is that so many people think we are anti-growth and anti-economic development. We have to find a way to communicate to them that that's not what environmentalism is all about."
Ferenstein is a biologist, and she grew up
in Berkeley, Calif., and on her grand- parents' farm in Central Oregon's Twickenham Valley. She holds a master's degree in environmental studies from the University of Montana. Though she's not the first female president of the Sierra Club, at 36 she's the youngest woman to serve in that position. She's also the first Sierra Club president from the Northern Rockies.
On Saturday, she'll talk about the Sierra Club in general but also about some of the issues she considers especially pressing for the Inland Northwest.
"Look at sprawl, for instance. Again, I don't think it's enough to just say, 'No, we don't want that.' You have to say what you do want instead. That you want a combination of smart growth and mixed development and green corridors," says Ferenstein. "If we can define what it is we want instead, and that's what I mean by saying defining what we are for, then that can be much more helpful for the process."
Controlling sprawl is one of the Sierra Club's current top four issues. The other three are the protection of water quality, the wild land protection campaign and the campaign to end logging on public lands.
"As far as protecting water quality [goes], we are particularly looking at factory farms and how they impact small farms and the waterways right around them," she explains. "The wild land protection campaign aims to protect and acquire land for the protection of bears and salmon. It also does a lot of work on the roadless areas that we'd like to protect."
And logging on public land just isn't necessary any more, she says. "Less than four percent of the wood we use comes from public land," says Ferenstein, "so we are advocating an end to commercial logging in those areas."
On a global level, the Sierra Club participates in many political debates, like the ones raging over global climate change and population issues.
"We also look at globalization issues, like should we be expanding NAFTA and the issues surrounding WTO," says Ferenstein. "We have a strong force in Washington, D.C. We try to hold public officials accountable."
Even though the organization is more
than 100 years old and counts about
740,000 members nationwide, Ferenstein says there's still a strong connection between her at the top and the grassroots people on the local level.
"We get our ideas about what issues to work on from the volunteers and activists in the local communities," says Ferenstein. "We rely on them to carry out a lot of the work, so naturally we want to stay in tune with what is important to them."
In this area, the biggest issues are protecting the salmon and the grizzly bears as well as the cleanup of the Silver Valley and the Coeur d'Alene Basin -- all issues the Sierra Club is going to weigh in on heavily.
"The cleanup of the basin -- that's a huge one. What are the conditions going to be and how is it going to be done?" asks Ferenstein.
She's not the only one who'll be sharing ideas at the meeting on Saturday. Among many others, local author Jack Nisbet will talk about preservation and the history of the Lewis and Clark Trail, and Jim Musgrove -- a longtime grizzly bear activist from Spokane -- will be talking about the state of the big bears. A salmon recovery panel will consist of Bert Bowler, native fish director from the organization Idaho Rivers United, and Stacey Horton, a biologist with the Northwest Power Planning Council, as well as several other environmental activists. Ferenstein's presentation focuses on wild land protection, and she'll share the podium with Hal Rowe from the Kettle Range Conservation Group and local Sierra Club representative Chase Davis.
In other words, there's a lot on the agenda.
"Yes, I guess it's a lot," says Ferenstein. "But the biggest enemy of the environment is apathy. Forums like these, and the work of the Sierra Club, give people a chance to participate. They can do everything from writing a check to going to D.C. and lobbying. The opportunity is here -- everyone is able to participate."
The community conservation conference is on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 1-6 pm at the Ridpath Hotel, 515 W. Sprague. The conference will be followed by a showing of Fishing With Silas: An Angler's Guide to the Lewis and Clark Trail,
a slide show by Missoula fishing guide Drew Winterer. The slide show will be held at Bitters Co., 116 S. Monroe (next to the Brooklyn Deli), at 8 pm. Everything is free. Call: 456-8802.