Sierra Club chapter holds governor’s ‘feet to fire’

Michael Stockinger

There are many chapters of the Sierra Club ?” a club concerned with environmental issues ?” but the Motherlode Chapter of the Sierra Club is the largest in the nation and the most conservative chapter in the state.With 13 different chapters in California, and many others spread throughout the nation, the club fights for the environment and shapes many laws and measures that concern environmental issues through lobbying, petitioning and their large membership.

“No other states have 13 chapters; others have only one chapter,” said State Legislative Director for the California Sierra Club Bill Allayaud. “80 percent of people in California put the environment high up on their list.”With many members, the club is very powerful and its support is highly coveted by those running for office, or those trying to get policies passed, Allayaud said.

The club has 800,000 members nationwide, with 200,000 in California, and 20,000 in the Motherlode chapter alone, which covers most of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, from Yosemite National Park’s northern boundary to the Oregon border.

“What we do is deal with just Sacramento legislation issues and state agencies that are here,” Allayaud said.

“We establish relationships with legislators to deal with environmental issues ?” we know our friends and enemies as far as the environment is concerned, and act as advocates for nature,” Allayaud said.

“(Arnold Shwarzenegger) doesn’t like us ?” we constantly hold his feet in the fire,” Allayaud said. “They say he is the best environmental governor, he’s not.”

“He’s the best environmental republican governor that we’ve had ?” he has a long way to go to become the best governor we’ve had when it comes to the environment,” Allayaud said.

The group handles a wide range of environmental issues and concerns, from endangered species to air quality.

“We are a staff of professionals in a full service organization in environmental issues,” Allayaud said. “You name it, we do it.”

“We’re trying to support other issues, such as affordable housing and jobs, so people won’t have to commute in order to reduce smog, traffic and sprawl within communities,” said Terry Davis, the conservation coordinator for the Motherlode Chapter of the Sierra Club.

“We’re taking on urban issues, which would have been unheard of 30-40 years ago, so things have changed,” Davis said.

The club began with John Muir as one of its founders in 1892. Its mission was to make the Sierra Nevada Mountains accessible to visitors, publish accurate information concerning the mountains, and preserve the wilderness of the range, according the club’s Web site.

The Motherlode chapter encompasses 24 counties, and many small mountain towns that are typically more conservative than larger cities.

“We are the reds of a blue state, and it’s hard to not become frustrated because conservatives tend to pay less attention to the environment than liberals,” Davis said.

“The entire Sierra Nevada governments are extremely conservative, but I think they’re coming around because their economy relies on recreational tourism,” Davis said.

“People go to these towns to hike, fish, and get outdoors ?” without that they have no economical support, so they’re becoming more and more receptive to preserving the environment,” Davis said.

The club has plenty of leverage and manpower in supporting regulations and measures, but there are times when even this doesn’t work, and the club has to resort to the threat of a lawsuit to get its message across.

“Sometimes we have to support litigation if people start stepping on environmental regulations, but this is only a last resort,” Davis said.A recent example of this was when Roseville was planning on building near an area that contained vernal pools and endangered species.

“They weren’t doing a good job protecting the area, so we threatened with litigation, and settled it out of court,” Davis said. “We bought the land and got the pools protected, but it took the threat of a lawsuit to do it.”For members, the Motherlode Chapter offers many different opportunities to go hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

“An important part of The Sierra Club is getting out and joining outings,” Davis said. “Many become active in the club through outings and not for political reasons.”

“There are lots of people who go on these trips who are in their 20s.”But Davis said the younger members, mainly college students, aren’t very active. He said to get the younger members involved is a chronic concern for the club.

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Michael Stockinger can be reached at [email protected]