Sierra Club

Fox Valley Sierra Group

From The Chair

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Picture of Alan Lawrence Comments from our group chair, Alan Lawrence.
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Sierra Club is a national grass-roots organization made up of many thousands of volunteer members and relatively few professional staff members. People have various reasons to become members. Everyone in the organization has some level of appreciation for the outdoors. Some mostly want to explore outdoors and seek association with other adventurers. Others may be interested in service projects to restore or improve natural areas. Others recognize the challenges plants and animals face in our world and want some involvement in protecting them. Others are enraged at unresponsible commercial or governmental damage of the environment. Others are enthusiastic teachers who want to pass along their joy of the outdoors to the next generations. And there are many other reasons to join the Sierra club.

If you live in northeastern Wisconsin your national Sierra Club membership automatically makes you a member of the local Fox Valley Sierra Group, and the state of Wisconsin's John Muir Chapter. There are approximately 1,600 members in the Fox Valley Group, and approximately 16,000 members in the state chapter.

Some of our dedicated volunteers serve on the group's board of directors and provide monthly programs, frequent outings and projects, a quality newsletter, a website, and help facilitate things we believe our membership finds valuable and important. The board is elected, and it selects its officers. I joined Sierra Club in 1999 primarily for the outings and monthly programs, then soon volunteered to be the group's webmaster. I have served on the board since 2000, initially serving as the group's Secretary. Since 2003 I have been selected annually to be the group's chairperson.

We hope to see you at some of our events. Your appreciation for Sierra Club and your membership will increase with your personal level of involvement.

Part of my responsibility is to write a column for our our group newsletter. I also include it on our website.

January 2015 -- "From The Chair"

In our last newsletter we announced that the Fox Valley Sierra Group was moving our meeting location. We've held our monthly meetings at the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in northern Appleton since 1982. A construction project with their main building has forced us to find a new home. We were fortunate to find a new home with the Fox River Environmental Education Alliance (FREEA). This is the former Monte Alverno Spirituality and Retreat Center, located on the Fox River in northeastern Appleton.

By now some of you have visited. We held our December holiday party meeting there and explored the building. Our January meeting was unfortunately cancelled due to bad weather. We helped FREEA with their "Eagle Days" event and are helping lead short nature hikes at their March 14 Fox River Celebration. It is a nice place. They are open at other times and you are encouraged to visit.

The facility is easy to access from Highway 41. Exit at Ballard Road and go south to the end of the street, then turn left. 1000 N. Ballard Rd. (Directions are available on their website, or simply,

In my last column I told the exciting news of the participation of my wife and me in the People's Climate March in New York City where we marched along with 400,000 people from far and wide. The event was about Global Warming and Climate Change. The social justice aspect of Climate Change was a major theme. Change will be hardest for those least capable of doing anything about it.

I am encouraged that President Obama has apparently paid attention. Although he has not said much about the Keystone XL Pipeline we have been telling him for several years that this must not be built. He seems now to understand that message and says he will block it. Furthermore he is talking about Global Warming. I think he understands that he needs to help on this problem.

A couple of months ago our Board of Directors began thinking about Earth Day. We used to have a fantastic "Fox River(bank) Cleanup" that involved hundreds of people, including families and Scout troops, working to clean up a dozen parks along the shores of the river. It was a major undertaking. We stopped doing that after the parks were clean enough that there wasn't much to do. For the past decade we've worked on controlling the invasive garlic mustard plant from several locations, but that did not involve many people.

We thought it would be nice to have a hike for the community. It would begin and end at Monte Alverno, helping to show off this facility. It would also provide a nice hike along the river. (See separate article). Several of our members hiked along possible trail options, and eventually we came up with an exciting route. We are still working out the details and trying to recruit help from partnering organizations. We anticipate that this will be a big event that you will want to either hike or help with.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2014 -- "From The Chair"

For most of the time since the Fox Valley Sierra Group was organized on January 14, 1982 we have met for monthly meetings at the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve in northern Appleton. This will change, at least temporarily, beginning with our December meeting.

Bubolz is about to begin construction of a modern facility, and during construction we will be without our traditional home. They are currently in a capital campaign to raise the funds and expect to begin construction within the next few months. It might have been possible to meet a couple more months there, but our newsletter schedule dictated that we have firm plans for our upcoming meetings, so we have decided to start elsewhere beginning in December with our Holiday Party.

The Bubolz nature center opened right about the time of our own group's founding, more than 32 years ago. Time and heavy use of the building combined with maintenance challenges and new space needs dictate that a new building is needed. Please look at their website and online brochure. If you can help them it would be appreciated. ( )

Our group will begin meeting, starting with our December 11 holiday party, at the Fox River Environmental Education Alliance (FREEA). This is the former Monte Alverno Spirituality and Retreat Center. Located on the Fox River in Appleton this will be a good meeting location for our group. The facility is easy to access from Highway 41. Exit at Ballard Road and go south to the end of the street, then turn left. 1000 N. Ballard Rd. (Other directions are available on their website, ).

I write this column the day after Bubolz's annual Romp in the Autumn Swamp fundraising event. Sierra Club has served hot chocolate and snacks at this event for many years as a service project. Yesterday's weather was perfect for the event, and hundreds of families with children were there to enjoy it.

September was very exciting for my wife and me as we decided to participate in the People's Climate March in New York City. Some email first got our attention, followed by an online video. We had missed previous climate rallies and felt we should be at this one. It was being billed as "The largest climate march in history" with a motto of "To Change Everything, We Need Everyone". The event was staged days before the United Nations would discuss the topic in New York City.

We looked at bus opportunities with specially chartered buses, but found them to be all full. Ultimately we decided to make a driving vacation out of it, including visiting Diana's sister in Manhattan within easy walking distance from the beginning of the walk.

The walk was actually more like a parade, except that there were no vehicles. Most people walked with signs or banners expressing environmental messages. 50,000 people would have made this the largest climate march in history, but organizers hoped for at least 100,000 people and had arranged for a two mile long staging area. Nobody would know until that morning, September 21, what to expect. The two mile long area along Central Park was clearly too small. All possible dreams for a large crowd had been exceeded.

The "march" began at 11:00am, but our position a mile within the staging area did not budge for more than two hours. This was because crowds pouring out of side streets and the subway had to get moving first. It still took nearly an hour for us to finally start the official starting point around 2:00pm. In a very festive, fun and friendly atmosphere we marched past the Rockefeller Center and Times Square before reaching our destination at 5:00pm. We purchased gyro sandwiches from a street vendor and ate while watching some of the parade behind us continue going by for another hour. Restroom needs caused us to leave at 6:00 while the parade was still going on.

The social justice aspect of Climate Change was a major theme. Change will be hardest for those least capable of doing anything about it.

Eventual estimates are that 400,000 people participated in this march. That's a lot of people! That is more than five times the record attendance at the Green Bay Packer's Lambeau Stadium. This is the entire population of everyone living in Outagamie County, Winnebago County and Calumet County combined. It turns out that over a two day period there were 2646 other rallies in 162 countries. Surely the media and our world leaders would take notice. I'm wondering what you saw on TV or in your newspaper. You may want to check these two websites:, and

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

July 2014 -- "From The Chair"

If you were to ask a winter enthusiast about the winter past you'd probably hear that we enjoyed cross-country skiing in the plentiful snow. Others, less enthusiastic about the cold and the snow might tell you that it seemed like winter just wouldn't end. And our summer, now in July, seems to have started slowly and not gotten very warm. The days are already growing shorter and it sometimes feels like autumn is close.

This might seem at odds with the warming we might expect with Global Warming. Certainly some our neighbors feel that way. But climate change scientists will tell you not to be surprised. Warming is about average temperatures. Heat energizes our oceans and winds, making them stronger and causing them to sweep and mix more violently. This past winter we were introduced to the term "polar vortex", a condition where faster moving air currents sweep frigid air from far northern regions towards us, making us freeze. Meanwhile our warm air heated the North Pole. While we shivered other regions of our planet were unusually warm.

On June 24, over 600 volunteers from Citizens' Climate Lobby were in Washington, DC, lobbying their members of Congress to support legislation that taxes carbon and gives the revenue back to households. These volunteers traveled from all across the US on their own dime to make the case for what they see as the best first step to a stable climate and a livable world. Forty-some came from Wisconsin. James Servais, a Sierra Club member, leads an active group of CCL in the Green Bay area.

I understand that part of their message was that the air belongs to all of us and we deserve a carbon dividend, a refund paid to us from money collected by the carbon dioxide polluters. It is a variation of the carbon tax and is an interesting concept.

There remains, unfortunately, considerable doubt among our citizens about the reality of global warming and climate. Why is that? There has, of course, been extreme marketing by those with a financial interest in lucrative fossil fuels. An interview on Wisconsin Public Radio with authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway introduced me to their book written in 2011, "Merchants of Doubt". I need to read it.

It tells the controversial story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. The same individuals who claim the science of global warming is "not settled" have also denied the truth about studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole.

The authors were on the radio interview because of their latest book, "The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future". In this work of science-based fiction they imagine a world devastated by climate change. I'd like to read it, for I believe we are at a critical time. The science of Global Warming has now been known for more than a century.

"The year is 2393, and the world is almost unrecognizable. Clear warnings of climate catastrophe went ignored for decades, leading to soaring temperatures, rising sea levels, widespread drought and-finally-the disaster now known as the Great Collapse of 2093, when the disintegration of the West Antarctica Ice Sheet led to mass migration and a complete reshuffling of the global order. Writing from the Second People's Republic of China on the 300th anniversary of the Great Collapse, a senior scholar presents a gripping and deeply disturbing account of how the children of the Enlightenment-the political and economic elites of the so-called advanced industrial societies-failed to act, and so brought about the collapse of Western civilization."

Let's hope that our generation is not remembered by future generations for failing to act.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

April 2014 -- "From The Chair"

The month of April is recognized for celebrating Earth Day. You can do this with service projects, cleanup projects, tabling events, or just being outdoors and enjoying it. I hope you will spend a moment to reflect on how Earth Day has affected our world. Earth Day was founded by Wisconsin's Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970 and celebrated by 20 million people. 2014 marks the 45th celebration. According to Wikipedia it is now observed in 192 countries. Creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act soon followed. Coincidently, John Muir's birthday is April 21.

Speaking of environmental anniversaries, March 24 was the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. A huge amount of oil spilled into Prince William Sound. Surprisingly, the volume of the spill is widely disputed, but is officially 260,000 barrels. The spill was a disaster to the local environment and the fishing and tourism industries. It still isn't fully cleaned up. Although Exxon has spent a lot of money to clean up the site, compensate residents, and pay fines, it has avoided paying most of the fines initially charged to them. It is widely believed that Exxon has avoided actually paying some of its expenses, even 25 years later.

Most environmentally-aware people strongly discourage the use of tar sands oil. It is much worse for the environment than traditional crude oil in terms of greenhouse gas pollution. The mines themselves are a disgusting messes; the local environment utterly ruined. From a philosophical point of view we do not want to allow this product on the market. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated hundreds of times that it is not possible to transport this kind of oil to refineries without the risk of spills. And the spills, different than traditional crude oil, sink to the bottoms of rivers and lakes where it is exceptionally difficult and expensive to cleanup.

The 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill in Michigan has already cost around one billion dollars in cleanup costs and is far from completely clean yet. The quality of Lake Michigan itself was nearly compromised by this accident.

While many Americans focus on the Keystone XL Pipeline as the "line in the sand that must not be crossed" and are correctly fighting its construction we are missing the fact that other pipelines are being built. Canadian pipeline company Enbridge is proposing to double the capacity of the Alberta Clipper pipeline that runs across northern Minnesota and Wisconsin to transport 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day, enough to rival Keystone XL. Approving this expansion would open the door to oil shipping on Lake Superior and increase the flow of tar sands throughout the entire Great Lakes region.

Indeed, other pipelines are planned, crossing Wisconsin and dangerously close to all five Great Lakes. The underwater pipeline just west of the Mackinac Bridge presents a serious risk since a rupture could cause an Exxon-Valdez scale oil spill spreading through Lakes Huron and Michigan, the heart of the largest freshwater bodies in the world.

I really wish my automobile did not require oil. I wish the automobile industry and society truly supported clean alternative solutions. And I wish good public transportation was more available.

In case you missed the news, since it is not local, look up "Oklahoma Earthquakes" on Google. Something is happening, and it is thought to be manmade. They are experiencing a lot of earthquakes, more than ever. says, "According to the Oklahoma Geological Survey there were more than 2,800 earthquakes in Oklahoma in 2013. That's twice the previous high, established in 2011." There is a general consensus that oil and gas activity is playing a role in the increased seismicity, although there are also theories about hydrologic loads caused by the weight of excessive rain.

Last time I wrote in this column that I was frustrated with industry insisting that they can do things safely and refusing to comply with regulations and environmental impact studies. I also worry about the impact that money from wealthy corporations has in buying advertising to sway public opinion and elections, ultimately eroding environmental safety regulations like those put in place after the first Earth Day.

The communities of Appleton, Menasha, Neenah, Green Bay and others across Wisconsin and the nation currently have grassroots efforts working to change the power of corporate money in the election process. The 2010 Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court is usually summarized to have given personhood to corporations and free speech rights to money. These communities are working together with the national Move to Amend organization ( to pass local referendums that ultimately encourage resolutions and legislation to amend our Constitution to change the definitions of personhood and free speech. I happen to support this movement, and I believe it will make environmental protection easier.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2014 -- "From The Chair"

I thought I'd use this column to highlight environmental disasters carelessly caused by people. Actually, that's a huge topic and impossible to really cover. But I wanted to focus on it.

This past week, as I write my column, the news is about a chemical spill in West Virginia that contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people in nine counties. This was certainly inconvenient and expensive to the affected residents. Chemicals had leaked out of a large tank and flowed into a river just above a drinking water plant. Authorities told residents to stop using their water for everything except flushing toilets, and to watch for symptoms of exposure such as skin irritation, nausea, vomiting or wheezing.

Having experienced two days last summer when local tornadoes knocked out our electricity I have some idea how inconvenient this would be. Fortunately we still had clean running water while we were without electricity. And, the outcome was bound to be short-lived and finite. Electricity was eventually restored. But with poisoned water in your pipes how confident could you be that you had adequately flushed your system with clean water?

Oil spills have become a regular feature of our news. We can think of the March 2013 pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas. The community residents had no idea that an oil pipeline was buried beneath their back yards until oil gushed to the surface and made a toxic river through yards and down the street to a river. Thousands of barrels of heavy Canadian crude contaminated property and environment and forced residents to suddenly leave their homes.

We can think of the July 2011 pipeline oil spill into the Yellowstone River in Montana when a pipe buried beneath the river burst. Remember the July 2010 oil spill in Michigan when a pipeline burst and flowed into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The pipeline break resulted in the largest on-land oil spill, and one of the costliest spills, in U.S. history. The pipeline carries diluted bitumen (dilbit), a heavy crude oil from Canada's Athabasca oil sands.

And think about the Keystone XL Pipeline that industry really wants to build across our country and across fragile and precious environments to carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. There have been thousands of pipeline incidents in recent years causing many injuries and fatalities and billions of dollars of damage.

Think about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the BP oil spill) in April 2010 that leaked out of control for 87 days under a mile of ocean water. Then think about all the drilling we do for oil and gas and the further risks done with fracking and injected chemicals.

Think about deep mines, like the proposed Gogebic Taconite Mine in northwestern Wisconsin. Think what it will expose, and think about groundwater that it will damage.

Think about groundwater extraction, and how that is depleting aquifers and causing myriad problems.

Think about poisoning in Love Canal in New York. Remember the Erin Brockovich story, dramatized into a movie, where industrial waste was sickening a community. Think about the PCBs in our own Fox River and the expensive $1 Billion cleanup.

Think about carbon dioxide and the problem of global warming.

There quite literally are thousands more examples of harmful environmental things we have done to ourselves.

Rather than ending with a hopelessly long list I'd like to suggest that some of these were truly unexpected accidents. But if we allow ourselves to learn from past mistakes then we should be able to minimize future incidents.

My frustration is with industry insisting that they can do things safely and refusing to comply with regulations and environmental impact studies. It is these regulations and studies that offer the hope that we can do things better and safer.

I am especially frustrated when companies like Gogebic Taconite are incorporated as Limited Liability Corporations. They do not want regulations and studies, and they are limited from the financial consequences of disasters they cause.

You can tell your legislators what you think about responsible regulations and environmental safety. In fact, on February 11 you have the opportunity to travel to Madison to meet with your Wisconsin legislators for Conservation Lobby Day. Organized by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters this event draws hundreds of conservation and environmental activists from around the state. They're even providing a bus to help us attend, with pickups in Algoma, DePere, Appleton and Oshkosh. (See for more information.)

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2013 -- "From The Chair"

The government shutdown is in its second week as I write this column. I have no idea how it will end, but we have all seen some of the consequences of the shutdown within the initial days.

Ironically, one of the most visible consequences was highlighted the very first day as Google's doodle. It was the anniversary of Yosemite National Park, and the park was closed. My family was planning a vacation, now cancelled, to Mammoth Caves National Park. I know others personally affected by other national parks closing. And news of closed parks, monuments and museums made headlines. Nobody liked this. It was unpopular to the tourists, and it was a financial disaster to the communities that depend on these national treasures for their economy. There was an attempt, almost immediately, by Congress to restore funding to the National Park Service.

Restoring funding for some popular government services like the National Park Service was tempting. It certainly would have made the shutdown less painful. And neighboring communities were losing an estimated $76 million dollars a day without the business visitors brought. Across the nation, national parks welcome an estimated 750,000 tourists a day.

I have long argued that preserving our environment and beautiful wild spaces was important. It simply is the right thing to do, but it also makes very good economic sense to do it. There are benefits from the natural resources, but the visitors are important. They explore and enjoy these places, and ultimately many will help to protect these places. But they are also spending a great deal of money locally with their visits, and everywhere along their routes to these destinations. That's a significant part of our economy.

It was distressing to learn that although the public was locked out of our parks that the mining industry was not. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was reduced to a shadow of its former self. Regulatory bodies focusing on air, water, and soil were crippled, and pending legal actions were put on hold. This is not a trivial matter.

I hope that America recognizes, from the parks shutdown, how much we value and need these assets. I would hope this gives legislators courage to create more parks and preserve more land. If you have had the opportunity to watch Ken Burn's series, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea," you will have a great appreciation for our nation's parks and the people who helped create them.

Locally, you may have heard that our group lost a valuable leader with the death of Jan Moldenhauer in July. In her honor we have named our annual environmental award after her. At our October meeting the citizen's group Preserve Waupaca County was the first recipient of the Jan Moldenhauer Environmental Award for their work to keep a frack sand mine out of Waupaca County, or at least make sure there were regulations. Their story was published in our last newsletter and is on our website.

You'll notice in this newsletter that the three-year terms of two of our board members are up. Sally Peck and Rich Krieg have agreed to serve another term. We'd like to have an election for these board positions, but we actually have several unfilled vacancies. Please step up and help our organization.

I am finishing this column while attending the Sierra Club Autumn Assembly. We learned more about the Gogebic Taconite mine in northwestern Wisconsin and why we must prevent it from being built. We learned more about frack sand mining in Wisconsin, harvesting our 500 million year old sandstone. We learned about high-capacity water wells damaging water levels for neighbors and reducing levels in rivers and lakes. We learned about large CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) contaminating water in northeastern Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Quite frankly, there seem to be too many issues to fight. And I've long realized there are almost too many issues to even name and identify, and that I do not have the expertise needed. But, we have no other choice. We must learn about the issues and we must fight for what is right.

Our John Muir Chapter awards some of its volunteers each year for work they've done. Every example is wonderful to hear and is motivation for the rest of us. I hope you will join us. There is much for us to do.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

July 2013 -- "From The Chair"

I enjoy walking over lunch hour in the neighborhood around my office. It is a business park, so I'm basically just seeing business buildings and taking a bit of delight in the underdeveloped sections with tall grasses, weeds, and wild flowers. Most of the businesses have small retention ponds to handle rain water that would have soaked into the ground had it not been for parking lots and roofs. These ponds can be interesting, especially when the landlord ignores them and allows them to be wild. Then they are attractive to birds and frogs.

There is a larger pond in the corner of the business park, sort of acting as a buffer zone between the businesses and the residential area on the other side. I often see ducks, geese and herons enjoying this pond, even though it is treeless, regular-shaped, and well-mowed. Over the past year I noticed that a gravel trail and some picnic tables and benches were built on the other side. I've sometimes noticed joggers or walkers using that trail.

Recently I altered my regular walking ritual and decided to investigate. There was an inviting sign from the Town of Greenville welcoming people to use the park. To my surprise I discovered that the gravel trail not only crossed the mowed area but also a wildish area. Furthermore there was a small forest. I had always assumed these trees had survived only because the business park hadn't found a tenant for this corner, and I hadn't paid much attention to it. Without a trail it is difficult to explore and enjoy the land. And so much land is privately owned and off limits. I was delighted to discover that a lovely trail system ran through this small, but beautiful, forest.

I later learned that this park, Pebble Ridge Park, in the Greenville Business Park, in the Town of Greenville is 13 acres in size. I think it is wise planning.

The trend I've seen in my town (Appleton) has been to build retention ponds in existing community parks because the land is already owned by the city, reducing the costs of water retention projects. This, unfortunately, also leads to the loss of useful park land.

The contrast shown with Pebble Ridge Park is to build a new park around a retention pond, thus increasing community park land. People really do enjoy and value parks.

The documentary movie, "Gasland", came out in 2010 and helped many to understand what needs to be feared with fracking. The sequel to this movie, "Gasland Part II", was released in July for HBO cable television. I don't have cable TV and haven't seen the new movie, but I can tell you that the older movie really makes you worry. The fracking industry was exempted from many environmental regulations that are supposed to help keep us safer. Without it, we are exposed to many hazards and risks. I've heard that the amount of water in our country being permanently spoiled by fracking in one year is approximately the same as volume of water that goes over Niagara Falls in one day. Water is too precious to waste that way.

The Apollo 17 space mission took the picture of earth, showing it as a little blue marble. This helped us to realize what a tiny skin the earth had to support life. All of our atmosphere, water, and mineral resources are contained in a very thin skin around our planet, thinner in proportion than an apple skin on an apple. It is just as fragile. Apples perish when their skin is damaged. We must not allow that to happen to our planet.

Wisconsin has become the best place for mining sand used for fracking. It is a big problem for our state. Certainly it is making some people wealthy, but it is endangering communities and people in the poorly-regulated process. This year our group gives our Environmental Award to an organization that is opposed to industrial sand mining in their neighborhood. Read the article elsewhere in this newsletter.

As you think about regulations, and whether they are desirable or not, think about some of these recent incidents and whether better regulations would have helped protect the neighbors: the oil spill in the Arkansas suburban community, the Canadian oil train that ran away and destroyed a town, and the Texas fertilizer plant explosion. Then think about our Gogebic Taconite mine in northwestern Wisconsin. And think about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

All year in Wisconsin is a good time to be outside. But summer is an easy time to be out. Yesterday my wife and I joined with a large group of canoes and kayaks to paddle down the Fox River from Neenah to Appleton. It was a great event and allowed us to see our community and the river as we seldom do. We treasure the opportunity and are reminded that our river needs to be protected and showcased so that we can all enjoy it.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

March 2013 -- "From The Chair"

I've been pretty happy with all the snow we've received this winter. Skiing has been pretty good for me at Bubolz Nature Preserve. But now that the calendar says it is spring I am ready for the seasonal change. I am eager for the warm(er) weather activities that include hiking, biking, and our annual garlic mustard pulling service project. And I look forward to the annual Earth Day celebrations.

Spring, this year, marks the beginning of a celebration year as Wisconsin's John Muir Chapter of Sierra Club celebrates 50 years of conservation leadership. Our special new website ( ) shares the opportunity for you to join in the celebration. You will find pictures, stories and activities on the site. Sierra Club's Executive Director, Michael Brune, will be join us for a special event in Madison on April 20. If you have the opportunity you will want to be there, too.

Although I begin my column with some fun stuff we really do have our work cut out for us. Someone seems to always have some bad plans for our environment.

You will read elsewhere in this newsletter about the Climate Rally in Washington, DC that Sierra Club helped organize. 50,000 people came together around the Washington Monument on a very cold day to rally for the climate. We are pushing President Obama to move forward with climate change initiatives, and telling him that he must not allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built. I wanted to be there, but I could not justify the financial cost it would take to participate. I remained home in Wisconsin and watched it unfold over the Internet. I am happy that three busloads of Wisconsin residents made the commitment to be at the largest climate rally in the history of our country. One statistic claims this was the largest cold weather rally ever in Washington.

Around the country hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for gas is going on at an alarming rate, and without much regulation. Little is understood about the damage done underground, and the consequences of that damage. It is out of sight and out of mind for most of our country, and we are seeing lower prices as our country is now producing almost more natural gas than we can consume. Indeed, natural gas is now so plentiful that lots of it is wasted, either by flaring and burning it, or allowing it to escape into the environment as greenhouse gas more damaging than carbon dioxide. It is estimated that five trillion cubic feet of natural gas were wasted, worldwide, in 2011.

Natural gas is frequently a byproduct of oil wells. In remote areas many companies find it cheaper to burn off gas that emerges in new oil fields rather than build pipelines and facilities to collect it. Oil producers in North Dakota are flaring roughly one third of gas reserves in the state, and they can do this without paying taxes or royalties on the gas.

Wisconsin is participating in the fracking business by supplying most of the sand used nationwide in the process. Our ice age glaciers produced the ideal kind of sand. But unfortunately that means sand mines are popping up around Wisconsin. Some of these are huge industrial businesses, not like the smaller mines we've known for generations. Lack of regulations makes bad neighbors of these businesses, and poor stewards of our natural resources.

Bad politics, and it is political since only Republicans were in favor of it, allowed the mining bill (AB1/SB1) to pass in the state legislature and be signed into law. This paves the way for the Gogebic Taconite mine to be built in northwestern Wisconsin. More precisely, it allows this awful mine to move forward. Fortunately it is difficult to imagine that this mine makes economic sense, and it still faces many obstacles. This mine is not a certainty yet. But the new laws have weakened environmental protections making it easier for mines, and any environmentally irresponsible business, to do business in Wisconsin. Did you know that there is iron near Mayville and near Baraboo?

I'd like to end with a great story. A new study by the National Park Service tells of the positive economic value of parks. Their report for 2011 shows that "the 176,040 visitors (up from 156,945 in 2010) to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Bayfield, Wisconsin, spent $20.9 million in communities surrounding the park. This spending supported 364 jobs in the local area." I'm sure the influence and economic benefit extends well beyond the surrounding communities.

For 2011, the National Park Service report shows "$13 billion of direct spending by 279 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. That visitor spending had a $30 billion impact on the entire U.S. economy and supported 252,000 jobs nationwide." Imagine the statistic if you added state parks, county parks, National Forests, and other protected natural areas. People love these places and spend their money visiting and enjoying these places. Let's not sacrifice these places for easy short-term profits.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2013 -- "From The Chair"

I decided that my column in this newsletter should be about local issues for our Group and Chapter.

First, I want to ask if you've read your copy of the State Chapter's "Muir View" newsletter. It is available online at and this link can be found on our group website on our newsletter page.

The cover story is about the 50th anniversary of our John Muir Chapter. A special website ( ) has been setup for celebrating our anniversary. Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune will be in Madison in April to help us celebrate our victories and remind us of our tasks for the future. Our Autumn Assembly in October will be organized by the Chapter this year and helps wrap up the year of anniversary events.

Our Chapter has a significant history, and so do some of its members. Jonathan Ela is remembered in the "Muir View" after his untimely death in October. He was a lifetime Sierra Club member and former staffer. He founded our club's Midwest Office. He began his conservation career when he went to work for Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1968. Ten years ago he was appointed to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board. I don't recall ever meeting Jonathan, but I knew he was a legend who had contributed much to our state.

Our group has its own history and important people. Last year our group celebrated our 30 year anniversary. Dale Schaber, one of the founders of our group has remained one of our leaders. Several other early members, including Sally Peck, also remain active leaders, while others have taken their turns and then stepped down.

Our group, as is the case with all Sierra Club groups, must have a board of directors. We are fortunate to have nine members on our board, also referred to as the executive committee. We are responsible for the various tasks that are necessary for running a group. We make sure we have a location and programs for meetings, outings, newsletters, website, activities, funding, membership, and the public contacts with our community.

The board gets its members from volunteers who want to do a bit more for Sierra Club than simply attend meetings or outings. Elections are held each December for new board members, a process necessary to ensure that our board represents the 1500 members in our geographic area. While we currently have nine board members the fact is that our by-laws say that we should have 13. Sharing the leadership with a few more members would benefit all of us. Are you interested in helping?

Our group is recognized within our communities, and is frequently called upon to participate in public events, or to help on environmental issues. This past year Kelly Ramstack, one of our members, realized that she and her neighbors needed to do battle with a company that wanted to mine sand in her community. Our group helped to share the message with other Sierra Club members in the area, and to inform community leaders that a larger audience is watching. The goal is not to simply block all mining efforts, but to make sure that business interests carefully consider and balance the environmental issues.

The news media occasionally contacts our leaders for comment on issues. Two years ago a television news crew came to our meeting to interview me about the high speed rail that our governor had rejected. We've been asked about the PCB project in the Fox River. And we were recently asked by a UWGB professor to watch the movie "If A Tree Falls" with his class and help lead a discussion.

One of our projects, unfortunately, for the coming year will be to help the Wisconsin legislature come up with a good mining bill. Two years ago the Gogebic Taconite LLC mining company allegedly wrote a new mining bill, giving itself unreasonable rights, and tried to get the legislation passed. It failed, but essentially the same bill has already been reintroduced. I hope you will all tell your legislators how you feel.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2012 -- "From The Chair"

I'm writing this column falls as I finish another short vacation. My wife and I drove to Baltimore to join my parents for a short cruise. I always worry about my contribution to our planet's problems when I vacation and travel. I guess I have to say I'm glad that our automobile is fairly fuel efficient. And the cruise liner, although it burns an enormous amount of fuel, at least is moving a lot of people.

Driving lets me observe other parts of our country, and some observations are worth sharing. I really liked that Ohio seemed not to have highway billboards. And I liked that State Parks in West Virginia are free to the public. I wish our parks were free to the public. I wonder how much it would cost Wisconsin to just quit charging for park admission. And I wonder how much it might improve our public's appreciation of the outdoors if it was free.

I continue to marvel at the enormous numbers of wind turbines I encounter in other states. Earlier this year I reported on the wind farms in Iowa and Nebraska and later in Minnesota and South Dakota. On this trip I saw immense wind farms spanning many miles in Illinois and Indiana. Despite the arguments against wind turbines I believe they serve an important role and that Wisconsin needs to harvest more wind power.

Wisconsin consumes a lot of fossil fuel, all of which comes from out of state. The expense for all that fuel leaves our state. Utilizing local wind energy would help our economy. There is carbon dioxide pollution with the manufacture and construction of wind turbines, but the operation of the wind turbines produce many years of electricity without further pollution.

Fossil fuels have the other consequences of messing up the environments where these resources are mined, the mess of spills, and some dangerous accidents. The "Coal Miner's Monument" in Kirby, PA reminds us of the dangers of mining. 37 miners were killed in an explosion in 1962. Is this really necessary? I am reminded of the humorous posters I've seen that contrast accidents like oil spills with wind spills or solar spills. Why continue with harmful and risky processes when we have better alternatives?

A small display in the Willow Creek rest area south of Rockford, IL tells of a former wetland that used to occupy the area. "Willow Creek originally emptied into Inlet Swamp which covered 30,000 acres. The swamp was home to millions of geese, ducks, swans, grouse, wild turkey and other game. The swamp was drained in 1900 and the land converted to farmland. It is estimated that there were 8.2 million acres of wetlands in Illinois in presettlement times." One can wonder whether these animals found homes elsewhere. We know that wetlands are important for many reasons.

Back home we have some local environmental battles to deal with. This summer Kelly Ramstack, a Sierra Club member living near Manawa, learned that a sand mine might be built hear her home. Using her Sierra Club experience and networking she has helped organize some opposition to the mine. Certainly her neighbors now have a greater appreciation for local town and county politics. Her article in this newsletter tells more.

I hope that our members pay attention to environmental appreciation and respect in the candidates that we elect to government.

My wife and I recently participated in Fighting Bob Fest, a progressive politics rally. I mention it because I was surprised to learn a fact about the origins of the Fest. It sprang from the environmental grassroots activists who helped prevent Perrier from mining and bottling the water of Mecan Springs, the headwaters of the Mecan River, in Adams County. Citizen activists, encouraged by their success working with local government, decided to organize the annual Fest as a rally to inspire ourselves to be involved.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

July 2012 -- "From The Chair"

Like many people, I get some of my inspiration from vacations. This year I have been fortunate to have taken two trips westward, driving in March to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and in June to Colorado. I'm not sure that driving saved us any money since we sure spent on hotels, gasoline and meals. But our goal was to experience the country along the way.

The trips were before the drought that has plagued our country this summer. Considering the fact that wild fires have burned up much of the west we feel especially fortunate to have taken our trips.

My awareness of the size and beauty of our country are always awakened with driving trips. This is a beautiful country. I am also made aware how much of our country depends on the tourism of our country for its economy. Trips like ours are made by families and individuals so they can experience the grandeur of nature, and of parks and monuments in natural settings.

The Grand Canyon vacation during our daughter's college spring break took us past cities, of course, but also vast expanses of open area, some lush and green, and others arid. We thrilled in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, still clothed with lots of snow, then the deserts of Utah and Arizona.

Just outside of the Arches National Park area you could drive for miles seeing few cars, and scan the vast horizons and see little evidence of man. Nobody lived there. There was the highway, some power lines, and occasional dirt roads. I wondered what sort of economy might exist in such a barren environment.

Then we entered the Park. There were quite a few visitors there to experience the architecture formed by nature. High bluffs and cliffs, now exposed after rock, even higher, had been eroded over time, and wind and sand have continued to change the landscape and carve amazing arches and other designs. The protected parks have saved these things for all people to see and experience and photograph. Nearby Canyonlands National Park also drew visitors.

Between the two National Parks lay the small city of Moab. Just a few miles to the north had been the barren natural landscape. But between the National Parks a vibrant tourist economy supported a city. I'm convinced that the city would not exist without the parks and tourists. The city itself, perhaps like many others, imported everything. Electricity powered wells, which watered the city. Gasoline, food, and everything else was also imported. The tourists came, stopped, shopped, lodged or ate, and supported the city and its citizens.

Grand Canyon boasts around five million visitors annually. Considering what my family spent, and what I know others spend, there is a lot of money invested in the local economy by tourists. It is the protected natural area and landscapes that draw these people and their money.

Mount Rushmore was one of our destination points on our later vacation. This is, of course, a man-made monument. The famous vista of the four presidents is carved into a mountain. Although there was early controversy about destroying part of a mountain for this tourist attraction it has become a valuable national monument and source of pride for our country. Part of the attraction is the physical size of the carvings, the presidents themselves, and the ideals of our nation and mankind. But surely the attraction is enhanced by the natural areas surrounding it, including the Badlands and Custer State Park. The people and nearby communities of South Dakota owe much of their livelihood to the thousands of tourists who visit daily.

You may be noticing the message I am telling about tourism and economies. Natural areas of beauty that are protected from damage will attract visitors, and the visitors spend money. The economic value of these places is dwarfed by the value of these places to the economies of communities surrounding them.

Wisconsin has much forested land, including the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. This land is managed by the USDA Forest Service for the trees, which can be harvested. But it is clear to everyone that the value extends beyond the trees. Visitors hike, camp, hunt or fish in these forests, spending money and supporting local economies. Indeed, I even once heard a Forest Service manager tell an audience that the value of the water that was protected by the forests exceeded the value of the lumber that could be harvested. (With the drought of 2012 and the economic damage that has brought it is easy to believe that there is value to clean water.)

Last year, and earlier this year, there was great concern about the possible Gogebic Taconite mine proposed for northwestern Wisconsin, in a beautiful and scenic area without much industry. Tourism is a chief source of income for the local residents, and the possibility of some good paying jobs from the mine is attractive. But others worried about damage to water, landscapes, and ultimately to a lovely tourist area. Which should win out? Should the few new jobs risk the economies, and perhaps even the health, of everyone in the area?

The Wisconsin State Senate voted in March not to pass a new mining bill that would have relaxed environmental protections demanded by the mine. The result is that the mining company issued a statement saying, "the company was leaving the state because the Senate sent a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining."

The Gogebic Taconite mine is back in the news again as the business and politics want to have another try. Stay tuned for more....

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

March 2012 -- "From The Chair"

Since May of last year the environmental community has been concerned about the effects of the proposed Gogebic Taconite mine. We believed it would be a disaster to build the huge mine, especially with the proposed weakening of environmental regulations that Gov. Scott Walker's administration was pushing. People who cared about tourism were also concerned. But many proponents argued for the jobs that would be created at the mine, at the companies that produced mining equipment, and by the supporting jobs.

As of this writing it appears that the mine has been stopped. Assembly Bill 426, which passed overwhelmingly in the State Assembly, did not pass in the State Senate. The bill, despite having an official legislative name, was actually authored by the mining company, Gogebic Taconite, LLC (GTAC). They insisted that the only way to build this mine was to weaken our environmental regulations. On March 6, with the defeat of their bill in the State Senate, the president of GTAC issued this short statement: "Senate rejection of the mining reforms in Assembly Bill 426 sends a clear message that Wisconsin will not welcome iron mining. We get the message. GTAC is ending plans to invest in a Wisconsin mine."

With the battle over, at least temporarily, the discussion is whether it was good and proper to pit jobs against environment. Although we really do need jobs, and we would benefit from the extracted minerals and resulting wealth, I think that protecting the environment is ultimately more important. Doing things the wrong way tends to make things go badly and is often immensely expensive.

We need look no further than the Fox River that flows through our community. Shortcuts by the paper industry justified the disposal of dangerous PCB waste directly into the river. Years later we are spending a billion dollars to partially clean up the mess.

Two years ago the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrated how expensive lax regulations can be.

One year ago the tsunami in Japan and the resulting nuclear accident demonstrated how our best technological plans could be defeated by Nature, especially when we do not implement our best safety regulations.

Last summer the flooding of Nebraska's Fort Calhoun nuclear plant frightened United States citizens. Nuclear plants are often built close to water, and the flooded Missouri River came within inches of threatening the facility and the safety of people.

Nationally the battle wages over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada, across the United States, to refineries in Texas, and then to tanker ships for transport to world markets. US refineries and Canadian producers would benefit. US consumers would barely notice anything since the gasoline would go to world markets and would have to be purchased from those markets at world prices, just like all other oil. Our environment is likely to suffer from frequent pipeline leaks, as demonstrated by another tar sands oil pipeline that already exists. Globally, tar sands oil is very pollutive to the land where it is mined, and towards Global Warming. And, any large-scale project like this ultimately crosses private land that must be seized with eminent domain rules. If nothing else, is this really the proper use of eminent domain?

Republican politicians argue that America needs this oil, and that good jobs will be created in the building of this pipeline.

My family drove to Grand Canyon in March to enjoy a college "spring break" vacation with our daughter. The trip through Iowa, on I-80, was educational. A highway rest area between Casey and Adair showcased wind power. A single HUGE blade from a modern wind turbine stood next to the building, demonstrating, up close, how large these blades are. Other outdoor sculptures complimented the blade as art. Inside the building the story of wind power was narrated by displays.

One of the displays said that there's enough wind concentrated in the Midwest prairie states to supply as much as 16 times the current American demand for electricity.

Wow, even if that is only partially true, shouldn't it be pursued as part of our national energy policy?

Iowa has become a national leader in the wind energy industry. The wind energy industry in Iowa currently employs at least 3,000 full-time workers in manufacturing, operation and maintenance of wind turbine components, with an estimated payroll of $70 million. Iowa produces 20 percent of all the electricity generated in the state from wind turbines, ranking it first in the nation and second in the world.

We saw hundreds of these huge wind turbines co-existing nicely with farms, producing power and income. And we saw many oversized trucks delivering turbine blades.

Siemens Energy has a 600,000-square-foot wind turbine blade manufacturing facility in Fort Madison, Iowa, serving as the largest employer in that community and county with nearly 800 employees, contributing to the economic revitalization of the region.

Wouldn't a huge effort to build wind power in Wisconsin and across the United States be more productive than building more oil pipelines?

I read about electric transmission lines. Our country is running with an inefficient old technology power grid. There are plans to upgrade our power grid so that it can handle more power with much less energy waste in the transmission process. The new towers will be slightly taller, but will not require as much footprint on the ground. It will become possible to rely on wind power and solar power because it is always windy or sunny somewhere.

Building the new transmission grid would employ many thousands of skilled workers, with line workers being as common of sight as highway workers, according to the article in Scientific American magazine. I feel this is a more worthy project than more oil pipelines.

By the way, Grand Canyon is amazing. More than five million tourists flock to the park each year, generating a tremendous amount of income for the area. Protecting Wisconsin's beautiful areas is also good for our tourism and economy.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2012 -- "From The Chair"

I think most Sierra Club members generally understand environmental theories, but I am always amazed that much of America, including many in legislative leadership positions, apparently are clueless. Many of our leaders in Congress and state legislatures continue to ignore environmental considerations, proposing and supporting detrimental legislation. Sierra Club and its allies never seem to find rest.

The proposed Gogebic Taconite mine in northern Wisconsin is a prime example. A Canadian-based company wants to open a huge mine, presumably for iron ore. Previous experience demonstrates that hazardous sulfide is likely to be encountered in the mining process. The company, working with allies in the Wisconsin legislature, is pushing legislation that would fast-track this mine, forgoing real environmental impact studies. The legislation would also eliminate legal responsibility by the company to run an environmentally safe operation.

Proponents of the mine are correct in stating that the local residents need jobs. But it is entirely uncertain that many good permanent jobs would result for the local community. And it seems like an extremely risky proposition, considering the likely and certain risks to the environment and to the tourism industry, and the lack of legal responsibility by the mining company.

The TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline to transport Canadian tar sands oil across the United States is another prime example of ignoring environmental considerations in preference for business considerations. Tar sands oils are extracted at huge environmental expense from vast surface mines in northern Canada. The tar sands are cooked until liquid oil is released. Awful air and water pollution is created, and the resulting "oil" is twice as expensive for Global Warming than traditional oil. This is a bad product, and we should discourage its production.

The Keystone XL pipeline is intended to bring this oil across our country, from Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Texas refineries would refine this oil, and most of it would be sent into the world market. Ironically, this would increase the price Americans pay for this oil. Currently the US is practically the only customer for this oil, but the pipeline would force US consumers to compete with the rest of the world for the purchase of the commodity.

Many of our leaders are ignoring the environmental issues, and even the cost of oil to US consumers, focusing instead on possible jobs for construction workers who would build the pipeline. President Obama finds himself with a "difficult" choice. He can either recognize the concerns of environmentalists, or he can recognize the needs of Americans for construction jobs. Fortunately, President Obama recently made the decision to delay construction until better pipeline plans are presented. I wish he would also voice concerns about the production of the oil itself.

The current plans were to build the pipe across sensitive environments, including the Ogallala Aquifer. The Wikipedia article, referencing a USGS Fact Sheet, says, "About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies this aquifer system, which yields about 30 percent of the nation's ground water used for irrigation. In addition, the aquifer system provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within the aquifer boundary". Furthermore, the tar sands pipeline that already delivers this oil to US consumers has demonstrated a very bad record for spilling oil.

Closer to home, and with much less publicity, a pyrolysis gasification plant has been proposed for construction in the Green Bay area. It has a good concept. Their stated goal is to "demonstrate the benefits of using waste as a fuel in an environmentally friendly manner. The plant disposes of waste by converting it to energy, rather than dumping or spreading it on landfills." However, many believe the process is likely to fail, will be a financial boondoggle, and should not be built. Our state Sierra Club chapter is cautiously against this plant. On principal alone, burning waste materials seems more wasteful than recycling them; and the recycling industry would be harmed if community waste was routinely burned.

Fracking for oil or gas, with its use of fracturing the ground below us and injections of poisonous liquids into the ground, is a growing industry. Sand is used in the fracking process, and Wisconsin sand has the necessary properties. Many sand quarries operate in Wisconsin to produce this sand, apparently with limited regulation and scrutiny. Again, the environmental impact is ignored for the sake of jobs, profits, and energy.

Recently our state legislature introduced the Wetlands Deregulation Bill (AB 463 / SB 368), which contains rollbacks that fundamentally undermine Wisconsin's current strong wetlands protection law. There is no science behind legislation like this.

I encourage you to research the above issues and come to your own conclusions. You may want to contact your legislators, at the state and federal level, with your concerns.

In November, after our last newsletter was published, the elected leaders of our state chapter of Sierra Club voted unanimously to endorse the recall of Gov. Walker and to ask Sierra Club members to help in the effort. Many of you have been involved in this process.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2011 -- "From The Chair"

Our world has certainly been contentious this year. Our Wisconsin government has enacted, or tried to enact, legislation much more divisive than with previous legislatures. The result has been massive statewide protest rallies. Our Federal government is extremely divided and nearly shutdown this summer while one party argued that we were broke and had to cut services and cut taxes, while the other party sought to retain valuable services and pay for the services with a minor increase of taxes to the wealthiest members of our society. A downgraded federal credit rating was one result. Challenges to environmental protections are another consequence.

Elsewhere in this newsletter (see next article) I state my opinion that we are a wealthy nation, and that we need to protect the environment to remain wealthy.

On the Federal level we were disappointed in September when President Obama scrapped plans to tighten smog rules, bowing to the pushback of congressional Republicans and some business leaders who argued this rule would kill jobs in America's ailing economy.

A year ago (Sep 2010) the Environmental Protection Agency supported these rules by saying "new regulations will yield more than $120 billion in annual health benefits in 2014, far outweighing the annual cost of compliance with the proposed rules," which it pegged at $2.8 billion in four years.

The EPA said among the benefits are the avoidance of 240,000 cases of aggravated asthma and 21,000 cases of acute bronchitis, and 1.9 million days when people miss school or work due to ozone- and particle pollution-related symptoms. Other statistics say coal plant pollution is responsible for 448 deaths in Wisconsin each year, and 24,000 in the United States.

So, the health of our people will continue to suffer because of lax regulations of air pollution. And carbon dioxide will continue to be unregulated as it contributes to catastrophic global warming.

As a nation we have a huge appetite for fossil energies, particularly oil, gas, and coal. Coal is often mined in huge scale by removing the tops of mountains and leaving environmental degradation. Gas is frequently "mined" these days with fracking, a practice of fracturing the rock underground and flooding those areas with toxic fluids. It effectively releases trapped gas that might have been elusive with traditional techniques. But it pollutes ground water and harms aquifers.

Oil, traditionally pumped from wells, is now being mined through strip mines. Tar sands contain oily solids that cannot be pumped. They are excavated and processed into liquids resembling oil. Unfortunately, the product and the process contribute much more to global warming than traditional oil, and there is more pollution byproduct. I encourage you research "tar sands" and the Keystone XL pipeline that a Canadian company, TransCanada Corporation, intends to build across the United States. This is a bad thing, and President Obama intends to approve or disapprove the pipeline soon.

In August I waited at a crossing for a very long train. I noticed that quite a few very nice cars were labeled "Winn Bay Sand". I knew nothing about that company but I suspected that it might be for special sand used during hydraulic fracturing. I did some research, and I was right.

Winn Bay Sand is a Canadian-owned company, a limited liability company, operating in Blair, Wisconsin. They have a lovely website that looks so environmentally friendly. ( )

The local community in Trempealeau County had people against this project and created a "Larkin Valley No Winn Project" website. ( )

The county board approved the mine because it might create up to 40 jobs. Only one guy voted against it. The public hearing lasted six hours, with most people speaking against the mine. (Jobs trumped the environment again.)

Currently, in northwestern Wisconsin, a huge mining operation is being contemplated. It is also a Canadian-owned company, and also a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). Although it has not yet filed a single permit to do business, Gogebic Taconite LLC intends to open a multi-billion dollar strip mine and processing plant in the Bad River Watershed near Ashland. Many people believe a strip mine up to 22 miles long, half a mile wide, and a thousand feet deep is being planned. This will have major impacts to the environment and to the touristy region.

Although permits have not been filed, legislation is being proposed that will make it easier to build the mine. Earlier this year the draft legislation, which did not make it to the floor because of public outcry, sought to limit the permitting time to only 300 days. Normally this takes years because of extensive scientific studies that are needed, especially for a project of this scale. A mine makes a permanent scar on our planet. It makes sense to be careful. An alarming sentence in that draft said, "The applicant is not required to include a risk assessment of accidental health and environmental hazards potentially associated with the mining operation."

New legislation, introduced in October as Special Session AB-24 and SB-24 seeks to remove environmental protections, and opens a door for the huge taconite mine. Permitting would be limited to only 30 days, regardless of DNR work load and staffing and gives presumptive approval for prospecting in order to get around our existing mining safeguards. These Special Session bills are also exempt from public hearings and newspaper notice requirements.

The day prior to SB-24 and AB-24 being introduced many citizens from across Wisconsin, including myself and several from our group, traveled to Madison and met with our legislators. This issue is so important that the Wisconsin League of Conservation voters organized a special Conservation Lobby Day to discuss just this single issue with our legislators.

Now that the language of SB-24 and SB-24 are known Shahla Warner, our Chapter Director, issued this statement: "We continue to disagree with any assertion that any existing environmental law needs to be weakened to suit Gogebic Taconite's wishes. It is an outrage to see another bill introduced before they file a single mining permit. If this company needs to change Wisconsin's laws before they even face the current DNR -an agency that is under intense political pressure to streamline permitting at all costs - we wonder what they are trying to avoid."

It is no wonder that the Occupy Wall Street movement is finding so much support.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2011 -- Opinion in the newsletter by Alan Lawrence

We are a Wealthy Nation

One of our political parties would have us believe that our country is broke and cannot afford to provide government services to the citizens, and cannot afford the cost of regulations of any sort, including workplace safety, food or product safety, or environmental protection.

It is my opinion that we have lots of wealth, if we measure it correctly. Furthermore, I believe that regulations and environmental protection are necessary for keeping us wealthy.

Our natural resources are a considerable asset for our country, and for Wisconsin. We have minerals, oil, gas, forests, cropland, water, ..., we have a lot. These are the resources that helped to grow our country so rapidly and richly. These resources have helped make our nation envied by people around the world. Some older nations have depleted their resources through centuries of harvesting. Some third-world nations have damaged their resources through abusive practices, often at the hands of greedy outside corporations. The United States is especially blessed with physical size and diversity, and has abundant natural resources of many kinds. There is great wealth in this.

The problem I see is that we are allowing these resources to be sold too cheaply. If they are worth a dollar then why should we sell it for pennies?

Our natural resources are like a bank account. We have a very full account. But we are allowing this account to be emptied, rapidly, without proper accounting. We understand dollars, but we do not understand or account for the value of our resources.

Truly, we must be able to benefit from our resources in order to be able to measure their financial worth to us. We have to be able to mine our oil, gas, coal, iron, copper, and other resources. We have to be able to harvest our forests into lumber products. We have to be able to fish our waters, till our land into farms, and water our fields. We have to be able to take advantage of our resources. But we do not have to utilize them as though there is no tomorrow. We need for there to be a tomorrow and we need to hope that tomorrow will yet provide opportunities for the welfare of its people.

I worry about mountain top removal for the mining of coal. I worry about fracking for oil or gas, with its use of fracturing the ground below us and injections of poisonous liquids into the ground. I worry about strip mining. I worry about the production and transportation of tar sands oil and its additional effects on global warming. I worry about clear cutting of forests, in lieu of sustainable forestry. We need some regulations.

I object to the huge subsidies paid by government (aka, all of us) to build the roads and infrastructure so that private corporations can have nearly-free resource rights. These resources are valuable and should be priced as though they are valuable. Furthermore, the government (again, all of us) tends to assume most of the liability costs when things go wrong. It should not be acceptable to lease mining rights to LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) companies. And it should not be acceptable to lease these rights to companies that pay their top executives many times more than their lowest paid workers.

I regret that our governments offer mining rights for small amounts of money, providing resources practically free to companies. These resources are our wealth. They belong to the citizens, and should be managed so that they will provide for us for centuries. They should not be plundered for short-term gain.

July 2011 -- "From The Chair"

In some of my recent columns I lamented that environmental issues had played such an unimportant roll in the 2010 elections. Nevertheless I am encouraged to see signs that politicians are aware of the environmental community.

I've noticed that the website forms used for submitting online comments to my representatives frequently include "The Environment" as a subject line.

And a recent commentary in the Appleton Post-Crescent (July 17) entitled "Why is Obama taking fire from the left?" expounded on some of the reasons the liberal left is disappointed with our president. A paragraph then introduces some of the areas of liberal disquiet. And first on the list was "Environment".

We are a category. Now we need to make sure that we are heard. And we need to remind our elected officials that we are "conservation voters" and that we vote.

Certainly our officials are frequently reminded about the environment, as are the people in our communities. Wisconsin Public Radio seems to report on environmental issues almost daily. And I am often pleased to hear them interview Sierra Club staff or members. But even the regular media seem to be reporting on environmental issues with great regularity.

Last year the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made daily news for a long time. Extreme weather (winter or summer) is often reported, and frequently mentioned with global warming. The Fukushima nuclear disaster made daily news for a while. And "human interest" stories about wildlife, parks, outdoor recreation, hunting or fishing have always been regular items in the news.

But, somewhat missed in mainstream news has been the flooded nuclear power plant in Nebraska. Or the major oil spill in the Yellowstone River. The proposed Gogebic Taconite iron mine in northwestern Wisconsin, potentially 1000 feet deep, 22 miles long, and a half-mile wide, is largely unheard of by most people. We need to make sure these stories are noticed by our neighbors and our leaders.

We also need to help inform our neighbors and leaders about the nasty consequences of tar sands oil and of "fracking". And we need to continue informing people that "clean coal" is a marketing phrase and not factual. But first, how much do you know much about tar sands oil or of fracking? I encourage you to enter those terms into a search engine. Then you need to be outraged.

I especially enjoyed part of a blog I read about the Yellowstone River oil spill. Shortened a bit it reads:

"It seems to me that there is no shortage of juicy angles for journalists to work on this developing story: Exxon Mobil, a favorite target of the left, is the responsible party; oil is visible miles downstream; aquatic wildlife is endangered; …; and the Yellowstone River, like many in the region, is swelled with snow melt and rain, which has rendered difficult the cleanup. For the Associated Press, however, the story wasn't juicy enough. Otherwise, the AP write-up would not have included this sensationalist paragraph:

Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Pam Malek said the pipe leaked an estimated 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil for about a half-hour before it was shut down. Other Exxon officials had estimated up to 42,000 gallons of crude oil escaped.

(Of course 1000 barrels is exactly the same as 42,000 gallons.)"

It actually took longer than originally reported to shut down the pipe. And the amount of oil spilled is still a matter of speculation. But it is still Exxon Mobil, famous for the Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. Exxon has still not paid for the costs of that cleanup.

Now, how to stay informed and excited? Our group is responsible for the Annual Autumn Assembly to be held October 7-9. Please read the article about it in this newsletter and then make the commitment to attend. It will be fun and rewarding.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

March 2011 -- "From The Chair"

In my last column I recalled the recent November elections and lamented that environmental issues had played such an unimportant roll. I reported that many potential voters decided that there was not much difference, and either decided not to cast a vote, or decided to vote against all incumbents. And I believed others based their voting decisions on differentiating issues that may not have been all that important.

I suspect most of my readers think that this was bad. As a result we have seen Congress proposing severe budget cuts to things we believe are important, and restricting the authority of environmental regulatory agencies. And we have seen the turmoil in Madison and around our state as our citizens and politicians worked through legislation differently than we have been used to.

Even before taking office, Governor-elect Scott Walker made it clear to Congress that he did not want the $810 million gift that was to be used for a high speed rail project that would have created many jobs, helped our citizens have transportation options, and would have jump-started our state in an era that we believe needs efficient public transportation. That gift has been given to other states.

In a special session in January our Governor pushed through a special favors bill to allow a particular business to circumvent environmental laws and build on protected wetlands near Lambeau Stadium. I argued that this special favor was inappropriate.

In February our Governor introduced his budget repair bill and woke up an angry hornet nest. Almost before most of us understood what was in the bill we saw teachers and students protest in unprecedented numbers in Madison and around the state. Within days news of our protests became national and international news. This was not merely a protest of unhappy teachers and public employees.

I was surprised to learn that Sierra Club stood with our workers. Several high-profile blogs, emails, and speeches by Sierra Club leadership made it clear that our organization was against the union-busting. I particularly like the following two paragraphs from Michael Brune, Sierra Club's Executive Director:

Why should environmentalists care? Martin Luther King, Jr. put it best: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." If America's workers lose their voice, then corporate polluters will have won a giant victory and all Americans will end up paying a price.

If you need an example, here's a spectacular one: Last year's Deepwater Horizon oil explosion began as a workplace health and safety incident in a nonunion work setting. It turned into the worst environmental disaster in our nation's history. If the 11 workers who were killed had been members of a strong union, their lives might have been saved -- and the oil spill itself might never have happened. We know that unionized workers are more likely to sound the alarm about workplace hazards -- and so do the companies they work for.

Michael Brune said Sierra Club will continue working closely with our brothers and sisters in the labor movement to build a stronger, more equitable America that protects the health of our communities, creates clean-energy jobs, and advances policies that help working families across the country.

Five years ago Sierra Club and United Steel Workers launched a partnership called BlueGreen Alliance. The Alliance has grown to include more environmental organizations and labor unions and now unites more than 14 million members and supporters in pursuit of good jobs, a clean environment and a green economy.

My wife and I traveled to Madison several times to participate in the protest rallies. We have never had union-protected jobs, but we recognize the value unions brought to our country and we wanted to show our Solidarity. We were inspired and motivated each time by the many thousands of very friendly also protesting and showing Solidarity, and we ran into many Sierra Club members there. It is our belief that citizens are being energized and that better government will follow.

Meanwhile, we have some immediate problems. Walker's budget bills are awful. Our environment and people will suffer if his policies go unchallenged. On March 13, Sierra Groups across Wisconsin held simultaneous rallies of Solidarity. Our group sponsored a rally in Neenah that was well attended and reported on by Appleton's Post-Crescent. I served as the MC and one of the speakers for our event.

This was, of course, a rally and public relations event. I pointed out several serious problems Governor Walker's budget will cause for the environment. But I also tried to explain to my audience why Sierra Club was even involved in what many thought was just a problem involving public employee unions.

I said that environmental organizations often receive bad publicity and hateful shallow comments because of our values and the things we try to protect. And we are called "tree huggers" by those who want to make us seem foolish so that our voices will not be taken seriously. In recent times union workers, especially those in the public sector, have also received some bad press and shallow hateful comments from the public. I said we have a lot in common and we must work together.

Hard hats and tree huggers share fundamental goals and values, including the right to safe and healthy working conditions and the creation of good clean-tech jobs.

Wisconsin has been an environmental leader. John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Sigurd F. Olson lived in Wisconsin. Former Governor and Senator Gaylord Nelson was a founder of Earth Day in 1970. Earth Day is considered the birth of the modern environmental movement. We must not let the movement end in Wisconsin.

Legislation and politics work poorly for all of us when private interests with big money get in the way. Many of us believe that is happening now. I reminded our crowd that recall petitions and elections provide us with the opportunity to do something about legislators who are not working for their constituents. Sierra Club members are helping to collect signatures on recall petitions. I urge you to help in this effort. Many of our legislators have not been working for us.

Learn more about Sierra Club and workers from our website or this link:

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2011 -- "From The Chair"

I suspect that most Americans grew weary of the 2010 election long before November. Campaign literature and advertising tends to be vague and often doesn’t clearly differentiate the candidates. Many potential voters decided that there was not much difference, and either decided not to cast a vote, or decided to vote against all incumbents. Others based their voting decisions on differentiating issues that may not have been all that important. Even conscientious voters could be frustrated by “meaningless” campaign literature and based their voting decisions on third-party editorial comments and endorsements.

Now that we have elected our leaders we shall see how well that worked out. I am concerned about what might happen to environmental policies that Sierra Club and other environmental friends have worked for. It is not hard to find scary information suggesting that the new politicians don’t believe in global warming or that they want to roll back environmental protections. We will have to remain vigilant and work with our new leaders to make sure that they understand the importance of nature.

Personally, I was disappointed that environmental issues played such an unimportant roll in the elections. I am hoping that future elections will focus more on real issues, and that the environment will be considered to be an important real issue.

Sierra Club can help. Our mission statement encourages us to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth and to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources. We need to keep ourselves educated and informed. Then we must bring it into our own lives, and promote it to others. When our friends understand that nature is really important then the issue will be taken seriously.

So, what’s happening with our group in 2011? First, I need to thank our members who have agreed to serve on our Board of Directors. Then I need to point out that we have two vacancies on our board that need to be filled. Our group exists only because we have a board. Please help us.

Our state chapter (the John Muir Chapter) has an Autumn Assembly each October. Groups around the state take turns hosting the weekend event. All Sierra Club members and friends are invited. We are responsible for hosting the event this year. Dale Schaber is organizing this event for us, and he will need the help from many of us. The “Assembly” will take place October 7-9 at Camp Helen Brachman near Hartman Creek State Park.

Large CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) farms are a problem in northeastern Wisconsin and elsewhere. A thousand or more large animals generate a lot of waste. This waste contaminates groundwater if not treated properly. Our board is planning a video project. We anticipate a contest to produce short videos that explain the problems a CAFO can cause for the environment.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2010 -- "From The Chair"

Sometimes the difference between exhilaration and exhaustion is a fine line. In early October my wife, Diana, and I took a vacation, driving to Virginia to visit with my parents. Originally we hoped to camp along the way and take interesting detours, but time was a limiting factor. We managed to spend most of a day hiking Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. I grew up in northern Virginia and have hiked, backpacked, and camped on that mountain many times, though my last visit was more than ten years ago. I eagerly enjoyed my reunion with this mountain. Diana also enjoyed it, but it was exhausting to her as she feared the limitations of her body and the descriptions she had read and heard about the unknown steeper side of the mountain.

I suspect that our different knowledge of the mountain made for most of the difference between my exhilaration and Diana’s exhaustion, since it was the same mountain for both of us.

I think it can be argued that the difference between those who love and care for the environment, and those who don’t, is often just our knowledge and experience of nature. This reminds me of the first point in the Sierra Club mission statement, “Explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth.” People will only protect what they love.

An automobile trip out East always reminds me how big our country is. There were many miles to travel and many hours were required. Most of the trip was done on busy highways among thousands of other motor vehicles. Wide highways had carved and landscaped the terrain. Untold quantities of paving materials had been used, coming from quarries and using tar and cement. We used lots of gasoline; unimaginable amounts were used by all the traffic we encountered. And huge sections of road were under construction.

Although it is efficient for automobiles and trucks to drive on good highways it still bothers me how badly these highways damage the land. Many of the scars will never heal. One example is Sidling Hill in Maryland. A 340 foot deep notch was excavated for Interstate 68 exposing 810 feet of strata in a tightly folded syncline. It is beautiful. But what did this massive cut do to underground aquifers? The rock was deposited 330 to 345 million years ago and it feels wrong to disturb it so badly.

We passed a number of rock quarries, including Thorton Quarry just south of Chicago. It is huge, deep, and impressive. The interstate highway crosses through the middle on a 200 foot high land dike. Buildings, roadways, and shorelines use a lot of rock and gravel.

But the worst damage is mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is a radical form of coal mining in which entire mountains are literally blown up. You really need to do a web search for “mountaintop removal” since the subject is larger than I can begin to do justice to.

Every day, mountaintop removal mines use more explosive power than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, according to the websites. It is utterly destructive and dirty. It ruins the local economies. Entire mountains may be destroyed to harvest relatively thin seams of coal. It is entirely immoral. And yet, America consumes a lot of coal.

In June actress Ashley Judd was keynote speaker at the National Press Club luncheon. She denounced the mining practice and urged that more attention be paid to its impact on people living in and around the devastation.

“I am here to tell you, mountaintop removal coal mining simply would not happen in any other mountain range in the United States. It is utterly inconceivable that the Smokies would be blasted, the Rockies razed, the Sierra Nevadas flattened, that bombs the equivalent to Hiroshima would be detonated every single week for three decades. The fact that the Appalachians are the Appalachians makes this environmental genocide possible and permissible.”

Judd also made a point regarding tourism and how states practicing mountaintop removal are losing valuable future revenue.

“The Smokey Mountains, as the crow flies, not so far away, generated a billion dollars in tourism revenue last year for the state of Kentucky. Using shovels the size of buildings, the essential ingredients of deep time is pushed into the lauded and mythical hollers of Appalachia, indiscriminately burying all that is produced and lives there: watershed, perennial and permanent streams, all plant and wildlife, contaminating the ground water in the process.”

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

August 2010 -- "From The Chair"

The recent BP oil spill is on the news and in the minds of many Americans. As Sierrans, we all understand that this is a very serious environmental disaster. We have also been enlightened to understand that the oil industry and our government regulators do not always have the same interests as the general public.

The BP oil spill means different things to different people. Some people see spoiled beaches. Some see dead wildlife. Some see a harmed fishing industry. Some want to boycott BP gas stations.Many want to make sure that BP pays every penny of the cleanup costs and compensation for job losses. And some see this as an isolated incident that should not get in the way of other oil industry jobs.

I certainly do not see this as an isolated incident. I think it is an excellent example of how we fail to think things through. And many still do not feel too badly if the unintended consequences are harmful to the environment since they do not understand how important the environment is to everything.

Lest this BP example be seen as isolated, take heed of the recent revelation that there are more than 27,000 abandon oil wells in the Gulf. Most have only temporary caps, and nobody is monitoring these for potential leaks.

The ill-fated Titanic cruise ship is a famous example of business underestimating possible consequences of an engineering design. Engineering and environmental issues are often too complex to predict well. It is foolish to believe that we know exactly how things work. Unfortunately, it often takes an isolated incident to make us aware of the consequences and the high costs of those consequences.

In hindsight the BP oil spill seems like a “duh moment”. Who wouldn’t have anticipated that this accident was possible, and who wouldn’t have thought it would be expensive? I like to think, “if you cannot afford the consequences then you should not be risking the consequences.” This is one of the ways our public regulators let us down.

I am of mixed feelings how the BP oil disaster should be paid for. It is the fault of BP, the oil industry, and our government. Our government should have required adequate safety and probably should not have allowed this type of drilling in the first place. And our government should have demanded higher fees for the mining rights.

There are countless other examples of disasters for which society has bailed out the victims, even, for example, when it is evident that the victims were foolish about building in flood zones. I suspect that the logic requiring government bailout for those victims will require that “we” also help BP. We are all angry with BP, but they are still a victim. This disaster will be too expensive for BP to pay for, so society will have to pay for it.

Our lesson is that we need to be careful with the environment. We must always consider the possible consequences and the costs. This might mean we have to walk away from risky projects. Or it might mean that we demand higher fees for mining rights and better insurance. It certainly means that we cannot afford to allow mining companies (oil, minerals, timber, water) to harvest public resources without adequate consideration for the environment and without adequate payment to the public treasury.

How about trying to come up with a list of other disasters? Chernobyl, Bhopal, Three Mile Island, Love Canal, the Exxon Valdez, mountain-top removal, Fox River PCBs…. It will be a very long list, and it should convince you that the know-it-alls don’t know it all.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

April 2010 -- "From The Chair"

I'm writing this column in early April. It is a month that has always meant spring. But 40 years ago, while I was a high school student, Earth Day was born. April still means "spring" to me but it also means "Earth Day" to me. I think my high school, in McLean, Virginia, may have missed the very first Earth Day or two since I only remember the school honoring it once while I was there, and I don't remember which year.

I recall being very much aware of pollution in my childhood. I lived just a few miles from Washington, D.C., and knew first-hand of the nasty water in the Potomac River. My family enjoyed canoeing and sailing in the Potomac River, because it was our only option for those sports, but we always encountered bloated dead fish, dead birds, and lots of trash. And it was common to see mounds of suds on the water, resembling the suds in our washing machine, except that it was dirty brown. We avoided swimming in the river, although that can't really be avoided when the river is your playground. We always washed well after being on the water.

Several years earlier my fifth-grade teacher tried hard to instill a love of nature in her students. She always had a "Conservation Club" in her class of 30 students. It wasn't really a "club" since the whole class participated. I was the president for my year with the class. Our school was adjacent to a county park with a good-sized forest and two creeks. Many of the students who walked to school came through the forest. My house was upstream along the creek and I often walked the 1/3 mile on the path along the creek from my home to the school. Other kids lived on the other side of one of the creeks and crossed on one of two bridges, taking trails through the forest to roads closer to their homes. The main bridge used to be made from the trunks of two tall trees and was covered with wooden planks so it was convenient to walk or bike across. Floods kept washing the bridge away until it was eventually replaced with a sturdy steel structure. It was a wonderful and peaceful setting to observe nature.

Our teacher frequently took us into the park, for recreation and for observations. And she encouraged us to write to government agencies to request literature. And we were encouraged to enter a conservation essay contest. My writing skills didn't win anything, but I learned a lot.

Forward a few years. As a Boy Scout I continued to be exposed to nature and conservation lessons. Respect for nature is an important part of Scouting, reinforced by outings and service projects. I loved our summer camp in the beautiful Appalachians, and worked there two summers. On my days off I ventured off, alone, on long hikes. I sometimes drank from springs and small streams that seemed clean enough to trust.

My high school was also bordered by a forest with a stream. It was good place for biology lessons, and for relaxing, but I remember it to have lots of cans and broken bottles. I imagine it was a party place at night.

So, I had seen nature as it should be. And I had seen it tarnished with litter and pollution. I recall watching television documentaries about pollution, often with the revolting images of raw sewage flowing into rivers. Other programs told about pesticides and the effects of air pollution on wildlife. Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" documenting the detrimental effects of pesticides on the environment had been published in 1962. It was evident that pollution damaged recreational opportunities, but also destroyed the lives and habitat of plants and animals, and was harmful to the health of people.

Earth Day at my high school took the entire day. All regular classes were cancelled and were replaced by dozens of special programs, workshops, classes, and other opportunities. It was much as Wisconsin's Gaylord Nelson had envisioned. We had an environmental "teach-in". 40 years ago Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day as a way to force environmental issues onto the national agenda. 20 million Americans demonstrated in different U.S. cities, and it worked.

The history of Earth Day, and the accomplishments that followed, are fascinating and are worth researching on the Internet. That year, 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act trace their origins to that Earth Day.

Certainly not everything has gone well for the environment over the past forty years, so there remains a need for Sierra Club and other environmental advocates. Part of our job is to keep reminding people about the history and meaning of Earth Day.

For a number of years our Fox Valley Sierra Group sponsored a large service project called "The Fox River(bank) Cleanup" which encouraged citizens in several communities along the Fox River to clean up litter from parks near the river. Many people participated, and the event got good publicity. But eventually enough litter was removed from those parks and the project no longer made sense. Since then we have focused on removal of the garlic mustard invasive plant, and participating in other Earth Day events, including the ReStore in Appleton.

I hope you find a way to remember or share Earth Day this year.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2010 -- "From The Chair"

Recently Sierra Club's online newsletter "The Insider" had an article that caught my attention. The January 5 email subject "Is Your Fireplace Trying to Kill You?" stood out because my fireplace is killing me. Okay, I correctly assumed the story would probably be about air quality or global warming, and my personal story was about replacing a broken fireplace.

First, my problem was that our wood burning fireplace had reached the end of its life, a fact made apparent by water dripping into the fireplace. Contractors dashed our hopes that we merely had a rusted chase cover; we needed to replace the unit. Initially we wanted to replace with a similar fireplace; one that was nice to look at and even sometimes use on cooler summer nights, but not especially efficient at heating the house.

Installation of the new fireplace is when things became difficult for us. It became necessary to replace the entire chimney, too, thus raising costs and adding delay. The project still isn't finished and we have an ugly and cold hole in the living room wall with a temporary plastic sheet to separate us from the elements.

As the expenses mounted we reconsidered the replacement fireplace. Most of the units on the market appear to be "efficient" models. Tightly sealing doors and an outside air intake vent prevent warm home air from going up the chimney. The doors also keep out the cold drafts when the fireplace is not being used. Wood is efficiently consumed, so less wood is needed for fuel. The consequence is that fireplaces are smaller, have a smaller window, and are probably less interesting to watch.

We learned about EPA approved standards for new fireplaces, and the choice became obvious that we needed one of these instead of what we had. As "The Insider" story puts it: "Old fireplaces and stoves can emit eight times as much dangerous microparticulate matter (i.e., "smoke") per hour as new ones that meet the EPA's standards. Old fireplaces and old stoves can emit 60 times as much pollution as super-clean models that exceed EPA standards."

Carbon dioxide is another matter. Wood burning fireplaces do not add new CO2 to the environment. Gas fireplaces are cleaner burning, but they release CO2 that has been locked up for millions of years. Global warming is a problem because of the release of ancient CO2 through the burning of fossil fuels.

Citizens of the world rallied in advance of the United Nations Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December with at least two notable events.

On September 21 there was a special "live" screening to 440 cinemas throughout the United States of a movie called "The Age of Stupid". Appleton was fortunate to be selected. The following day the screening was repeated to another 700 cinemas in 50 countries. The movie featured a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, looking back at 'archive' footage from 2007 and asking: why didn't we stop climate change when we had the chance? This, on the eve of the UN General Assembly's climate session in New York. is an organization founded by Bill McKibben, a popular environmental author. His book, The End of Nature, published in 1989, is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change. The organization focuses on the number 350, as in parts per million. They say this is the level scientists have identified as the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. For all of human history until about 200 years ago, our atmosphere contained 275 parts per million of CO2. It is currently about 390 ppm and rising. This number is higher than any time seen in the recorded history of our planet. inspired 5281 rallies around the world on October 24.

The Copenhagen climate conference recently concluded and many are disappointed that the nations did not unite in efforts to try to avoid global warming's abrupt climate change. "Failure to reach broad agreement in Copenhagen would be morally inexcusable, economically short-sighted and politically unwise," the U.N. Secretary-General said. Our governments still do not believe that this is a serious problem.

Climate change is already happening and is already affecting species that are slow to adapt.

I recently watched part of a History Channel story about the extinction of dinosaurs. Several theories were discussed, in addition to the asteroid collision theory that many believe. One idea is that the dinosaurs may have already been extinct by the time of the collision. Dinosaurs had been growing larger and more specialized. Diversity was lost. Tree leaf eaters would not be able to successfully forage on roots and small plants when climate changed. The program said that our world is currently facing similar problems. Hundreds of amphibian species, which have survived largely unchanged since before the dinosaur age have gone extinct within the last 25 years.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

November 2009 -- "From The Chair"

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to watch the movie, "Hotel Rwanda", which was about genocide in Rwanda in 1994. I'm embarrassed that I cannot vividly remember the news stories that ought to have been the daily headlines. A million people were murdered during the 100-day massacre of Tutsis and Hutu moderates by Hutus under the Hutu Power ideology.

Amazingly the world largely ignored the conflict. The world was not ignorant about what was happening, but decided not to intervene. The US government was reluctant to involve itself in the "local conflict" in Rwanda and refused to label the killings as "genocide", a decision which then-President Bill Clinton later came to regret in a Frontline television interview. In the interview Clinton stated that he believes if he had sent 5,000 U.S. peacekeepers, more than 500,000 lives could have been saved. Listening back to some of the discussion it is embarrassing how our government tried to avoid labeling the killings as "genocide" since then we would have been obligated to intervene.

My point with the Rwanda story is that we can debate issues and pretend things aren't problems. But, years later those debates can seem ridiculous. Why cannot we understand the problems while there is still time to react? For several years the world has been debating whether global warming (abrupt climate change) is real, despite lots of supporting evidence. Reluctant believers then debate whether we need to do anything about the problem. Many people want to believe that the problem is overstated and that action is not needed at this time. We do not want to look back from the future and be embarrassed about the silly excuses we are currently making. If we would label the problem for what I believe it is, a serious problem that will effect (and is effecting) the lives of plants, animals, and people around the planet, then we would be obligated to act immediately.

A public radio story caught my attention recently. The Australian town of Bundanoon voted to ban bottled water. Water mining in Wisconsin was an issue for us several years ago, and I still follow the issue. (,27574,25754710-5019059,00.html)

At a community meeting, Bundanoon locals overwhelmingly supported the ban on commercially bottled water. Almost 400 people turned up to the town meeting, with only two casting dissenting votes.

The voluntary ban was triggered by concerns about the carbon footprint associated with bottling and transporting the water. Australians spent about $500 million on bottled water in 2008.

Said one Australian, "Plastic bottles are everywhere. It's not just the direct plastic bottle that causes the physical reality in our local environment. You take a 600ml plastic bottle, 200ml of oil has gone into its production. That's leaving aside the C02 that comes from transporting it around the place.''

He added that it made no sense for people to pay twice as much for a litre of bottled water than for a litre of petrol. "The bottled water industry has managed to convince people that bottled water is somehow pure or better for you than water you drink out of the tap. But we have amongst the best tap water in the world.''

My family occasionally gathers for a family reunion in Florida. Each year we make a point of visiting several of the nature preserves. Florida's environment is much different than ours. The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is representative of the Everglades with large expanses of marshes and alligators. But it also has cypress tree swamps, Spanish Moss, and other air plants.

Recently we discovered the Wakodahatchee Wetlands. This is a nature preserve managed by the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department. It is the final stage of the sewage water treatment process. Treated water is pumped into man-made lakes creating a thriving wetlands habitat. Natural filtration further cleans the water. Furthermore, an abundance of wildlife is attracted to this wetland and the park-like setting is valuable to neighbours and tourists.

These Florida nature preserves are examples of how government can appreciate the environment. Caring for nature is valuable to local citizens, and is good for tourists and the economy.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

April 2009 -- "From The Chair"

April is associated with spring, and is welcomed by most people for the longer days, warmer weather, increased signs of wildlife, and growing plants. But the retreat of melting snow reveals lots of trash that was buried out of sight and out of mind during the winter. That reminds me of another association with April. Since 1970, April 22 has been recognized as "Earth Day". Founded by Wisconsin's U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in, Earth Day continues as an annual tradition intended to inspire awareness of and appreciation for the Earth's environment.

For thirteen years our group sponsored cleanups of more than a dozen parks located along the Fox River. Named the "Fox River(bank) Cleanup", the event involved several hundred participants in the communities of Kaukauna, Kimberly, Little Chute, Appleton, Menasha, and Neenah. The event provided many people with an avenue to participate in Earth Day. I often regret that we abandoned this project, which was partly because our project coordinator needed a break, and partly because the parks had become pretty clean.

Our group continues to be involved with Earth Day. We participate in table events to share information. We work on trying to control the invasive garlic mustard plant (in early May). Last year Rachel Anderson helped organize the "Take Back the Pavement" publicity stunt in Green Bay which turned parking lots into parks for a few hours. This year our Conservation Chair, Dale Schaber, is organizing the garlic mustard "pull", and coordinating our involvement in an Earth Day fair sponsored by Appleton's ReStore. If you are interested in championing an event for next year, please let me know.

My wife and I participated this year in the annual "Conservation Lobby Day" in Madison. Organized by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, more than 500 citizens from around Wisconsin met at the state capitol on February 25 with the goal to share our conservation priorities with lawmakers. In meetings across the state, Sierra Club and dozens of other conservation interest groups worked together and developed a short list of common priorities that we all agreed we want our lawmakers to support. Those areas of focus are: preserving groundwater; promoting a strong clean energy economy; restoring an independent, rather than appointed, Department of Natural Resources Secretary; and protecting the state's drinking water.

I was very impressed at the large number of participants, most of whom used a vacation day, traveled large distances, and made other sacrifices to attend. I believe every member of the State Senate and Assembly was visited by citizens of their districts who presented the conservation priorities and explained why it was important. My two legislators were very attentive and seemed to be mostly supportive. I hope so.

Nationally, environmental issues are getting some serious attention that many of us believe was missing with the last administration and Congress. In March the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, protecting more than two million acres of wilderness, passed through Congress and the Senate, and was signed by President Obama.

Unfortunately, the world's economic recession causes many people to worry about whether we can afford to protect the environment when our economy is suffering. It continues to be my belief that we must always care about the environment. The consequences of messing up the environment are more than we can imagine. On one end of the scale are the places, habitats, and species that we may lose, and the regrets that we will have for those loses. On the other end of the scale, our own survival may be at stake.

Recently, another of the now-frequent television documentaries about the environment presented several very troubling issues. Glaciers are melting at fast rates, threatening to raise sea levels and flood the homes and agricultural areas for millions of people. Mountain glaciers in South America are expected to vanish within a few years, with the consequence that rivers will dry up and agriculture will become impossible for millions of people. And our own United States is not exempt from problems expected from global warming and climate change.

Returning back to our Fox Valley Sierra Group, I need to remind everyone that our group's existence depends on several things. It needs active members and it needs money. Your Sierra Club dues mostly support the national organization, with some support to the state chapter, and mere pennies for our group. Our funding comes almost entirely from our annual auction fundraiser. We need generous participation by many people at our auction to help share the financial needs of our group. This year we are selling raffle tickets in advance so that friends who cannot attend will have the opportunity to help. I hope you will join us for our enjoyable and necessary fundraiser.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2009 -- "From The Chair"

I'm sure that most people are very aware of the financial crisis that hit the mortgage industry, then the stock market, and then seemingly just about any other business in the world. People have lost money, jobs, and confidence in the future. It can be difficult to be focused on nature when you are worried about yourself.

The financial mess is complicated, but several observations seem interesting. Sierra Club has long said, "Sprawl hurts us all". I think sprawl is one of the problems that started this mess. New homes were built further from cities. These homes tended to be large and expensive. Funded with easy loans, these homes were affordable and could seem like good investments, as long as the real-estate market was growing. If our message about sprawl had been heard, I wonder what might have been different.

Sierra Club has other environmental messages that went unheeded, with expensive consequences.

High fossil fuel energy costs in recent years are blamed for contributing to higher costs for just about everything, and this has contributed to the financial crisis. Largely ignored is the fact that Sierra Club has been encouraging conservation and development of alternative energies for many years. Part of our message was to require automotive manufacturers to produce efficient cars. And part of our message was that American gasoline prices were relatively cheap. Increasing the gas tax would encourage conservation, encourage the automotive industry to build better vehicles, and encourage the development of alternative energies. Revenues from the gas tax could have helped new "green" businesses get started.

Instead, we know that the American automotive industry fought all attempts to require them to build efficient cars. Indeed, General Motors had developed a promising electric car, but decided to recall and destroy all of the cars and their future models. The movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car", documented that disaster.

As should have been foreseeable, gasoline became expensive. Our automotive industry had nothing to offer to its consumers, so consumers are purchasing cars elsewhere, and our automotive industry is suffering.

Sierra Club has always argued for responsible care of the environment. Yet our nation often follows short-sighted policies and business practices that are contrary and value doing what is more profitable for the moment. That philosophy does not work well in Wall Street, it is not good for the environment, and it is not good for our people. The long view would be better for our environment and our workers. How many jobs have been moved to foreign countries to avoid fair labor costs or environmental regulations? It is my belief that if businesses had treated the environment with respect and retained local jobs that our financial crisis might have been avoided.

A recent news-item tells that the City of Appleton is afraid of its liability in the Fox River PCB cleanup. The City expects to pay $250,000 this year in legal fees related to a lawsuit involving removal or capping of deposits of polychlorinated biphenyls from the Fox River. Seven paper companies are responsible for the cleanup and its costs. Two of the companies have sued municipalities along the river to share in the cleanup costs. The cities face liability because municipal wastewater plants handled some of the original PCB contaminated water. This seems a lesson that allowing corporations to do the wrong thing can cost communities money in the long run.

Global warming pollution, mostly carbon dioxide, will probably be very expensive to deal with in the future. Isn't it short-sighted to ignore the problem today? Shouldn't we do everything possible today?

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

November 2008 -- "From The Chair"

There is a marker along the Ice Age Trail passing through Hartman Creek State Park. It calls attention to the open grassy field with occasional oak trees, and describes a vanishing habitat: "Wisconsin once harbored 7.3 million acres of oak savanna habitat. Many plants and animals depended on the oak savanna for survival…. Today only 500 acres of the original oak savanna remains. It is now the most threatened plant community in the state, and one of the rarest in the world."

Only 1 out of every 14,600 acres of the original habitat survived. Those are holocaust proportions!

Elections offer us the opportunity to elect leaders who understand or respect our natural environments. We need only to observe the environmental damage around us to realize that it is the rare leader who is able to understand the importance of the environment and is willing to protect it.

We need leaders who understand, or at least respect, the science and theories of Global Warming and Abrupt Climate Change. We need leaders who value diverse species and the ecological environments they need. We need leaders who understand that our own survival is closely linked to the ecosystems of the world.

Sierra Club's motto is "Explore, enjoy, and protect the planet." I hope you'll pay attention to "protect" as you cast your vote on November 4.

Watching and listening to our president talk about the financial disaster on national television I joked to myself, "Is he talking about climate change?"

It was a joke, but I fear it likely won't be too many years before the then president goes on national television and tries to explain the disasters of global warming to the country and the world. Many will wonder why nothing was done when it would have been easy to do something about it. And that disaster will likely cost much more than our current financial crisis.

We need to leave behind our dependence on oil and coal. They pollute and contribute dangerously to global warming. And their mining damages or destroys many environments.

A recent television story about the legendary Loch Ness Monster inspired me to learn more about the famous Scottish lake. The large 23-mile long lake has an area of 21.8 square miles and is up to 754 feet deep. It contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, with 1.8 cubic miles of water. The shocker, to me, was to compare that to the amount of oil we consume. Each year people use more than 2.5 cubic miles of oil. That's half-again more, each year, than the total amount of fresh water in all of England and Wales.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

July 2008 -- "From The Chair"

This summer I took a two-week vacation. The family I grew up with was having its week-long family reunion at a state park in Virginia, and I wanted to drive instead of fly this year. The driving trip allowed my family (wife and step-daughter) to see more of the country, and I think the economics of driving worked better than flying this year. I'd like to share a few reflections of our trip.

I really like it when the environment helps the economy since that reminds people that their livelihoods depend on protecting the outdoors. It ceases to be something of interest only to Sierra Club type people, but it is important to ordinary people.

The Manitowoc to Ludington car ferry across Lake Michigan was our way out of Wisconsin. While the ferry represents a transportation shortcut for many people it is definitely a tourist attraction to most. It is a wonderful way to experience our Great Lake. You can see its beauty and marvel at its size and reflect on what the lake means to us. It is an opportunity to understand that the Great Lakes are fragile and need protection. The lake provides water, entertainment, transportation, jobs, food, and even local weather. A polluted lake is far less useful.

This summer marks an important chapter in the protection of the Great Lakes. Wisconsin joined with other states and Canadian Provinces in the Great Lakes basin. Our legislature and governor voted to support the Great Lakes Compact. The Compact still needs to be supported by the U.S. Congress in order to become law. The Compact will protect the Great Lakes from water diversions outside the watershed, and will help protect the quality of the water.

We enjoyed Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. What a beautiful natural wonder. And yet, we were able to enjoy it only because people had decided to protect it. And because so much of the water gets on you and on your lips as you get close to the mist, or take a drenching tour at the bottom of the falls, you really hope that the water is clean enough for this. Appleton's toilets flow, after hopefully adequate treatment, into the Fox River, then into Lake Michigan, and eventually over Niagara Falls. Tourists have reason to hope that all upstream communities kept the water clean.

I made an observation about the way Canada and the United States showed off Niagara Falls. Access to the falls for US visitors is through a New York State Park, which I assume charges an entrance fee. Canadian visitors have free access to the falls because the community has merged itself with the natural attraction. You can freely drive along the river. I suspect the setting is more "park like" on the US side, but it is also somewhat more exclusive. Tourists flock to both sides, seeing the falls and spending money on supplemental attractions, food, lodging, and souvenirs. And this is only possible with a clean lake system that has enough water.

A drive through Gettysburg showed another type of park, this time preserving our historical heritage. It was interesting to me how the modern city of Gettysburg blended nicely with the historical monuments scattered within and around it. Their economy depends on the National Park System.

Our family reunion was at a Virginia State Park. The park has a couple dozen cozy cabins available for rent by the week. My family had stayed in these cabins several times when I was a child. The park also has a traditional campground, and a sandy beach used by many local day visitors. The lake does not allow motor boats or jet skis. Most of the shoreline is undeveloped; indeed it looks almost completely undeveloped from the water. But the lake is seen, partly at least, by the park guests. The park is a good steward of its resources, and park guests and the local economy benefit.

At Fairy Stone State Park I wondered whether the cabins, which date back to the 1930's, took up a large footprint within the park with perhaps the best views. Did the park's staff spend more attention on cabin guests than on other guests? I suspect this is the case. But I thought this system, accommodating both the camper and non-camper, made the park attractive to all people, and not just the outdoors types.

The return to Appleton took us past the new windmills near Fond du Lac. Some people decry windmill farms for their appearance, but I'm impressed with them. They certainly look a lot nicer than the oil refineries and coal mines we passed in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. And they are much better for our environment.

Back to club business, I want to thank everyone who helped with our annual fundraiser auction. Our May 10 meeting generated $2083 of income for our group. This represents most of the money that our group uses for the year.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

April 2008 -- "From The Chair"

April is spring to most of us, but many of us remember April as the month with Earth Day. Wisconsinites can be proud that one it our citizens, Gaylord Nelson, was the founder of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970, and has been celebrated annually on that date. Nelson wrote about the history of the day ( The idea was originally conceived in 1962. Nelson wrote, "it had been troubling me that the state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country". There was an environmental crisis and something was needed to put the issue into the political limelight.

I remember, as a high school student, that my school stopped all classes that day. Students and teachers organized dozens of environmental seminars for the day that we were all supposed to attend instead of regular classes. I cannot remember anything more than that, but I've always been happy knowing that I was part of the very first Earth Day. It was a grassroots environmental "teach-in."

Each year on April 22 Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. And many of our citizens recognize the date and try to do something to celebrate it. This year (several weeks after this article was written) our group will participate with other organizations in various Earth Day celebrations. Let's hope the environment becomes a political issue soon.

Recently I saw a History Channel program on oil. Initially it showed how much we depend on oil; nearly everything around us has some petroleum in it. Then it showed some of the problems.

Imagine an immense square building one mile wide and extending upwards more than two and a half miles. That's how big 2.5 cubic miles of oil looks, and that's how much oil the world consumes each year. But each year the building is ten stories taller.

Now imagine where this trend has been taking us. What have we had to do to our world to obtain all this oil? What has it done to people and economies, and political stability in regions? And, ultimately the oil is burned and becomes smoke and carbon dioxide, or it becomes plastics, much of it going into landfills. Oil is millions (or hundreds of millions of years) old. 2.5 cubic miles of oil each year! How much more do you suppose is available to us? And then what?

I intend to write more about digital waste in an upcoming issue. Personally, I try to responsibly dispose of old computers and printing supplies. Unfortunately, there isn't much that can be done with old computers. Some of the better ones can find some reuse, but most become landfill. The current economics just do not justify any recycling. Cell phones and printer cartridges are often collected with the intention of being recycled. But it seems that the recycling is often exported to third world nations, presumably so that cheaper labor can disassemble components. Unfortunately for those workers, they tend not to be protected from the hazards of our harmful chemicals. And much of our exported product eventually ends up in foreign landfills, often disposed of in irresponsible ways. Some toner cartridges do end up successfully remanufactured and available to consumers, but their quality is frequently questionable. So my quandary, what to do with old printer cartridges? Is it ethical to turn in old cartridges for recycling if I don't intend to purchase recycled cartridges?

I would love to travel the world and see the sights, but I cannot afford to. Fortunately, some of nature's joys can be experienced, almost in our own neighborhoods. This past winter provided enough snow to allow me to ski at the Bubolz Nature Preserve rather often. You don't have to venture far to be all alone. And you don't have to exercise your imagination much to imagine that you've traveled far from the city. You could stand, alone on the trail, listening to nature, and watching nature.

Even closer to my home, I like to bicycle the Apple Creek Trail in northern Appleton. A section of it is very close to Highway 41, on the campus of the Thrivent Insurance business. But it is possible to sort of ignore the drone of the highway noise and focus on the fields and the ponds. I find it easy to imagine being far from home, almost alone, and close to nature. The hiking trails of Plamann Park, just north of Appleton, also provides these refreshing experiences. We must protect our remaining green spaces. As travel becomes expensive we need to be able to find nature close to home.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

February 2008 -- "From The Chair"

As the group chairperson, and prominent contributor to this newsletter, I often wonder to myself what I should write about. To be meaningful to my readers I must remember the reasons why people become Sierra Club members. There are about 750,000 Sierra Club members in the organization, approximately 16,000 in Wisconsin, and about 1,600 in our Fox Valley Group. We all appreciate the outdoors. Our mission statement nicely states the various ways we can appreciate the outdoors:

Our mission statement:
• Explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth.
• Practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources.
• Educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.
• Use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

Many of us seek companions for hiking, camping, canoeing, bicycling, skiing, or other quiet outdoor activities. Others desire to participate in service projects. And others are enraged by something harmful to the environment and are inspired to do something about it. Many of us do all of these things.

Mike Brandel, the executive director of the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve where our group meets and does service work, retired on January 11. At his retirement party he reminded us that part of the Preserve’s mission is to help people enjoy nature and help them develop a sound environmental ethic reflecting an understanding and appreciation of nature.

I feel fortunate to be enjoying this nature preserve, and other lovely places in Wisconsin. I hope we can preserve these places for future generations to enjoy.

Global warming, one of the major conservation issues followed by Wisconsin Sierra Club groups, has come into the mainstream. Most people have heard of this issue and have a basic understanding of it. Most people know that Al Gore has made it his mission to educate the world about the science and consequences of global warming, and most people are aware that he was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I am convinced that global warming is more than just a hypothesis, regardless of the criticism that can be read on the Internet. I believe the scientific evidence that says atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have increased 37% in only 200 years. This is perhaps the fastest increase seen in the past 800,000 years, and there is now more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than at any other time measured over those 800,000 years. Climatologists continue to record each recent year as among the warmest years on record. Contemporary evidence of glacier melting and other environmental changes seems to support the hypothesis that global warming is happening and that the consequences will be significant.

Although consequences are difficult to predict, we can expect that the weather will change, and that it may change faster than many plants and animals can adapt. In recent centuries humans have harmed plant and animal species by trespassing on and destroying their habitats, or by excessive hunting. The future may add weather changes that further harm survival to plants and animals and the things that they depend upon.

Indeed, humans may find their own territories changing too quickly. Predictions suggest that melting polar ice will cause oceans to rise and displace people and crop growing areas. Predictions suggest changing weather will cause droughts on traditional fertile crop lands, while perhaps watering lands with infertile soils.

We are already seeing our food supplies challenged. Most of you have already seen grocery store prices increasing recently. Some of this can be blamed on the higher distribution and production costs due to higher gasoline prices. And some of this can be blamed on ethanol production, which some people believe will help with gasoline prices. Ethanol production currently uses corn, which consequently means that farmland that used to feed people or livestock is now being used to grow automobile fuel. And this is causing the price of all foods based on corn to rise. Imagine the consequences of further ethanol production while farmland continues to be destroyed by urban sprawl, and climate change affects our abilities to use our remaining farmland.

The world, particularly Americans and our political representatives, does not seem ready to take global warming seriously. Indeed, I worry that even Sierra Club is not concerned enough. Our official policy is that “we must reduce global warming emissions 80% by 2050 which is a reasonable and achievable 2% per year.” I believe we need to make significant changes faster than that.

In case you missed our January group meeting, we had a last-minute change of speakers. DNR Environmental Warden Tom Krsnich informed us about the problem of illegal open burning in Wisconsin. People are illegally and dangerously burning plastics, tires, paints, and other materials. Resulting dioxins and other pollutants are very harmful to our environment and our economy. We learned that illegal burning is the #1 cause of forest fires in Wisconsin. Dioxins are considered to be among the most toxic substances known to man, causing major health problems. Trash burning contributes 25% of Wisconsin’s airborne dioxins. The DNR is seeking the authority to issue citations to violators. Two bills (SB-284 and AB-546) awaiting voting in the Wisconsin legislature provide the DNR with citation powers for open burning and the storage of scrap tires without a license.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group, I welcome your feedback.

November 2007 -- "From The Chair"

Sometimes I feel badly about driving long distances, even when the cause is good. On the evening proceeding the annual Ice Age Trail Hike-A-Thon my wife and I had to make a decision about whether to go or not. I have enjoyed each of the eight hikes that I participated in. And I enjoy helping with trail maintenance. The annual hike alternates between trail segments near Hartman Creek State Park, and the more distant (and perhaps prettier) segment at Iola, and it was at Iola this year.

The need for decision was perhaps more important this year because of high gas prices. But there was also a need to balance family finances, time, and wear on the car with the benefits of recreation and fundraising. Global warming and the inconsistencies with being “green” also weighed in, since we would be driving three hours for a three-hour event. I have heard other people express their regrets about traveling to events. Believe me, I understand the conflict. But I also know that sometimes it is important to make the trip.

Our new membership chairperson, Rachel Anderson, has been doing a great job. In addition to welcoming new members to our group and putting up informational posters advertising our programs, Rachel has been working to engage our friends in the Green Bay area who might not feel motivated to attend our programs in Appleton. She proposed that we show Sierra Club movies, and we will be showing our first movie on November 14 in DePere. We hope the documentary, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, will stir some interest.

I am writing this column in early October, before our Autumn Assembly. I know that Dale Schaber has worked hard to organize it, and I want to thank him for his efforts. We all benefit from Dale’s efforts to organize this assembly, our group’s 25th Anniversary party this past April, and his work with the Ice Age Trail.

Traditionally our group elects some of its board members each December. Although we may not have enough candidates for the positions to fully justify an election, it is still an important way to show our support for the board. Four of our board members are finishing three-year terms in December. I’d like to thank Sally Peck, Rich Krieg, Charlie Paine, and Kelly Krupka for their years of service to our group.

Chris Calhoun has been our hospitality chairperson for a number of years, and wants a break from the task of setting up our meeting place and organizing snacks. Thank you Chris. Now, we need somebody else to take over.

We have other local heroes in our group, and they’re not always adequately recognized. And I’m afraid this column is not long enough to cover everybody. Sorry. But I want to recognize Sharon Duerkop because she has been running our buckthorn control service project at Bubolz Nature Preserve for eight years. Penny Bernard Schaber has been working on a project, supported by our board and club treasury, to organize the “Sustainable Fox Valley” conference on November 3. Great idea!

I’ve been using a new vocabulary word, greenwashing, and wanted to share it with you. As defined by the website, “Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is.”

If you can make it, I hope you will join us December 13 for our holiday party at Bubolz Nature Preserve. We always have fun at all of our meetings and outings, but this is one of our truly social events. We’ll have a potluck dinner and a silly white-elephant gift exchange. And we’ll ask for gifts to help support Bubolz Nature Preserve and its programs.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

August 2007 -- "From The Chair"

The worldwide “Live Earth” marathon of concerts took place July 7 to call attention to global warming. Whether the rock star entertainers were effective at sharing the message is still a question. With many Americans still expressing skepticism for global warming, and others believing it will simply cause a minor inconvenience of air conditioning, I must hope some in the worldwide audience are called to action. We cannot afford to be like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned. I’ve written an article for this newsletter on the subject.

Our May auction fundraiser earned $1610 for our group, including several cash contributions mailed to us. Thank you. We have an article in this newsletter with more information on our group’s budget so you’ll understand where our money comes from and what we do with it.

On June 28th the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources announced a modification to the cleanup plan for PCB-contaminated sediment in Wisconsin's Lower Fox River. Our organization is disappointed in the revised plan because it uses capping as a cleanup method in many areas of the river. We do not believe that covering the contaminated river bottom with layers of sand and gravel is any sort of permanent solution. I believe we will be cleaning the river again someday, and I do not believe the cost or solution is any better for having to do it twice.

A recent Public Radio program talked about songbird populations. Many species of birds are in serious trouble. An interesting rhetorical question was asked by the interviewer. We look out into our back yards and can still see many birds. Why should we be concerned? The problem is that most of us do not know how to identify the birds we see. We are still seeing lots of birds, but we are seeing representatives of fewer species.

I enjoy walking near my office during my lunch hour. My office is in a developing business park where there are many undeveloped plots of land with tall grasses and the accompanying wildlife. I am often scolded by killdeers and redwing blackbirds, apparently protecting hidden nests and young. I am distressed when the developer decides to mow his fields. Obviously the developer believes that mowed property is more valuable than wild fields. But, obvious to me, the mowers are needlessly killing helpless animals. I am considering ways to increase awareness of the problems of mowing wild fields. It seems to me that if you are going to mow fields that you should keep them mowed. It seems cruel to invite wildlife to live in wild fields, and then mow them while babies are growing.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group, I welcome your feedback.

April 2007 -- "From The Chair"

Our well-attended meeting in February was very heartening because it helped to demonstrate that the local public is interested in the outdoors. Writer and traveler Eric Hansen spoke to an almost-overflowing crowd about hiking and traveling in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Eric had helped generate publicity with press interviews, but clearly his topic was of interest to many people.

Our citizens do enjoy the outdoors. This is hardly a surprise to anyone who has tried to make a campground reservation at a State Park; there is not enough capacity to meet demand. Hunting and fishing is a favorite past-time for many. Parks and green spaces are always popular destinations in nice weather. Our government leaders should know that the public supports preservation of the outdoors.

Our group celebrated its 25th birthday at Appleton's Columbus Club on April 12. One of our founders, Dale Schaber, organized the event, with a delicious dinner and wonderful program. Current and past group and chapter leaders made comments about the past, and future of our organization. Keynote speaker Spencer Black (see article elsewhere) was the chapter chairperson at the time of our group's founding, and currently serves in the State Assembly. Spencer reminded us that the Sierra Club has always been about the future. Tom Sutter ended our program with a "lantern slide show" featuring John Muir's writings on the Grand canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone.

Our May 10th meeting is our annual auction fundraiser. It is always a fun time, so please come. And please bring some money. We'll begin with a potluck dinner and the camaraderie of friends, but the auction is really important. Most of our members are surprised to learn that their annual Sierra Club dues do not support the local groups. Most of that money is for the National organization. The state chapter (John Muir Chapter) receives a portion of your dues. But the groups get a very small portion. We receive only 30 cents per member, and may apply for an additional 30 cents for approved projects. Groups must be mostly self-supported. Our group earns most of its funding from our annual auction fundraiser.

Our group needs the auction fundraiser to be successful. It supports the publication of our newsletter, and it supports our activities, and it pays for the rental of our meeting facility at Bubolz Nature Preserve. Please come, and please be generous. If you cannot attend, please consider contacting our treasurer (address elsewhere in newsletter) and sending in a non tax-deductable donation.

My family was very involved in March supporting legislation to protect wilderness areas in Utah and elsewhere. My wife, Diana, went to Washington, DC with a coalition of environmental organizations to make the case to our legislature. Although personally expensive, it was a rewarding experience for the family. Diana's report is elsewhere in this newsletter.

Global warming (aka Climate Change) has been making daily headline news. Unfortunately, the local public does not understand the issue, if the editorials in Appleton's Post-Crescent are any gauge. This newsletter contains my recent letter to the newspaper telling why I believe the global warming theory.

A newspaper commentary, just this morning, claims that global warming is only a theory. The writer said that other environmental issues, like DDT, really were problems, and that after those problems became well known we were able to make corrective changes. My wife reminds me that Rachel Carlson told the country about DDT and nobody listened to her at the time. People are slow to understand problems.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

February 2007 -- "From The Chair"

As we begin a new year the first thing I need to do is thank our board members. They all contribute their time and energy to helping our club. Our group is supposed to have 13 board members, serving 3- year terms with staggered expirations. These four members have decided to take a short rest from their leadership roles: Maureen Birk, Diane Mandler, Jerry Sonnleitner, and Nancy Graham. Thank you.

You may have noticed the large notice in our last newsletter lamenting the fact that we have too many vacancies on our executive committee. We have room for several of you to become group leaders by joining our board. Please ask about the job.

2007 is a special year for our group because we are celebrating our 25th anniversary. Enough local Sierra Club members wanted to form a group and do things together. Some of these members are still with us. You will want to join us for the celebration on April 12 at the Columbus Club in Appleton. Dale Schaber, one of our founding members, is organizing the event. We anticipate an event you will not want to miss. See the announcement elsewhere in this newsletter, then check our website for updates.

April is also Earth Day. We plan to have several ways to celebrate the Earth this year. You should be able to find a way to participate. We’ll be joining an Ice Age Trail work weekend to help plant 500 trees near Waupaca on the 21st and 22nd. On the 28th we’ll have our annual project of pulling invasive garlic mustard plants. We will also participate in the Earth Day celebrations of other organizations.

Our members received post cards from our state chapter in November informing us about the PCB cleanup of the Fox River. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the US Environmental Protection Agency face continuing pressure from the polluting paper companies responsible for funding the cleanup project. Consequently, the agencies recommended a different strategy for the cleanup. Our organization does not believe the new plan is effective. We helped to organize a large turnout at the public hearing in Green Bay on December 5. Most of the public was against the “capping” proposal made by the paper companies and the government agencies. The newspapers and television stations heard the people. Soon we’ll know whether the agencies heard us, too.

Global Warming is one of the conservation issues our organization is following. Most informed people regard this as a serious human-made issue that will cause major climate changes around the world. We can’t know just how the forecasts will play out, but we can anticipate that most people and most species of plants and animals will be effected and harmed. My wife, Diana Lawrence, has decided to become an activist on this issue. You can see her article elsewhere in this newsletter, and follow-up articles in upcoming newsletters.

Finally, the generosity of our members at our December holiday party added $277 in donations to the Bubolz Nature Preserve. Thanks you.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

November 2006 -- "From The Chair"

Never one to enjoy attending a planning meeting I was reluctant to give up most of a weekend in September to attend our Sierra Club Chapter (state) Strategic Planning conference. But I attended, and the weather outdoors was beautiful. Fortunately, the conference was invigorating and I don’t resent the experience.

Friends and new acquaintances from around the state gathered together and worked with a skilled leader from National Sierra Club. We spent the weekend at a beautiful rustic camp, surrounding our work with good meals, enough free time, and a bunkhouse experience.

An early activity was to talk about weaknesses of our organization. “Too few people for too many jobs” was a common theme for us, and apparently for most organizations. Other observations were that we are unable to connect our priorities to public concerns, and we don’t have a well-run fundraising culture. We all wished our active membership included more youth.

We worked through an outline entitled, “The Four Habits of Highly Successful Sierra Club Chapters, Groups and Leaders,” with these key points: (1) We plan ahead, strategically, to win environmental protections. (2) We work well together as leaders and activists. (3) We build relationships with people and involve them in our work. (4) We connect with our communities to protect the environment.

Many environmental issues were discussed, including the cleanup of the Fox River, the Cool Cities campaign, the FROM THE CHAIR state Stewardship fund, parks, trails, forest fragmentation, energy, recycling, and global warming. There are indeed many issues that concern us, and that’s why we find ourselves following too many issues with too few resources. We must focus on fewer issues, and do a better job with those issues.

Our Chapter then decided upon signature campaign issues; issues for which we can play leading roles and become known for.

Global warming, also known as “climate change,” was high on everyone’s list because credible science suggests that we may have only a decade before serious change is irreversible. But Wisconsin is a water state and protecting our water resources is always a signature issue for us.

Eventually we combined and simplified our priorities and came up with two signature campaigns to focus on for the next two years: (1) Global warming / energy solutions and action. (2) Great Lakes Compact / water quality / organic yards.

These are great issues for us to work on. We hope that working on important issues for which we can make a difference will be rewarding to our members and visible to our communities

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2006 (Election Issue) -- "From The Chair"

As a Sierra Club member you may wonder why we make political endorsements and try to influence the political process.

Sierra Club membership consists of more than 750,000 of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. The Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

The Sierra Club Mission Statement:
1. Explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth.
2. Practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources.
3. Educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.
4. Use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

Our activities often involve service projects to clean up or protect something. But we recognize that good politicians are capable of doing good works far beyond what our membership is capable of. However, the wrong politicians can do severe damage and destroy everything that we work for.

It is important as individuals that we do not forget our small projects. But we must also remember to vote for the best possible leadership.

This issue tries to highlight some of the candidates that our organization feels are better qualified to lead our society. Sierra Club members hope their leaders understand and appreciate the science of global warming, and understand the earth’s ecosystems and resources. We hope you find this useful.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

September 2006 -- "From The Chair"

I enjoy all of the year for outdoors activities, but this year I’m taking all of my vacation during the summer. In June my family flew to San Francisco and then drove to Big Sur for a week of camping among the giant redwoods. I just finished an early August week-long bicycle tour of northeastern Wisconsin. We’ve got something less-strenuous planned for later this month.

Big Sur is a coastal area in California of remarkable beauty. There are the giant redwoods, unspoiled mountains, striking cliffs, wild waterfalls, and gorgeous ocean views. The region survived serious early development largely because it was rugged and difficult to exploit. These days it survives because society recognizes the value of these wild areas and protects it. Although some people probably feel inconvenienced by the legal protection it is very obvious that many people benefit. The region attracts many tourists and campers, and they become consumers of food and supplies, locally and in the whole region. Protection of the outdoors has produced an economy that would not otherwise exist.

My week of bicycling across Wisconsin (with the SAGBRAW tour) also demonstrates some of the value of protecting our outdoors. More than a thousand bicycle riders from Wisconsin and many other states spent their vacations and money riding across northeastern Wisconsin. We may take Door County for granted, but it is a treasure for anyone to experience. Whether because of geographical difficulties that slowed development, or because of wise planning and protective rules, Door County still enjoys much undeveloped green space and wild shorelines. And tourists flock there, spending money and supporting the economy. Without the quiet and open beauty there would not be the thriving tourist economy.

Our Memorial Day holiday centered around the Elroy-Sparta bicycle trail. We camped at Wildcat Mountain State Park and biked the trail. We thoroughly enjoyed the feeling that we were isolated from the modern busy society. The bicycle trail and the beauty of that largely undeveloped region supports its tourist industry.

My upcoming vacation, at a timeshare vacation resort near Wisconsin Dells, will put me in contact with the Dells tourist area. Although densely developed in the theme park area most of the tourists enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the Wisconsin River, rocky views, and the forests. I’ll also be close enough to justify day trips to Devil’s Lake State Park and other outdoor vacation areas. Again, I’ll be observing that outdoors areas that are protected by society are valuable to the tourist industry and the economy.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

August 2006 -- "From The Chair"

I enjoy all of the year for outdoors activities, but this year I'm taking all of my vacation during the summer. In June my family flew to San Francisco and then drove to Big Sur for a week of camping among the giant redwoods. I just finished an early August week-long bicycle tour of northeastern Wisconsin. We've got something less-strenuous planned for later this month.

Big Sur is a coastal area in California of remarkable beauty. There are the giant redwoods, unspoiled mountains, striking cliffs, wild waterfalls, and gorgeous ocean views. The region survived serious early development largely because it was rugged and difficult to exploit. These days it survives because society recognizes the value of these wild areas and protects it. Although some people probably feel inconvenienced by the legal protection it is very obvious that many people benefit. The region attracts many tourists and campers, and they become consumers of food and supplies, locally and in the whole region. Protection of the outdoors has produced an economy that would not otherwise exist.

My week of bicycling across Wisconsin (with the SAGBRAW tour) also demonstrates some of the value of protecting our outdoors. More than a thousand bicycle riders from Wisconsin and many other states spent their vacations and money riding across northeastern Wisconsin. We may take Door County for granted, but it is a treasure for anyone to experience. Whether because of geographical difficulties that slowed development, or because of wise planning and protective rules, Door County still enjoys much undeveloped green space and wild shorelines. And tourists flock there, spending money and supporting the economy. Without the quiet and open beauty there would not be the thriving tourist economy.

Our Memorial Day holiday centered around the Elroy-Sparta bicycle trail. We camped at Wildcat Mountain State Park and biked the trail. We thoroughly enjoyed the feeling that we were isolated from the modern busy society. The bicycle trail and the beauty of that largely undeveloped region supports its tourist industry.

My upcoming vacation, at a timeshare vacation resort near Wisconsin Dells, will put me in contact with the Dells tourist area. Although densely developed in the theme park area most of the tourists enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the Wisconsin River, rocky views, and the forests. I'll also be close enough to justify day trips to Devil's Lake State Park and other outdoor vacation areas. Again, I'll be observing that outdoors areas that are protected by society are valuable to the tourist industry and the economy.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

May 2006 -- "From The Chair"

I try to live a relatively simple life: I live reasonably near my job, I use moderation with my home heating and cooling, I'm rather conservative with my driving, and I drive a mid-sized sedan that's not too bad with gasoline consumption. But I still cringe at today's energy prices. It is expensive to fill my gas tank. Home utility bills are higher than ever. And groceries and other things that I buy also have higher prices, thanks to energy costs that must be passed along to the consumer.

And yet, I have long joined with Sierra Club and others who said that gasoline should be taxed until it was expensive enough to encourage people to treat petroleum with respect and begin to conserve it. We simply do not make investments in alternative energies and efficiencies while oil is inexpensive.

Although gasoline prices have certainly risen, it is not evident that habits have changed much. Presumably prices must go higher before we really begin to notice, and do something more significant than drilling new oil wells.

One of my regrets is that prices have gone up, but not because of taxes. Taxes would have helped fund research into alternative energies and conservation efficiencies, which probably would already be helping us. Instead, only the oil producers are benefiting from the high prices that we currently enjoy.

Meanwhile: Large sport utility vehicles are still popular. American automobile manufacturers still concentrate on selling sexy speed demons capable of anything except good mileage. Public transportation is inadequate. Oil is still burned and creating air pollution. Oil resources are being depleted and causing national conflicts. And most people are suffering.

Recently I watched a "Nova" show on Public Television about something being called "global dimming" (or "solar dimming"). Scientists have been studying the greenhouse gas effects of global warming for several decades. But another manmade climate change has only recently been getting serious attention. It is well-established that the airborne dust from volcanic eruptions shades sunlight from reaching the earth, resulting in cooling. The dinosaur extinction may have resulted from such cooling following the impact of a large meteor. It turns out that modern air pollution is also blocking sunlight and is causing a cooling effect.

The burning of hydrocarbons (oil, coal or wood) releases carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. It is widely believed by scientists that this should cause a greenhouse effect and cause the earth to warm, causing significant climate changes that will change life on our planet. The paradox is that this warming has been difficult to measure, making the theory difficult to prove. It is now understood that the same burning of hydrocarbons is also releasing soot and other particles into the atmosphere, and this has been shading the earth and cooling it.

The theory is that both warming and cooling are happening at the same time, and this has made the expected warming difficult to measure. Apparently air pollution is protecting us; with cleaner air the effects of global warming would be much more severe.

But this warming/cooling tug-of-war is not harmless. The dimming of the sun is shortening growing seasons. The dimming reduces the evaporation of ocean water and the resulting rainfall, and can already be blamed for deadly droughts.

Furthermore, air pollution is harmful for breathing. To justify allowing air pollution because it offsets global warming is as absurd as cutting off an arm to control weight gain. We must continue working for clean air standards. But we now understand that working to control global warming is more important than ever.

The other lesson is that climate and environment are very complicated. Don't mess around with "Mother Nature".

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

March 2006 -- "From The Chair"

Recently I received a letter from a concerned citizen in Grand Chute, the area that includes Bubolz Nature Preserve. She told me about a problem facing wetlands in the area, and hoped that I could attend a town meeting. She feels that the town board menbers do not care about the wetlands and how important they are. She told me that one of the board members said that "if a developer buys land in town the town should let them build on the land."

As a person who loves the outdoors and knows something about the interactions of the environment, I am discouraged when I hear about people who do not value nature. I wonder how they can feel that way.

As a person who wants to protect our nature I disagree with the attitute that ownership of land entitles the owner to do whatever they want to the land.

Unfortunately, the entire conservation community knows this is a battle that we need to fight while we are trying to protect our world. Many land owners believe they are entitled to clear-cut, mine, build upon, drain, hunt, poison, or whatever. It can be difficult to convince people that land ownership does not (or should not) bestow these rights. Perhaps "responsibility" needs to be emphasized more than "rights".

If America were to allow property owners the freedom to do whatever they wanted with their land our country would be very different. Protected wilderness areas, including parks and national monuments, would not exist as national treasures. And many protective rules that help protect our air, water, land, plants and animals would not exist. Society knows that our environment needs to be protected, and society knows that the environment does not care about borders.

It is sometimes said that Sierra Club wants to protect places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) so that its wealthy members can visit and enjoy the pristine wilderness. It is said that most Americans will never have the chance to visit these areas. It is said that the average American would benefit more from harvesting the resources (oil, timber, minerals) from those areas than they do by protecting those areas.

Our challenge is to help Americans (and everywhere in the world) realize that preservation of our natural resources is a worthy goal. Though I may never personally visit many of our parks, preserves, monuments, and refuges, I do feel enriched knowing that they exist and are being preserved for my children and grandchildren to enjoy.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2006 -- "From The Chair"

A couple of thoughts crossed my mind as I prepared to write my column. Our board of directors, including myself, had enjoyed skipping a meeting over the holiday seasons. We are club leaders because we feel strongly about Sierra Club issues, but it still consumes our personal free time and we do appreciate "vacations". Yet, at the same time, environmental issues continue to happen.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) seems to have gained enough attention from the public to cause Congress to postpone oil-drilling initiatives. Sadly, the operative word is "postpone" since oil industry leaders have not yet abandoned their desire to drill for oil in beautiful and environmentally important places. It is not just the quest for oil in the Refuge but the fact that this is a precedent-setting policy that would make future exploitations easier for industry. Holiday or not, our members and friends must remain vigilant.

For the third year running, donations collected at our December holiday party were presented to the Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve. This Preserve, the site of most of our meetings and several of our service projects, is deserving of our help. We have helped raise more than $1000 over three years. Mike Brandel, the Preserve's Director, spoke at our January meeting and shared some news about the Preserve. Seemingly everything outside its borders is expected to fall to urban sprawl within a few years, leaving Bubolz as an island.

I mention the plight of Bubolz because it is easy to forget about the jewels close to home. We tend to think about environmental issues out west in the Rockies, or in Alaska, or in the tropical rain forests, or in the boundary water lakes. These are clearly important places, for the environment or for our vacation enjoyment. But we must not forget that northeastern Wisconsin is also home to our own unique environments, and that these places very much need our help.

Our board of directors, following the December election where Dale Schaber and Jan Moldenhauer were re-elected, consists of 11 members. We are chartered to have 13 members, so we can use more leaders.

Our outings chairperson, makes sure that we have outings on our calendar so that we can enjoy the outdoors and find reason to want to do more. Our programs chair makes sure we have interesting and useful programs at our monthly meetings. Our conservation chair helps keep us focused on important environmental issues. Our political chair helps keep tabs on how well our politicians are protecting the environment. Everyone has an important role guiding our Group.

We are proud to note that one of our own, Penny Bernard Schaber, has decided to become a candidate for the Wisconsin State Assembly. Penny has long served leadership roles for our Group and for the State Chapter. Protecting the outdoors is clearly important to her.

Elsewhere in this newsletter you will read of our annual fundraiser, an auction. We are moving it this year to our May 11 meeting. This is the one time each year that we ask our members to help with our budget, and it is the largest source of income for us. Please add this date to your calendar and plan to join us that evening.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2005 -- "From The Chair"

I decided to wait until after our annual Autumn Assembly before writing this column. The Assembly, for all Club members and friends, was located in Milwaukee at the Urban Ecology Center. The Great Waters Group of Sierra Club, which hosted the event this year, faced a challenge they made for themselves. This group includes the Milwaukee area, and the Assembly organizers wanted to provide an urban setting for the Assembly, which is typically held in a rustic setting. The questions: could they find an appropriate setting within the city, and would the audience be satisfied?

The Urban Ecology Center proved to be an excellent setting. The Center was built in a blighted neighborhood at the edge of a neglected city park that had become a home for vagrants and crime. Building the Center was a grass-roots project initiated by a few neighbors. The plan reminded me of the Sierra Club concept; teach someone to appreciate the environment and they will protect it. The Center now provides environmental lessons to thousands of city children and adults, teaching them to appreciate the outdoors. The neighborhood and the well-used park are much better.

The building took advantage of many recycled components, and was a model of recycling and conservation. It was inspiring to visit, and camp within. (Those with tents camped on the 2nd floor deck.) The energy and vision of the Center’s director, Ken Leinbach, were amazing. One person really can make a difference.

Some of us concluded the weekend with a bicycle ride or canoe trip from the center. My wife and I were in the cycling contingency, enjoying part of Milwaukee’s 100-mile Oak Leaf Trail, winding through the city as a narrow park enjoyed by many. We saw thousands of people enjoying the parks on the shore of Lake Michigan. A coffee-shop catering to the outdoors people was flourishing. I was reminded that downtown areas are enriched by public green spaces that can be enjoyed by everybody.

Next fall the Autumn Assembly will be hosted by the Southeast Gateway Group at a Girl Scout Program Center near Kenosha and Racine. Put October 6-8 on your calendar and consider joining us.

Changing the subject, I continue to be amazed about the number of issues that clamor for our attention. I have long known about the Arctic Wilderness Refuge, under attack by the oil industry. I have known about the Redrock Wilderness in Utah, under attack by the oil industry and off-road motor enthusiasts. Very recently I learned about Otero Mesa, "America’s Wildest Grassland" in New Mexico. In addition to the unique plant and animals in this undeveloped area there is an immense underground fresh water aquifer large enough to serve a million people for over a century. The oil industry intends to risk this water, and the unique surface features, for the minimal amounts of oil that can be found there. It just seems so immoral to destroy things of immeasurable value in order to reap short-term gains. While amazed at the selfish actions of some, especially those with financial interests, I am wildly amazed and thrilled that there seem to be people everywhere striving to protect these areas. I owe my thanks to these people for their efforts to save the riches of this planet that I may not even know exist.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

August 2005 -- "From The Chair"

The White House and Congress continue to introduce legislation that would permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). These numerous attempts have always been defeated, only to be re-introduced in yet another form and hidden within another package. It is always bad policy and always needs to be defeated. On July 15 several of our Sierra Club members participated in an ANWR rally organized by WISPIRG, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group. I was one of the speakers. My speech is on our website (Click Here).

There is still time to protect the ANWR. The latest budget bill assumes revenue from oil leases in the ANWR (a sneaky way to permit oil drilling). In September, after the Congressional recess, the House and Senate will vote to reconcile the budget bills that have already been passed. If you haven't told your representatives that the ANWR must be protected, this may be your last chance.

I enjoy participating in many of our Group activities, and recently had the opportunity to lead a bicycle ride outing on the Wild Goose Trail from Fond du Lac. Several new faces joined us, including a non-member who worried whether we would be much faster than she, and leave her in the dust. We did not abandon her. I mention this because I think perhaps others are interested in our outings, but afraid to join us. Please feel comfortable with us.

I also wanted to report that LEADING an outing can be an enjoyable experience. I'll have the privilege to lead another bicycle outing on September 18 on the newly built Trestle Trail. I'm realizing that even the advanced preparation work (reading, planning, test-rides) is part of the fun trip leaders enjoy. Our Outings Chairperson would love to have more outings leaders.

If you live in Green Bay, or travel through it, you may have noticed a coal-fired power plant, just west of where the Fox River joins the bay. But you may not have known that this facility, the Pulliam Power Plant, is a major polluter. It has used loopholes to avoid upgrades required by the Clean Air Act of 1977. Furthermore, it makes little effort to comply with the laws it is required to obey. It has violated its air permit each of the past 20 quarters. The Pulliam plant is among the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, ranking seventh for its sulfur dioxide emissions. It is the second highest nitrogen oxide polluter in the entire state of Wisconsin. Sierra Club and Clean Wisconsin are working to make the plant's owner, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, clean up its act. (More info on our website. Click Here).

In closing, please consider attending our Autumn Assembly in Milwaukee, October 7-9. It is fun and enjoyable, and you'll renew friendships with other club members throughout the state. (More info on our website. Click Here).

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

May 2005 -- "From The Chair"

Saturday I had the pleasure of helping maintain the Ice Age Trail near Hartman Creek State Park. This service is always fun. For years Club member Dale Schaber has been organizing several trail service workdays each summer. It is a way to enjoy the great outdoors and know that you are helping others to also enjoy the trail. This time we repainted trail blazes, added some new signs, and cleared branches that interfered with the trail. But it is more than just work. Although only an hour from my home in Appleton, the scenery along the trail is phenomenal. And this affords the opportunity to make new friends, or further strengthen friendships. We often end our day eating ice cream together.

Later this month, but before you've had the opportunity to read my column, our group will have helped control the invasive garlic mustard plant at High Cliff State Park and at a nature preserve behind Kaukauna High School. This annual project benefits from public volunteers who join us in pulling these "weeds". Hopefully everyone who helps on this, or any environmental service project, feels rewarded, like I did with the Ice Age Trail.

Unfortunately we are all aware that not everyone believes the environment is important. And that continues to be a cause of concern for our members.

Sometimes it appears that the environment doesn't have enough friends in government. There always seem to be setbacks of some sort. Sometimes these anger me. Sometimes I'm just frustrated by ignorance or greed. Sometimes it overwhelms me into apathy.

A recent setback concerns the opening of roadless forest areas. The Clinton administration created rules to protect large sections of undeveloped forest, termed "roadless wilderness". The Bush administration has been trying to reverse these rules, and seems to be making progress towards that goal. In early May new rules opened up this land, making National Forests a State issue instead of a National issue. It will be up to state governors to decide whether to protect National forests. This might seem reasonable, but it means Wisconsin citizens will have little influence in protecting the environments of other states. And states with small populations will be strongly influenced by the economics of commercial interests.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one battleground that has been receiving much national attention for years. It is a spectacular place, yet fragile. And there is oil beneath it. The oil companies have long wanted permission to harvest the oil, while environmentalists believe this cannot be done without destroying the place. Furthermore, many believe the costs are too high and the benefits are too low; it will take years to get the oil which will then equal only one or two percent of our nation's consumption. The Bush administration is making it a priority to open this wilderness area to oil exploitation.

This is all very unfortunate. It is about oil. Years ago environmentalists said that oil was a finite resource that would eventually come into short supply. We were ignored. And that was when there was time to do something about the problem. And now the problem is here. Our consumption is exceeding our resources. So, environments are exploited. And wars are fought.

What to do? Neither the roadless rule nor the ANWR rules are done deals yet. Make sure your legislators know your thoughts on these issues. Then get outside and do some service. At least that will make you feel good for awhile.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

March 2005 -- "From The Chair"

Last month on Wisconsin Public Radio I listened to a program about the life and times of environmentalist Rachel Carlson. Her book, "Silent Spring" sparked an environmental wake-up call in 1962, revealing the widespread abuse of pesticides. I was surprised to learn that in 1992 a panel declared "Silent Spring" to be the most influential book of the past 50 years. She has also been credited as one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century. She almost single-handedly alerted Americans to the dark side of science in alliance with industrial society. She was largely ignored during her lifetime, and died of cancer in 1964.

My wife is taking classes at UW Oshkosh. Her geography class told of many environmental problems in Russia and the former Soviet Union. We all remember their Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but did you know that 800,000 citizens were sent into the danger zone to help contain the disaster? In 1960 the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan was the world's fourth largest lake (at 26,250 square miles), providing a healthy livelihood for several hundred thousand people. Several decades of diverting water for cropland irrigation (growing rice and cotton in an arid environment) have created an environmental disaster that will last for centuries. Today 60% of the water is gone and the lake is expected to be completely dry by 2050. The mild salinity from the diverted irrigation waters ruined surrounding areas, leaving them laden with salt and infertile. Blowing salt dust is causing health problems and expanding the desert. (Aral Sea links: here or here)

Presumably intelligent government and industry leaders too often make decisions without considering environmental consequences. Jared Diamond's new book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed", tells about decisions made by ancient and contemporary societies regarding how to work with the environment. One can only wonder how well our country and communities will fare.

Current problems, like gasoline prices, allow government and industry to argue that oil drilling should be done in the Artic National Wilderness Area, or anywhere for that matter. National and local decisions impact the outdoors, the environment, and ultimately our health, economy, and livelihood. The Sierra Club and other environmental advocates must keep reminding our policy makers to consider the environment.

In the March/April edition of Sierra Magazine our Club's executive director, Carl Pope, makes a case that serious "values voters" are interested in the environment. We need to make our government officials aware of this fact.

Speaking of voting, the Club's annual Board of Directors election is going on. This election is controversial. The major issue seems to be our population policy, specifically immigration. Please educate yourself on the issue and cast your vote before April 25. The Club needs your ideas. The club website has more information. Ballots are mailed to all members in mid-March.

You may have heard about the Sierra Club Convention this September 8-11 in San Francisco. Two years ago it was realized that all the successful social movements of the past century held conventions where local leaders told their stories, celebrated, and returned home inspired and energized. If you'd like to attend, please talk to me.

One of my responsibilities as Group Chairperson is to manage our budget. In recent years our annual budget has been around $5000. Our largest expense is our newsletter, our most effective tool to communicate with our members and interested public. While we receive some income from our Chapter, many members are surprised to learn that only a tiny fraction of their Club dues filter back to the Group. Most of our money, to support our newsletter, rent our meeting facility, and support our activities comes from our Annual Auction Fundraiser. Last year we were fortunate to raise $1600 through the generosity of donations and purchases. I hope you can attend our April Auction (which really is also a lot of fun), or consider sending a financial gift.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2005 -- "From The Chair"

Kelly Krupka and I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop at Sierra Club headquarters for newsletter editors and webmasters. I'm our group's webmaster. The San Francisco workshop was organized well before our recent presidential election, and with the understanding that the Sierra Club has a lot of work regardless of who won the election. Through our newsletters and websites the Sierra Club message is shared to members and non-members. The workshop goal was to help give participants the tools and the message to become effective front-line communicators and publish compelling newsletters and websites. I'm sure Kelly and I will make use of this training and the new contacts we made.

An announcement was made at the workshop for the Sierra Summit 2005, scheduled for this September 8-11 in San Francisco. You may have recently received a post card announcement. Please do not dismiss the invitation to attend this gathering. It is for all members. We'll be talking more about this in the coming months.

We have given more thought to the name of our group website. Although most of the content for our web pages reside on the Club server we have been using FVSG.ORG as our official site name. We once felt that it was important to have a short name that was easy to remember. However, many folks have difficulty with the acronym for our group, Fox Valley Sierra Group. We are adopting Club policy encouraging groups to use the Club server for their websites. There are many benefits to this decision, including better branding of our group as part of the Sierra Club. Accordingly, please begin using our longer name when visiting our site:

I have received letters from several members who were disappointed with some of the election endorsements made by Sierra Club. Important issues are cited by these folks. The Club makes its endorsements on the basis of environmental, conservation and outdoors issues that are important to our members. The Club realizes that we need to help everyone understand that our values are values that are important to most people. We will be seeing more of this message in the future.

The story that the environment is the "mother of all issues" is being told by many organizations, authors, and reporters. In a recent week, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond was a guest on two Wisconsin Public Radio talk shows. His latest book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" explains the evidence why ancient and modern societies have collapsed. Regard for the environment appears to be an important factor in whether societies succeed or fail.

Recently my father discovered an unmailed letter that I had written forty years ago, as a 10 year old. With five cents postage I had written to the editors of The Washington Post urging them to add a section on wildlife or conservation. While it is fun to have that letter now, I wonder what effect this letter might have had if it had been mailed. My fifth grade teacher was very interested in conservation. She organized a Conservation Club, for which I briefly served as president, and she encouraged her students to request literature from government agencies and to write essays and letters promoting conservation. Forty years later her influence is still felt. Efforts that each of us make today also have the chance to be long-lasting. Be aware of opportunities to make a difference.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

November 2004 -- "From The Chair"

I'm writing my column the day after the election. The long voting lines thrilled me, and I had hoped that Sierra Club's environmental message had gotten out and that pro-environment candidates would be elected. As the early returns came in Tuesday night I realized that our message was not important enough to the voters. Our organization wanted to defeat President Bush because of his poor environmental record, and many of our members actively worked for this goal. But, he was re-elected and we must continue on.

Bummed out this morning over the outcome I couldn't understand why the election turned out as it did. I thought of the famous quote from journalist H.L. Mencken: "No one in this world has ever lost public office by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people." It made me smile, but it doesn't really help.

We have to work harder, as individuals and as an organization, to educate the public about environmental issues. An election day column, buried within the Milwaukee Journal, was entitled "Damaged ecosystem makes other issues mute". The author, Philip Chard, began by saying, "The most dangerous threat facing our nation was barely mentioned in the verbose run-up to today's election." He makes a strong case for his opinion that our ecosystem is "the mother of all issues".

How do we get this message out to the public, and make them believe it? How do we get this news out to our leaders? How do we get our society and leadership to act upon this news? That is our challenge.

With the election over, but the issues remaining, I think we should review the goals of the Sierra Club which include (1) enjoying the outdoors, (2) enjoying the outdoors with friends, and (3) protecting the outdoors so that it can be enjoyed. Participation in our outings and programs are ways to enjoy the outdoors with friends and learn about issues related to protecting the outdoors. I hope to meet and visit with you at some of our events.

I'd like to highlight a couple of recent activities for our group. In October some of our members participated in the annual Ice Age Trail Hike-A-Thon at Hartman Creek State Park. This is a fitting way to celebrate the service work that our group does for the trail. In October the Sierra Club chapter "Autumn Assembly" was held near LaCrosse. This educational retreat was enjoyed by everyone who attended. In October our group again helped with the annual Romp in the Swamp public fundraiser for Bubolz Nature Preserve, home for our group.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your

Goals of the Sierra Club include (1) enjoying the outdoors, (2) enjoying the outdoors with friends, and (3) protecting the outdoors so that it can be enjoyed. Participating in our outings and programs are ways to enjoy the outdoors with friends and learn about issues related to protecting the outdoors. I hope to meet and visit with you at some of our events.

Our annual "Autumn Assembly" will be held October 8-10 at Girl Scout Camp Ehawee in Stevenstown, about 25 miles northeast of LaCrosse. I have enjoyed the past four Autumn Assemblies (formerly known as the Annual Chapter Meeting) and anticipate this will also be great. This is a gathering for all Sierra Club members and friends, not just members with leadership positions. More information is available on our website.

I'd like to spotlight our next two monthly programs. Members Dale and Penny Schaber are attempting to hike the entire thousand-mile Ice Age Trail. We will learn more about this at our September meeting. In October Clayton Daughenbaugh, Sierra Club National Conservation Organizer, will be here with a "Threats to America's Wild Lands" slide show presentation. You will not want to miss either program.

Speaking of "threats" remember that citizens can influence public policy concerning our environment. We frequently present issues at our meetings and encourage our audience to write letters to our representatives. The Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club (John Muir Chapter) is a partner of the Wisconsin Conservation Team Network. Their website, available as link from our website, provides information on environmental issues of interest to Wisconsinites.

Our Fox Valley Sierra Group is in need of some volunteer help. Elsewhere in this newsletter you will find a notice seeking candidates for our board of directors. We have 13 positions on our board and need to fill seven by election in December. Last December we voted to set make these be 3-year positions, and fill one third of our positions each December. Terms had been two years. We need members to help direct our group's interests. It is a bit of work, but it is satisfying. Please contact any of our board members, including myself, if you are interested in learning more.

We also need a volunteer to help organize our Fox River(bank) cleanup. Suspended for the past two years, this had been our annual Earth Day project for 13 years. We have had hundreds of community citizens, families, and Scout groups help us clean over a dozen parks and green spaces along the Fox River. We'd like to offer this event to the public next spring.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

June 2004 -- "From The Chair"

This year our group celebrated Earth Day by organizing a Garlic Mustard picking party. This was our second year trying to eradicate this exotic and invasive plant from nature areas. We had about 25 people working at High Cliff State Park and another 25 people at a nature area behind Kaukauna High School. This is a project that will need our help each spring. Special thanks to Lori Weyers for organizing this event.

We anticipate organizing the Fox River(bank) cleanup in 2005. We ran this annual event for 13 years, then temporarily halted it because the parks had gotten pretty clean. We think perhaps running it every third year may be appropriate. This event allowed large numbers of community citizens to become involved helping pickup trash from parks in our communities along the Fox River. We need someone to help organize this. Any volunteers?

Speaking of volunteers, we have a vacancy on our board that should be filled. We should have 13 board members. The board meets monthly to review and plan our activities. If you have an interest in serving please contact myself or any other board member. Thank you to everyone who was involved with our April Fundraiser. $1,708 was raised. This is the single most important source of income for our budget, and will help allow us to do our work.

Camp Helen Brachman, an environmental camp located in Almond, was a recent project for our group. In partnership with other environmental supporters, our group helped construct a nature trail at the camp. On May 23 Dale Schaber led some of our volunteers to erect sign posts along the trail. Kelly Krupka has been working on the artwork for the signs that will be professionally printed and then fastened to our posts.

A real treat following work was a special dinner at the Camp. Youth members of Americorps *NCCC were being honored for their work at the camp. The Americorps program was created by President Clinton to engage Americans in intensive service projects to meet American needs. The NCCC stands for National Civilian Community Corps. This group of college-aged youth had just spent a month at the camp making valuable improvements. It was inspirational to see Sierra Club and other organizations working together.

In spite of the apparent lack of interest in the environment by some of our public officials there seems to be a growing interest by the public. Our Sierra Club group, covering northeastern Wisconsin, has now grown to over 1600 members! Thank your for your interest and support. Please join us for our programs and outings.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

April 2004 -- "From The Chair"

Earth Day has been celebrated each April 22 ever since 1970 when Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson helped found the first of these celebrations. Earth Day is an annual event for people to celebrate the earth and our responsibility toward it.

Rachael Carlson's book "Silent Spring", released in 1962, is credited with making the public aware of environmental problems and responsibilities. The website has this review for her book: "Silent Spring, offered the first shattering look at widespread ecological degradation and touched off an environmental awareness that still exists. Rachel Carson's book focused on the poisons from insecticides, weed killers, and other common products as well as the use of sprays in agriculture, a practice that led to dangerous chemicals to the food source. Carson argued that those chemicals were more dangerous than radiation and that for the first time in history, humans were exposed to chemicals that stayed in their systems from birth to death. Presented with thorough documentation, the book opened more than a few eyes about the dangers of the modern world and stands today as a landmark work."

Donella "Dana" Meadows' bestseller, "The Limits to Growth", released in 1972, influenced a generation of thinkers on the interplay between economic and population growth and natural systems, and helped jump start the sustainability movement.

Has progress been made in the years following? Yes, much has been done. But we still must be alert to problems.

Unfortunately, recent years have been problematic. There is interplay between economic growth and natural systems, and the economy seems more important right now to many of our legislative public servants. We believe they fail to see that there is an interaction and that natural systems are vital to our economy, and indeed to our very survival.

Involved citizens and groups like Sierra Club must counter current public thinking. Many environmental protection laws have been eroded in recent years. To our own members, I urge you to inform yourselves of the issues, attempt to influence the debate, and then cast your votes in our elections.

For 13 years our group has participated in Earth Day by organizing the cleanup of parks along the Fox River in communities from Neenah to Kaukauna. Thousands of community citizens joined our efforts, partly as responsibility, and partly as an Earth Day celebration.

Two years ago we realized that those parks had gotten much cleaner, and we needed another project. This year we are again organizing teams of volunteers to battle an invasive species of plant called garlic mustard. Lori Weyers is organizing teams to help protect High Cliff State Park, and a natural area behind Kaukauna High School.

If you read my comments in time, let me remind you that our group's annual auction fundraiser is April 8, at Bubolz Nature Preserve. Most of the income that supports our group comes from this fundraiser. Please come, enjoy the comraderie with a potluck of food and games, and please be generous with your wallets.

Whether you are a Sierra Club member or just reading our newsletter, please know that we have public meetings most months at Bubolz Nature Preserve, and generally have an interesting program. You are encouraged to visit. You will be welcomed.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2004 -- "From The Chair"

All of us are probably aware of abuses being done to our environment. Many of us joined the Sierra Club so that we could help. Our club, locally and nationally, is a powerful force working to help the environment. Local grass-roots volunteers ultimately control the organization, and the organization helps provide the support and tools needed by the grass-roots volunteers.

Locally, our group helps support local nature areas. We also try to influence political decisions that effect the environment. At the national level our organization is doing these same kinds of activities.

There are many organizations and partnerships of organizations trying to protect the environment. Our John Muir Chapter of Sierra Club recently became a partner in an organization called "Wisconsin Conservation Team Network". I had the honor of helping build their Internet website. The idea is to help Wisconsin citizens know what issues need our attention in the legislature.

Something continues to bother me. Why are people careless with our environment? Why is it necessary to constantly tell our politicians how to vote? Why can't people just "get it" and do the right thing? What is so difficult to understand? From what I can tell, most people really do enjoy a clean outdoors and wildlife. But it seems that the legislature does not know this.

I've been thinking. Maybe we need a marketing campaign to help politicians remember the environmental side of each issue. Religion coined the successful phrase, "WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?" Maybe we need something catchy, perhaps "What Does Sierra Club Think?" or "What Would Wilderness Want?" to help our politicians. Any ideas?

At our Group's Holiday Party in December we collected funds to help Bubolz Nature Preserve. We had learned that Bubolz had budget problems. Because of our relationship with the nature preserve we desired to help. I am pleased to report that our members generously donated $450 to the Preserve. Most was collected at our party and some was mailed in later. Mike Brandel, Director of the Preserve, came to our January meeting to thank us and tell us our efforts are significant.

We will hold our major fundraiser at our April 8 meeting. The Auction has become a fun tradition, and its profits are extremely important to our group. I hope you can participate. We always have a need for donations of goods or services, and we have a need for buyers. Please join us. Among my favorite purchases have been for the services of other members. My family has been able to enjoy picnics and swimming at lakefront cottages, or sailing trips, thanks to services sold at the auction.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

October 2003 -- "From The Chair"

This autumn has been busy for me, but not to busy to notice how beautiful the season is. I really enjoy the fall colors. Typically the weather is good enough to enjoy it. I was lucky to be able to take my family camping and horse riding "up north" in September. My wife and I enjoyed a Sierra Club sponsored Lake Michigan Shoreline bicycle ride the next weekend. Hiking the Ice Age Trail the following weekend was breathtaking. Last weekend found us at the Sierra Club Chapter Autumn Assembly on the western side of Wisconsin, enjoying chilly nights in a tent. This weekend we helped with the annual Romp in the Swamp event at Bubolz Nature Preserve. A family bicycle ride and a campfire made the weekend complete.

And that's the way things should be. It's our nature. We should enjoy it. That's what John Muir wanted when he founded the Sierra Club 111 years ago. Get outdoors and enjoy nature.

Of course, once you learn to enjoy nature you realize that it sometimes needs for us to help protect it. That is one of the purposes for the Sierra Club.

Sierra Club members organize outings to help us explore and enjoy the wild places. Monthly meetings provide opportunities to learn about places we might only be able to dream about. Guests lecture on topics of environmental interests. And we organize service outings.

We also need to educate ourselves about the problems facing our environment, and do our part to help. The coming year is an important election year. Among our responsibilities will be trying to select leaders who value the environment. Although most of us probably prefer remaining silent on political matters with friends and neighbors we are learning this is a luxury that we cannot afford.

The Sierra Club Chapter Autumn Assembly was recently held at a nature preserve near Eau Claire. Groups take turns hosting this event each fall. It is a weekend full of activities of interest to any Sierra Club minded person, member or not. It is not too early to decide to participate next year.

Our December meeting has traditionally been a holiday social, with dinner, games, and mock presents. This year we have decided to replace our food pantry offering with some financial help to Bubolz Nature Preserve. Numerous things in recent years have caused a serious strain on their budget. Because of our relationship with the Preserve we desired to help. We will accept your financial offerings and forward them to the Preserve.

Thanks for reading my comments. As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

Comments on 9-11 (2003)

On this second anniversary of 9-11 I felt that I would be called upon to make some comments regarding the disasters of two years ago and events since then.

Like most of the world the initial hours of the disaster were very troubling. Like most Americans I was frightened about the prospects of war within our borders. Like most Americans I displayed the US Flag at my home and on my automobile. And I spent much time watching the news unfold.

In spite of my terror I was also thrilled to see how America came together and how the world showed its empathy for our disasters.

Yet, nationalism became a problem. Nationalism became confused with patriotism. You either supported our president and his policies, or you were considered to be unpatriotic. This has allowed our president to implement programs without adequate public discussion. Environmental protections are being discarded while war programs and tax breaks are bankrupting the nation.

The 9-11 disaster sites, particularly the site of the World Trade Center are being memorialized with religious zeal. Efforts are being made to preserve these sites as shrines, forever. Yet many of our government officials are preparing to exploit our wilderness areas. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in particular, has been a target in several recent congressional proposals. These are areas that really deserve to be protected forever.

I am proud of efforts earlier this year by Sierra Club and our Fox Valley Sierra Group which registered objections to War in Iraq. In the wake of nationalism Congress bowed to the Bush Administration and waged war.

On Monday, September 8, Carl Pope and Bruce Hamilton of Sierra Club headquarters sent an email to volunteer leaders and staff which began: "We are facing environmental assaults from the Bush Administration and the Congress unlike anything we have witnessed. The Board of Directors and the Conservation Governance Committee have resolved that our efforts to stop these attacks, and then to defeat George Bush in 2004, should be our highest organizational priorities."

August 2003 -- "From The Chair"

If your mailbox is like mine you probably receive mail from lots of environmental organizations, and perhaps you belong to several. There certainly are many groups helping in our fight to protect the outdoors. Recently I began thinking that I hate having to spend my time and money to protect the environment. I quickly corrected myself. I don't particularly mind spending my resources, but I do mind the fact that it is necessary. It seems there is always someone greedy or ignorant or selfish. It is necessary to remain vigilant to protect our outdoor resources for current and future generations.

Last time I reported that State Senator Bob Welch (R-Redgranite) was trying to severely reduce funding for the Stewardship Fund. Governor Jim Doyle is trying to protect this fund, but I believe the issue is not settled yet.

I told about a mining issue, similar to our Crandon mine issue, on the Michigan side of the Menominee River to our north. An environmental organization with a website at has formed to help protect this area from the hazards of sulfide metallic mines.

The U.S. Forest Service is making plans for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin. The public was allowed to comment on plans that would allow much more lumbering and more access to All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). Our John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club created a special mailing for all Wisconsin members to inform us of the issues. Given the knowledge that the recreational and environmental value of these forests exceed the lumber value, it is important that we encourage our policy makers to protect these resources.

Our own Fox River, contaminated with PCBs, has been a controversial issue for many years as the questions have been asked about how to clean up the hazardous wastes and how it should be paid for. In late July a decision (ROD) was made by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is not a perfect decision, but it has some good points, and it does get the cleanup started.

The Arrow-Weston Transmission Line in northwestern Wisconsin continues to be in the news as builders want to build the line through environmentally sensitive areas. A citizen group, SOUL (Save Our Unique Lands,, has been trying to stop the construction.

Highway construction and roadside maintenance issues remain priorities. A concerned citizen recently asked for our help with the Highway 45 expansion project between Greenville and New London. Other citizens in Ripon and Menasha have asked for our help protecting their roadsides from aggressive tree cuttings.

A member of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association visited our picnic in July and asked for our assistance identifying places where Purple Loostrife is growing.

The Post-Crescent recently reported that a U.S. House bill threatens pedestrian trails in Wisconsin and throughout the nation. Legislation would eliminate automatic funding for these pathways, slowing development of more recreational trails. Funding for trails would have to compete against roads and other transportation programs for federal money. This has already won approval from the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and is scheduled for a full House vote in September.

The Wolf River batholith granite bedrock in north central Wisconsin is again being studied as a site for long term storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste. The Yucca Mountain Nevada storage site is expected to be full in 30 years, and Wisconsin sites were seriously considered in the 1980's. Nuclear waste near a major river does not sound wise.

It is impossible to keep up and to help with them all the issues. My best personal solution is to support the Sierra Club. When I write to policy makers I tell them that I am a Sierra Club member and that I support the goals of this organization. I think this adds credibility to the club and makes people listen to our ideas.

We need the help and participation of our members and friends as we move forward. You are part of our group; your involvement and membership makes a difference.

As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

May 2003 -- "From The Chair"

In recent headlines (May 8) I read of Wisconsin Republican plans to severely remove money from the Stewardship Fund. This fund, established in 1989 and named for former governors, Gaylord Nelson and Warren Knowles, sets aside $60 million each year to buy and develop land for recreation, wildlife habitat, state parks, trails, forests, and other natural areas. Approximately 257,000 acres of land have been acquired and protected by this program. In addition to proposed cuts of $245 million through 2010 the lawmakers are ordering the Department of Natural Resources to sell off $40 million of state-owned land. This equates to about 26,000 acres.

State Senator Bob Welch (R-Redgranite) is the major force behind cutting the Stewardship Fund budget. Fortunately, Governor Jim Doyle believes these cuts are misguided and reject decades of bipartisan support for Wisconsin's natural heritage. Doyle says he will work hard to make sure this never comes to his desk.

Caryl Terrell, director of the Wisconsin John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club says, "This is gutting the most vital land protection program the state of Wisconsin has. It is an overwhelmingly popular program. We are appalled by the shortsighted irresponsible action of the Joint Finance Committee."

Two other environmental issues were recently introduced to me by callers.

A partnership calling itself the Back Forty Joint Venture has pooled resources including mineral-rights claims to thousands of acres on both sides of the Menominee River to perform test drilling on Upper Michigan properties. Highly polluting mines (similar to the Crandon Mine in Wisconsin) are the likely outcome.

In Langlade County a trout farm owner is seeking permission to pump 780,000 gallons of water per day. According to a local contact, this could supply 144 semi-trailer truck loads each day. It is believed that a bottling company (perhaps Perrier) is involved.

More news on the mining and water stories are in our website (

An article in The Muir View (May-June 2003) discusses commercial logging on National Forests. The article seemed to claim that more timber was sold from the Nicolet and Chequamegon than any other National Forest in the country including Alaska, and that the Forest Service is proposing even more cutting of the N-C with four new massive timber cuts. Our Chapter Forest Committee is working vigorously to oppose these.

The Muir View article included these interesting statistics to ponder: Recreation in national forests contribute 38 times more income to the nation's economy than logging. Research (done in 1938) showed that of fifteen major world civilizations, thirteen fell because of land abuse; only two fell because of foreign aggression.

Now for some good news. Members participating in our April Annual Fundraiser Auction helped raise $1840. Much of this money is used for our newsletter, rental of Bubolz Nature Preserve for group meetings, and mailing expenses. But a portion of our budget helps fund activities that we support, like the Bubolz Romp on the Swamp, Ice Age Trail, Wiouwash Trail, Earth Day projects, and our Environmental Award.

This past year we discussed hosting former DNR Secretary George Meyer as a dinner guest at a fundraising dinner. On May 15 Penny and Dale Schaber hosted this event at their home. Thank you. It was fun, and needed income was generated for our group.

I count on the help and participation of our members and friends as we move forward. I want you all to feel that you are part of our group, and that your involvement and membership makes a difference.

As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

March 2003 -- "From The Chair"

I introduced myself in my first column as newly elected Chair of the Fox Valley Sierra Group. Let me get just a bit more introduction and news out of the way. On March 3, I remarried and bought a house. It has been a busy month for my family!

In my previous column I wrote that the Chair has an awesome responsibility. Our group membership comes from Sierra Club members living in the northeastern part of Wisconsin. We currently have over 1500 paid members in our group territory. Our leadership tries to fairly represent all of our members as we lead our organization.

Typically our decisions aren't especially controversial. But, at our January board meeting we felt we needed to adopt a resolution against the war on Iraq. Although the environmental justification for our position was strong, we worried that our membership might not approve. Fortunately, comments appear to be supportive. (If you have not read the resolution, it is in our last newsletter and also on our website.)

This resolution was not made in a vacuum. The National Sierra Club leadership and a number of other Sierra Club groups had already adopted similar resolutions.

But this does lead to questions about our board. Our group has 13 board positions, elected for two-year terms, six or seven each December. All members have a chance to vote for their board representatives, or to run for a position. We currently have two vacancies that we need to fill. Please contact one of us if you might like to fill one of these positions.

As the "War Against Terrorism" mounts, environmentalists see scary things happening to our environment. The administration is not environmentally friendly, and lawmakers are finding it easy to sneak bad laws into bills that have support from the administration.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska is under extreme attack. This wilderness area has oil within, and lawmakers want this oil extracted, even at the sacrifice of this beautiful area. The irony is that although environmental destruction lasts forever, many experts believe there is enough oil to last only six months. Experts say that minor improvements in automobile mileage or reasonable energy conservation practices could save much more energy.

Closer to home, we have new groundwater issues. Not long ago we campaigned to stop Perrier from drilling and bottling our underground water reservoirs in Waushara and Adams counties. We were successful, for awhile. We recently learned that a Langlade County business is planning to drill a 500-gallon-per-minute well to sell groundwater. That's about the size as the proposed Perrier well.

Back to our 1500+ group members. If our members would each write at least one issue letter each year, our lawmakers would certainly know that the environment is important.

Fundraising: Part of my job is to make sure that our Group has a budget. You may already know that only a tiny portion of your Club dues is returned to our Group. The majority of our income comes from a single fundraiser, our Annual Auction. This takes place April 10 this year. We need your participation and support.

I am counting on the help and participation of our members and friends as we move forward. I want all of you to feel that you are part of our group, and that your involvement and membership makes a difference.

As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

January 2003 -- "From The Chair"

This is my first column as newly elected Chair of the Fox Valley Sierra Group. This is a privilege and honor, yet it shall also be an awesome burden and responsibility.

Barely three and a half years ago I attended my first Sierra Club meeting. I had seen one of our "Adopt-A-Shop" fliers in a bicycle store, and circumstances were right for me to visit a meeting. I had seen advertisements for the Club over the years, but with membership dues and a busy family life I never seriously contemplated joining the Club. I remembered, vaguely, that my parents were Sierra Club members when I young and growing up in California. And I have always enjoyed nature and outdoors activities.

But now, in late 1999, I was lured by the flier. It announced the date and location of our fall kick-off meeting, and said visitors were especially welcome. This seemed safe. Recently divorced, I was also looking for a new circle of friends and activities.

I was very much impressed with the meeting and the program that night. And there were upcoming outings that I thought would appeal to me. My first outing was a bicycle ride organized by Charlie Paine. I enjoy bicycling, but I do not have a fancy bike or gear. I feared the ride would be attended by well-equipped riders who would leave me in the dust. To my relief, it was a very enjoyable trip. And I have found every Sierra Club event that I've ever attended to be very enjoyable.

I paid my dues to join, and have been a happy Club member ever since.

I might have been happy to sit on the sidelines, and enjoy the wonderful programs and outings and comradeship. But there are things that needed doing, and I soon found myself involved. Soon after joining I offered my services as webmaster for our Internet site. I visited one of our Board Meetings to find out what that was about, and was asked to join the Board and fill a vacancy. I have served for three years as our Secretary. And now I have been asked to serve as our Group Chair.

I say it is an honor to serve in this position because the Sierra Club is a very respected organization. Our Fox Valley group has more than 1500 dues-paying members within our boundaries.

Yet I also realize this will be an awesome burden and responsibility. During my short tenure with our group I have watched Nancy Brown-Koeller, Penny Bernard Schaber, and John Howard doing excellent work as chairpersons for our group, and serving as role models for me. It will be difficult to fill their shoes. And I have watched our other officers and members doing important and valuable work. There is much work for us to do.

I truly will be counting on the help and participation of our members and friends as we move forward. I want all of you to feel that you are part of our group, and that your involvement and membership is making a difference.

As leader of our group I welcome your feedback.

Archive of comments from past Chair, John Howard.

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