Sierra Club

Sierra Club

Sierra Club, national organization in the United States dedicated to the preservation and expansion of the world's parks, wildlife, and wilderness areas. Founded (1892) in California by a group led by the Scottish-American conservationist John Muir, the Sierra Club is made up of more than 630,000 people devoted to the exploration, enjoyment, and protection of the natural environment. The club was instrumental in helping to create the National Park Service and the National Forest Service, as well as in the formation of individual recreation areas, such as Olympic and Redwood national parks. The group has also led efforts to obtain new parklands in Alaska. Through a program of court litigation and congressional action, the Sierra Club has opposed strip mining, the use of DDT, offshore oil drilling, hazardous wastes, and most other forms of chemical or aesthetic pollution. The Sierra Club has also broadened its program to include activities dealing with the urban environment, protection of tropical forests, and overpopulation. Through its almost 300 local groups, the Sierra Club sponsors a series of nature outings, and its national office, located in San Francisco, publishes a monthly bulletin as well as numerous books about ecology and the environment.

See Sierra Club, Guide (1989).

Motto Explore, enjoy and protect the planet.
Established 1892
Exec. Dir. Carl Pope
President Allison Chin
Headquarters San Francisco, CA, USA
Membership 730,000
Founder John Muir

The Sierra Club is America's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization. It is an American environmental organization founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco, California by the well-known conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president. The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the United States, and is affiliated with Sierra Club of/du Canada.

Mission statement

To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.


The Sierra Club is governed by a fifteen-member volunteer Board of Directors. Each year, five directors are elected to three-year terms, with all Club members eligible to vote. A president is elected annually by the Board from among its members and receives a small stipend. The Executive Director runs the day-to-day operations of the group, and is a paid staff member. The current Executive Director is Carl Pope.

All Club members also belong to chapters (usually state-wide), and to local groups. National and local special interest sections, committees, and task forces address particular issues. Policies are set at the appropriate level, but on any issue the Club has only one policy.

In addition to the members who are active as volunteers, the Club has approximately 500 paid staff members. Many of them work at the national headquarters in San Francisco, California, but there are others in the lobbying office in Washington, D.C. and in numerous state and regional offices.

All members receive Sierra magazine, a bimonthly glossy magazine describing the Club's activities and spotlighting various environmental issues. All chapters publish a newsletter and/or schedule of activities, and many groups also publish a newsletter. The Sierra Club also has a weekly radio show called Sierra Club Radio.


In 1892 a group of professors from the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University helped John Muir and attorney Warren Olney launch an organization modeled after the eastern Appalachian Mountain Club. The Sierra Club's charter members elected Muir president, an office he held until his death in 1914. The Club's first goals included establishing Glacier and Mount Rainier national parks, convincing the California legislature to give Yosemite Valley to the Federal government, and saving California's coastal redwoods. Muir escorted President Teddy Roosevelt through Yosemite in 1903, and two years later the California legislature ceded Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove to the Federal government. The Sierra Club won its first lobbying victory with the creation of the country's second national park, after Yellowstone in 1872.

In the first decade of the 1900s, the Sierra Club became embroiled in the famous Hetch Hetchy controversy that divided preservationists from "resource management" conservationists. For years the city of San Francisco had been having problems with a privately-owned water company that provided poor service at high rates. Mayor James D. Phelan’s reform administration wanted to set up a municipally-owned water utility and revived an earlier proposal to dam the Hetch Hetchy valley. The final straw was the water company's failure to provide adequate water to fight the fires that destroyed much of the city following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Gifford Pinchot, a progressive supporter of public utilities and head of the U.S. Forest Service, which then had jurisdiction over the national parks, backed the Hetch Hetchy dam. Muir appealed to his friend President Roosevelt, who would not commit himself against the dam, given its popularity with the people of San Francisco (a referendum in 1908 confirmed a seven-to-one majority in favor of the dam and municipal water). Muir and attorney William Colby began a national campaign against the dam, attracting the support of many eastern conservationists. With the 1912 election of Woodrow Wilson, who carried San Francisco, supporters of the dam had a friend in the White House. The bill to dam Hetch Hetchy passed Congress in 1913, and the Sierra Club had lost its first major battle. In retaliation, the Club supported creation of the National Park Service in 1916, to remove the parks from Forest Service oversight. Stephen Mather, a Club member from Chicago and an opponent of Hetch Hetchy dam, became the first National Park Service director.

During the 1920s and 30s, the Sierra Club served its members as a social and recreational society, conducting outings, improving trails and building huts and lodges in the Sierras. Preservation campaigns included a several-year effort to enlarge Sequoia National Park (achieved in 1926) and over three decades of work to protect and then preserve Kings Canyon National Park (established in 1940). Historian Stephen Fox notes, "In the 1930s most of the three thousand members were middle-aged Republicans.

The New Deal brought many conservationists to the Democrats, and many Democrats entered the ranks of conservationists. Leading the generation of Young Turks who revitalized the Sierra Club after World War II were attorney Richard Leonard, nature photographer Ansel Adams, and David Brower. Brower was 21 when he met Ansel Adams on a trail in the Sierras in 1933. Adams sponsored Brower for membership in the Club later that year, and he was appointed to the editorial board of the Sierra Club Bulletin. Returning to his job with the University of California Press after the war, Brower began editing the Sierra Club Bulletin in 1946.

In 1950 the Sierra Club had some 7,000 members, mostly on the West Coast. That year the Atlantic chapter became the first formed outside California. An active volunteer board of directors ran the organization, assisted by a small clerical staff. Brower was appointed the first executive director in 1952, and the Club began to catch up with those major conservation organizations including the National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, and Izaak Walton League, which had long had professional staff.

The Sierra Club secured its national reputation in the battle against the Echo Park dam in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, which had been announced by the Bureau of Reclamation in 1950. Brower led the fight, marshalling support from other conservation groups. Brower's background in publishing proved decisive; with the help of publisher Alfred Knopf, This Is Dinosaur was rushed into press. Invoking the specter of Hetch Hetchy, conservationists effectively lobbied Congress, which deleted the Echo Park dam from the Colorado River project as approved in 1955. Recognition of the Sierra Club's role in the Echo Park dam victory boosted membership from 10,000 in 1956 to 15,000 in 1960.

The Sierra Club was now truly a national conservation organization, and preservationists took the offensive with wilderness proposals. The Club's Biennial Wilderness Conferences, launched in 1949 in concert with The Wilderness Society, became an important force in the campaign that secured passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. , Brower launched the Exhibit Format book series with This Is the American Earth in 1960, followed two years later by In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, with spectacular color photographs by Eliot Porter. These elegant coffee-table books introduced the Sierra Club to a wide audience. Fifty thousand copies were sold in the first four years, and by 1960 sales exceeded $10 million. Soon Brower was publishing two new titles a year in the Exhibit Format series, but not all did as well as In Wildness. Although the books were successful introducing the public to wilderness preservation and the Sierra Club, they lost money for the organization, some $60,000 a year after 1964. Financial management became a matter of contention between Brower and his board of directors.

The Sierra Club's most publicized crusade of the 1960s was the effort to stop the Bureau of Reclamation from building two dams that would flood portions of the Grand Canyon. Full-page ads the Club placed in the New York Times and the Washington Post in 1966 exclaimed, "This time it's the Grand Canyon they want to flood," and asked, "Should we also flood the Sistine Chapel so tourists can get nearer the ceiling?" The ads generated a storm of protest to the Congress, prompting the Internal Revenue Service to announce it was suspending the Sierra Club's 501(c)(3) status pending an investigation. The board had taken the precaution of setting up the Sierra Club Foundation as a (c)(3) organization in 1960 for endowments and contributions for educational and other non-lobbying activities. Even so, contributions to the Club dropped off, aggravating its annual operating deficits. Membership, however, climbed sharply in response to the attack by the IRS from 30,000 in 1965 to 57,000 in 1967 and 75,000 in 1969.

Despite the Club's success in blocking plans for the Grand Canyon dams and weathering the transition from 501(c)(3) to 501(c)(4)status, tension grew over finances between Brower and the board of directors. The Club's annual deficits rose from $100,000 in 1967 and 1968 to some $200,000 in 1969. Another conflict occurred over the Club's policy toward the nuclear power plant to be constructed by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) at Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo, California. Although the Club had played the leading role blocking PG&E's nuclear power plant proposed for Bodega Bay, California in the early 1960s, that case had been built around the local environmental impact and earthquake danger from the nearby San Andreas fault, not from opposition to nuclear power itself. In exchange for moving the new proposed site from the environmentally sensitive Nipomo Dunes to Diablo Canyon, the board of directors voted to support PG&E's plan for the power plant. A membership referendum in 1967 upheld the board's decision. Brower, however, came to the conclusion that nuclear power at any location was a mistake, and he voiced his opposition to the plant, contrary to the Club's official policy. As pro- and anti-Brower factions polarized, the annual election of new directors reflected the conflict. Brower's supporters won a majority in 1968, but in the April 1969 election the anti-Brower candidates won all five open positions. Ansel Adams and president Richard Leonard, two of his closest friends on the board, led the opposition to Brower, charging him with financial recklessness and insubordination and calling for his ouster as executive director. The board voted ten to five to accept Brower's resignation. Eventually reconciled with the Sierra Club, Brower was elected to the board of directors for a term from 1983 to 1988, and again from 1995 to 2000.

Michael McCloskey, hired by Brower in 1961 as the Club's first northwest field representative, became the Club's second executive director in 1969. An administrator attentive to detail, McCloskey had set up the Club's conservation department in 1965 and guided the campaigns to save the Grand Canyon and establish Redwoods National Park and North Cascades National Park. During the 1970s McCloskey led the Club's legislative activity -- preserving Alaskan lands and eastern wilderness areas, and supporting the new environmental agenda: the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, the Clean Air Act amendments, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, passed during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. The Sierra Club made its first Presidential endorsement in 1984 in support of Walter Mondale's unsuccessful campaign to unseat Ronald Reagan. McCloskey resigned as executive director in 1985 after 16 and a half years (the same length of time Brower had led the organization) and assumed the title of chairman, becoming the Club's senior strategist, devoting his time to conservation policy rather than budget planning and administration. After a two-year interlude with Douglas Wheeler, whose Republican credentials were disconcerting to liberal members, the Club hired Michael Fisher, the former head of the California Coastal Commission, who served as executive director from 1987 to 1992. Carl Pope, formerly the Club’s legislative director, was named executive director in 1992.

In September 2005, the Sierra Club held its first Sierra Summit in San Francisco. Approximately 1,000 volunteers from around the country, selected by their chapters and groups, were delegates; some nondelegate members also attended. There were seminars and exhibit presentations about current environmental issues and about techniques for more effective activism. Prominent guest speakers included Al Gore; Bill Maher; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; and Arianna Huffington.

In 2008, the Sierra Club endorsed Senator Barack Obama for President, citing "his strong record of support for clean air, wetlands protection, and clean energy.

Notable past or current directors


In 1901 William Colby organized the first Sierra Club outing to Yosemite Valley. The annual High Trips were led by accomplished mountaineers (some of them Sierra Club directors), such as Francis P. Farquhar, Joseph Nisbet LeConte, Norman Clyde, Walter A. Starr, Jr., Jules Eichorn, Glen Dawson, Ansel Adams, and David R. Brower. Many first ascents in the Sierra Nevada were made on Sierra Club outings. Sierra Club members were also early enthusiasts of rock climbing and pioneers of the craft. In 1911 the first chapter was formed, Angeles, and it immediately started conducting local outings in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles and throughout the West. In World War II many Sierra Club leaders joined the 10th Mountain Division, bringing their expertise to the war effort.

The High Trips, sometimes huge expeditions with more than a hundred participants and crew, have given way to smaller and more numerous outings held across the United States and abroad. The National Outings program conducts hundreds of outings, most of which are between 4 to 10 days in length. Local chapters, groups, and sections lead thousands of generally shorter trips in their regions and beyond (mostly hiking, but also including cycling, cross-country skiing, etc.). Inner City Outings groups help make wild places accessible to children who are only familiar with the urban environment.

Conservation policies

The Sierra Club has official policies on a number of conservation issues. They group these into seventeen categories: agriculture, biotechnology, energy, environmental justice, forest and wilderness management, global issues, government and political issues, land management, military issues, nuclear issues, oceans, pollution and waste management, precautionary principle, transportation, urban and land use policies, water resources, and wildlife conservation.

Land management

Some Sierra Club members have urged the Club to be more forceful in advocating for the protection of National Forests and other federally owned public lands. For example, in 2002 the Club was criticized for joining with the Wilderness Society in agreeing to a compromise that would allow logging in the Black Hills in South Dakota.

Nuclear issues

The Sierra Club opposes building new nuclear reactors, both fission and fusion, until specific inherent safety risks are mitigated by conservative political policies, and regulatory agencies are in place to enforce those policies. Fusion is currently opposed due to its probable release of the hydrogen isotope tritium.


Sierra Club thinks the U.S.A. does not need the dinosaur big oil, coal, and gas corporations of last century and can not afford to continue with business as usual. If the 100-plus coal plants currently proposed are built, the global warming pollution pumped into our air will make all our other efforts to reverse climate change irrelevant .

According to Sierra Club, coal-fired power plants are one of the nation's largest—and dirtiest—sources of energy, a leading cause of respiratory illness, and already accounting for over 40% of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions. It argues that there are readily available alternatives to coal. .

Renewables and energy efficiency

Sierra Club believes that America's challenge is to lead the world in the creation of a new energy economy, by investing in wind, solar, and other renewable energy and by restructuring energy markets to favor innovation, creation of green jobs, and efficient energy use .

Political activism

Protecting rivers

One long-standing goal of the Sierra Club has been opposition to dams it considers inappropriate. In the early 20th century, the organization fought against the damming and flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Despite this lobbying, Congress authorized the construction of O'Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River. The Sierra Club continues to lobby for removal of the dam, urging that San Francisco's water needs be accommodated instead by the re-engineering of the Don Pedro Reservoir downstream.

The Sierra Club advocates the decommissioning of Glen Canyon Dam and the draining of Lake Powell. The Club also supports removal, breaching or decommissioning of many other dams, including four large but high cost dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington state.

Blue-Green Alliance

In June, 2006, the Sierra Club announced the formation of a Blue-Green Alliance with the United Steelworkers, the largest industrial union in North America. The goal of this new partnership is to pursue a joint public policy agenda reconciling workers' need for good jobs with all people's need for a cleaner environment and safer world.

Immigration controversy

During the 1980s, some Sierra Club members wanted to take the Club into the contentious field of immigration to the United States. The Club's position was that overpopulation was a significant factor in the degradation of the environment. Accordingly, the Club supported stabilizing and reducing U.S. and world population. Some members argued that, as a practical matter, U.S. population could not be stabilized, let alone reduced, at the then-current levels of immigration. They urged the Club to support immigration reduction. The Club had previously addressed the issue of "mass immigration, and in 1988, the organization's Population Committee and Conservation Coordinating Committee stated that immigration to the U.S. should be limited, so as to achieve population stabilization.

Other Sierrans, however, thought that the immigration issue was too far from the Club's core mission, and were also concerned that involvement would impair the organization's political ability to pursue its other objectives. The Board of Directors accepted this latter view, and voted, in 1996, that the Sierra Club would be neutral on issues of immigration.

The advocates of immigration reduction sought to reverse this decision by using the referendum provision of the Bylaws of the Sierra Club. They organized themselves as "SUSPS", a name originally derived from "Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization" (although that name is no longer used since the Sierra Club objected to infringing the Club's trademark in the term "Sierrans"). SUSPS and its allies gathered the necessary signatures to place the issue on the ballot in the Club's election in the spring of 1998. The Board's decision that the Club would take no position on immigration was upheld by the membership by a three-to-two margin, although SUSPS complained that the ballot had been structured in an unfair and confusing manner.

The controversy resurfaced when a group of three immigration reduction proponents ran in the 2004 steering committee elections, hoping to move the Club's position away from a neutral stance on immigration The battle grew heated, with accusations of unethical and possibly illegal behavior floated by both sides A lawsuit was filed by the reduction proponents, but subsequently dropped. Groups outside of the Club became involved, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and MoveOn Finally, the reduction proponents won only 3% of the vote, and the controversy subsided.

Related organizations

Affiliates and subsidiaries

The Sierra Club Foundation was founded in 1960 by David R. Brower. It is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation that provides support for tax- deductible environmental action.

The Sierra Club of/du Canada has been active since 1963. It is now an independent corporation with its own national structure and local entities throughout Canada working on pollution, biodiversity, energy, and sustainability issues.

In 1971, volunteer lawyers who had worked with the Sierra Club established the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. This was a separate organization that used the "Sierra Club" name under license from the Club; it changed its name to Earthjustice in 1997.

The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is the student-run arm of the Sierra Club. Founded by Adam Werbach in 1991, with 14,000 members, it purports to be the largest student-led environmental group in the United States.

The Sierra Club Voter Education Fund is a 527 group that became active in the 2004 Presidential election by airing television advertisements about the major party candidates' positions on environmental issues. Through the Environmental Voter Education Campaign (EVEC), the Club sought to mobilize volunteers for phone banking, door-to-door canvassing and postcard writing to emphasize these issues in the campaign.

Internal caucuses

These are unofficial groups of Sierra Club members attempting to influence Sierra Club policy by electing candidates to the board of directors. Some of these groups are listed below in alphabetical order:

  • JohnMuirLives — members who want the club to adopt a stronger stance on such issues as forest conservation and the club's political endorsement process. A spin-off from the John Muir Sierrans.
  • John Muir Sierrans (no website) — formed in the early 1990s by club members Jim Benseman, Roger Clarke, David Dilworth, Chad Hanson and David Orr to promote changes to club positions, in favor of a zero-cut forest policy on public lands and a few years later decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam. JMS was successful in changing club positions on both counts.
  • Groundswell Sierra (no website) — formed in 2004 by a members aligned with the majority of the then-incumbent Directors. Groundswell operated in the 2004 and 2005 elections, chiefly by sending campaign mailings to hundreds of thousands of Sierra Club members. The Groundswell mailings supported slates of candidates who had been endorsed by the organization's internal nominating committee. Groundswell materials also appeared on several chapter and group websites, prompting complaints about this use of Club websites for internal electioneering. All of the candidates elected during those two years were Groundswell-endorsed, and they all won by substantial margins. After the 2005 election, the leaders of Groundswell Sierra announced the caucus would go into hibernation
  • Sierra Democracy — members opposed to the club's "old guard", and supporting the rights (in Club elections) of groups like SUSPS and JML. Website was specific to the 2004 board election and has not been updated since.
  • SUSPS — members who want the club to support U.S. population stabilization by overturning the 1996 decision of the club to take "no position" on immigration.

See also



  • David Brower, For Earth's Sake: The Life and Times of David Brower (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1990) ISBN 0-87905-013-6
  • Michael P. Cohen, The History of the Sierra Club, 1892–1970 (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988) ISBN 0-87156-732-6
  • Stephen Fox, John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement (Boston: Little, Brown, 1981) ISBN 0-316-29110-2
  • Michael McCloskey, In the Thick of It: My Life in the Sierra Club (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2005) ISBN 1-55963-979-2
  • Tom Turner, Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting Nature (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991) ISBN 0-8109-3820-0

External links

Sierra Club Foundation

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