Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the
States. It was founded on May
28, 1892 in San Francisco,
California by the well-known conservationist and
preservationist John Muir, who became its
The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands
of members in chapters located throughout the US, and is affiliated
with Sierra Club Canada
The Sierra Club's mission is:
- 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 15-member volunteer Board of Directors
. Each year, five
directors are elected to three-year terms, and all Club members are
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
, but in
2009 he announced his intention to step down from that post,
effective upon the hiring of a successor.
All club members also belong to chapters (usually state-wide,
except in California), and to local groups. The state of California
has 14 chapters. 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
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 some work in the lobbying office in Washington,
D.C. and in numerous state and regional
All members receive Sierra
magazine, a bimonthly glossy
magazine describing the club's activities and spotlighting various
environmental issues. Each chapter publishes a newsletter and/or
schedule of activities, as do many local groups. 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
The Sierra Club's charter members elected
Muir president, an office he held until his death in 1914.
first goals included establishing Glacier and Mount Rainier national parks, convincing the California
legislature to give Yosemite Valley to the US Federal government, and saving
California's coastal redwoods.
escorted President Theodore
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.
first decade of the 1900s, the Sierra Club became embroiled in the
famous Hetch Hetchy
Reservoir controversy that divided preservationists from
"resource management" conservationists. For years the city of
Francisco had been
having problems with a privately owned water company that provided
poor service at high prices.
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
, a progressive
supporter of public utilities and head of the US Forest Service
, which then had
jurisdiction over the national parks, supported the creation of the
Hetch Hetchy dam. Muir appealed to his friend US 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
national campaign against the dam, attracting the support of many
eastern conservationists. With the 1912 election of US President
, 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 so the
Sierra Club lost its first major battle. In retaliation, the Club
supported creation of the National
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 1930s, 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
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
, and David Brower
. Brower was
21 when he met 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
After World War II
Brower returned to his job with the University of California Press,
and began editing the Sierra Club Bulletin
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 major conservation organizations such as the National
Audubon Society, National
Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness
Society, and Izaak Walton
League, which had long had professional staff.
Sierra Club secured its national reputation in the battle against
Park dam in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, which had
been announced by the Bureau of
Reclamation in 1950.
Brower led the fight, marshaling
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.
the specter of Hetch Hetchy, conservationists effectively lobbied
Congress, which deleted the Echo Park dam from the Colorado
River project as approved in 1955.
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. In 1960, Brower
launched the Exhibit Format book series with This Is the
, and in 1962 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.
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
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
announce it was suspending the Sierra Club's 501
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
, 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.
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
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.
But Brower concluded 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 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
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
The Sierra Club made its first Presidential
endorsement in 1984 in support of Walter
'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 the 1990s, club members Jim Bensman, Roger Clarke, David
Dilworth, Chad Hanson and David Orr along with about 2,000 members
formed the John Muir Sierrans, an internal caucus, to promote
changes to club positions. They favored 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
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
; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
; and Arianna Huffington
In 2008, the Sierra Club endorsed Senator Barack
, citing "his strong
record of support for clean air, wetlands
protection, and clean energy."
- Ansel Adams, Board of Directors,
- David R. Brower, first Executive Director, 1952–1969;
Board of Directors, three terms, various decades
- Allison Chin, President, 2008-
- Robert Cox, President, 1994–1996, 2000–2001, 2007
- Leland Curtis
- Michael K. Dorsey
- Jim Dougherty
- William O. Douglas
- Anne H. Ehrlich
- Francis P. Farquhar, President, 1933–1935 and
- Dave Foreman
- Aurelia Harwood, Board of
Directors, 1921–1928; first female President, 1927–1928
- David Karpf
- Doug LaFollette
- Joseph LeConte, Director,
- Joseph N. LeConte, President, 1915–1917; Board
of Directors 1898–1940
- Duncan McDuffie
- Sam Merrill, Board of Directors, 1936–1937
- John Muir, President, 1892–1914
- Jan O'Connell
- Carl Pope, Executive Director
- Eliot Porter
- Bestor Robinson, President, 1946–1948
- William E. Siri
- Wallace Stegner
- Clair S. Tappaan, President, 1922–1924; Board of
- Marilyn Wall, Board of Directors 2006–2009
- Paul Watson, Board of Directors,
- Edgar Wayburn, President, five
- Adam Werbach, President, 1996
- Bernie Zaleha, Board of Directors,
William Colby organized the
first Sierra Club outing to Yosemite
The annual High Trips were led by
them Sierra Club directors), such as Francis P. Farquhar
, Joseph Nisbet LeConte
, Norman Clyde
, Walter A. Starr, Jr.
, Jules Eichorn
, Ansel Adams
, and David R. Brower
. Many first
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.
During those first
early outings, a common practice was to fell extremely large trees
to count the rings and determine age. In World War II
many Sierra Club leaders joined
the 10th Mountain
, bringing their expertise to the war effort. Among
them was Brower, who managed the High Trip program from 1947 to
1954, while serving as a major in the Army Reserve.
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
, cross-country skiing
, etc.). Inner City
Outings groups help make wild places accessible to children who are
only familiar with the urban environment.
The Sierra Club has official policies on a number of conservation
issues. They group these into 17 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
Some Sierra Club members have urged the Club to be more forceful in
advocating for the protection of National Forests
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
The Sierra Club opposes building new nuclear reactors
, both fission
, until specific inherent safety risks
are mitigated by conservationist political policies, and regulatory
agencies are in place to enforce those policies. The club currently
opposes nuclear fusion
due to its
"probable" release of the hydrogen isotope tritium
According to the Sierra Club, coal power plants are one of the
nation's largest and dirtiest sources of energy, a leading cause of
, and account
for over 40% of the nation's carbon
emissions. It argues that there are readily available
alternatives to coal.
Renewables and energy efficiency
The Sierra Club advocates investment in wind, solar, and other
as well as
restructuring energy markets
, creation of green jobs
, and efficient energy use
Political activism and controversies
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
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.
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
In June, 2006, the Sierra Club announced the formation of a
with the United
, 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 mankind's need
for a cleaner environment and safer world.
Population control and immigration
Henry Fairfield Osborn
friend of John Muir, was a founder of the American Eugenics Society
is considered by the Sierra Club to be one of the "influential
people in Muir's life." Critics of the Sierra club have charged
that the club's views on population growth, and the efforts of some
club members to restrain immigration, are a continuation of aspects
of the Eugenics movement
In 1969 the Sierra Club published Paul
's book, The Population Bomb
, in which he
said that population growth was responsible for environmental
decline and advocated coercive measures to reduce it. Critics
suggested that the book had a "racial dimension" in the tradition
of the Eugenics
movement, and that it
"reiterated many of Osborn's jeremiads."
In 1978, John Tanton
, former Chairman of
the National Sierra Club Population Committee and former President
of Zero Population Growth
founded the Federation for
American Immigration Reform
During the 1980s, some Sierra Club members, including Paul
Ehrlich's wife Anne
, wanted to take the
Club into the contentious field of immigration to the United
. 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 thought that the immigration issue was too far from
the Club's core environmentalist mission, and were also concerned
that involvement would impair the organization's political ability
to pursue its other objectives. In 1996, the Board of Directors
accepted this latter view, and voted 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.
The controversy resurfaced when a group of three immigration
reduction proponents ran in the 2004 Board of Directors elections,
hoping to move the Club's position away from a neutral stance on
immigration, and restore the stance it had previously held. Groups
outside of the Club became involved, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center
. Of the three candidates, two (Frank
Morris and David Pimentel), were on the board of the
anti-immigration group Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America
and two (Richard Lamm
and Frank Morris)
were on the board of directors or the board of advisors of the
for American Immigration Reform
; both had also held leadership
positions within the NAACP
. Their candidacies
were denounced by a fourth candidate, Morris
of the SPLC, as a "hostile takeover" attempt by "radical
anti-immigrant activists." The immigration reduction proponents won
only 3% of all votes cast in the election, and the controversy
Affiliates and subsidiaries
The Sierra Club Foundation
was founded in 1960 by David R.
. It is a 501
charitable foundation that provides
support for tax- deductible environmental action.
The Sierra Club Canada
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
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
The Sierra Student
(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
The Sierra Club Voter Education Fund is a 527
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.
The organization maintains a publishing imprint, Sierra Club Books,
publishing books on environmental issues, wilderness photographic
essays, nature guides, and other related subjects. They publish the
Sierra Club Calendars, perennial bestsellers, featuring photographs
by well-known nature photographers such as Galen Rowell
. They also publish the John Muir
library, having published many of their
- Main Page for Sierra Club Policies - Sierra Club
- Michael P. Cohen, The History of the Sierra Club,
1892-1970 (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), pp.
- Stephen Fox, John Muir and His Legacy: The American
Conservation Movement (Boston: Little, Brown, 1981), pp.
- Fox, John Muir and His Legacy, pp. 139-147.
- Fox, John Muir and His Legacy, p. 214.
- Fox, John Muir and His Legacy, p. 275.
- Fox, John Muir and His Legacy, p. 279.
- Fox, John Muir and His Legacy, pp. 280-286.
- Fox, John Muir and His Legacy, p. 286-289.
- Fox, John Muir and His Legacy, pp. 316-319.
- Cohen. The History of the Sierra Club, pp.
- Cohen, The History of the Sierra Club, pp.
- Michael McCloskey, In the Thick of It: My Life in the
Sierra Club (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2000), pp.
- Why Not Nukes? Reconsidering the nuclear
- Henry Fairfield Osborn, John Muir
Exhibit/people, Sierra Club website
- Cockburn, Alexander. "Commentary: A Big Green Bomb Aimed at
Immigration; Remember Eugenics? Sierra Club Revives its Propaganda
about Population Growth." Los Angeles Times 2 October 1997:
- Ordover, Nancy, American Eugenics,University of Minnesota Press (February
- Lynn, Richard, Eugenics , Praeger2001
- Cockburn, Alexander, "The Sierra Club's Ugly Racial
Tilt, Albion Monitor
- Warren, Louis S., American Environmental
History, Wiley-Blackwell 2003
- Stern, Alexandra, Eugenic Nation,, University of California Press, 2005
- " Sierra Club Policy: Immigration Policy
History." SUSPS. Accessed 14 May 2008.
- Kunofsky, Judy. " Sierra Club, U.S. Population Growth, and Immigration."
Sierra Club Population Report. Spring 1989. Accessed 14
- Knickerbocker, Brad (2004). "A 'hostile' takeover bid at the
Sierra Club." Christian Science Monitor, February 20.
- “Hostile takeover,” Intelligence Report, Spring 2004,
- Potok, Mark, Editor of Intelligence Report, Letter to
Larry Fahn, President, The Sierra Club, October 21, 2003. Reprinted
in Intelligence Report, Spring 2004, pp. 59-63.
- "Tacoma Seeking Segregation Curb." Spokane Daily
Chronicle. July 15, 1966.
- Davila, Florangela (2004). "Immigration dispute spawns
factions, anger in Sierra Club," Seattle Times, February
- Sierra Club, Election Results.
- David Brower, For Earth's Sake: The Life and Times of David
Brower (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1990) ISBN
- Michael P. Cohen, The History of the Sierra Club,
1892–1970 (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988) ISBN
- Stephen Fox, John Muir and His Legacy: The American
Conservation Movement (Boston: Little, Brown, 1981) ISBN
- Michael McCloskey, In the Thick of It: My Life in the
Sierra Club (Washington, DC: Island Press, 2005) ISBN
- Tom Turner, Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting
Nature (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991) ISBN