Chapter Tackles Many Issues in 90s
Third in a Four-Part Series Celebrating the Hoosier Chapter’s 25th Anniversary
The year 2000 marks the Hoosier Chapter’s 25th anniversary, and we’re observing it with a four-part series on our past and future as a lead advocate for Indiana’s environment. This is the third article on the chapter’s achievements for one decade. The seventies and the eighties were covered in past issues, and the nineties are covered here. The last article will discuss the chapter’s future in a new century.
The Sierra Club, like many organizations, saw significant increases in membership in the 1990s. It seems that the last decade of the 20th century brought a reawakening in environmental activism and awareness.
With satellite images and fast-paced worldwide media, it became impossible for citizens to ignore serious issues such as global warming, rainforest destruction, and biological diversity, and so they joined the fight to protect the environment.
The Sierra Club, both nationally and locally, was fighting battles in the early 1990s that we continue to fight today. At the national level, global warming, wilderness protection, national forest logging, tropical rainforest protection, population, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were top concerns. The Hoosier Chapter worked on many of these problems. Local activists, such as Richard Fryer from the Dunelands Group, tackled issues such as population.
The Chapter Executive Committee called for an end to commercial logging in the Hoosier National Forest in 1992. The 1991 Forest Management Plan for the Hoosier National Forest approved timber sales as a way to achieve management objectives. Organizations, including the Sierra Club, voiced concerns about below-market timber sale prices and the practice of clearcutting in the Hoosier.
With the Forest Plan revision not expected until the 21st century, activists worked with elected officials to create legislation that could reduce unprofitable, environmentally destructive practices. “End Commercial Logging” remains a national Sierra Club priority campaign today.
The chapter began its first major staff-funded project in the early 1990s: The Wetlands Project. It recognized the urgent need to protect a fast-disappearing resource in Indiana. Local groups, such as the Sierra Club Wildcat Group, successfully worked to preserve the Celery Bog in Lafayette. The Wetlands Project remained funded by grants through 1999, participating in wetlands conservation efforts through public comments on legislation or land-use proposals, public education, tours, and litigation. It worked to support the proposed Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, which has been approved but needs funding.
The chapter sponsored a planning retreat in 1997 and chose clean water as its conservation campaign focus--a campaign to be renewed in 2000. A successful Ride the River canoe trip was sponsored in 1998. The one-day event on the White River in Indianapolis highlighted pollution problems like combined sewer overflows and failing septic systems.
Suburban sprawl became a major issue in the 1990s. Citizens saw greenspace, farmland, and forests reduced to parking lots. Members brought the issue to the board from the grassroots, making it a priority campaign in the club for the first time. The club recognized that sprawling development was characterized by its dependency on the automobile, so members called for better transportation planning. In Indiana, a battle was brewing in 1993 over the proposed Indy-to-Evansville highway. The new terrain I-69 highway would cut through prime farmland and forests, only to waste billions of tax dollars compared to the commonsense route using I-70 and U.S. 41. The battle over I-69 is ongoing.
The environment had unprecedented power in the 1996 elections from coast to coast. Publicly supported legislation such as The Endangered Species Act, which was up for reauthorization in the 1990s, suffered serious threats by Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress. Apparently, the “Contract with America” wasn't enough to sway voters, because the 1996 elections saw huge wins for the environment as anti-environmental politicians were ousted for greener candidates. This year, we have a chance to do it again by getting out the vote for pro-environmental candidates.
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