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Dispatches : Politics

What Does Carl Pope's Resignation at the Sierra Club Mean?

Pope-hi-rezCarl Pope, Courtesy of Sierra Club

Carl Pope, the current chairman of the Sierra Club, announced he is stepping down to pursue other projects. Pope led the environmental non-profit for much of the last two decades and was a member for almost 60 years. Dissent and dwindling membership have been listed as possible motives for the resignation, which the organization said is part of a gradual transition in the works for years. So what does this change mean for the environmental non-profit?

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Victor Davila is a Skateboard Hero

It’s environmental action month at Raising Rippers! Last week I talked with surf activist Kyle Thiermann about no-brainer ways to lessen your impact on the planet. Now I’m wowed by 17-year old Victor Davila’s plan to use skateboarding to promote environmental justice and reduce inner-city obesity in his home turf, the South Bronx. 

Victor Davila

[photo courtesy Brower Youth Awards]

When Victor received an annual Brower Youth Award last week, he joined the ranks of gung-ho youth activists like Thiermann, a couple of Girl Scouts who got destructive palm oil banned from Thin Mints, and a handful of other of his generation’s brightest bulbs. But Victor’s the only honoree in BYA’s Class of 2011—and maybe ever—who can outrace a New York City bus on his skateboard. Sweet.

Victor grew up in Hunts Point, a peninsula at the southern tip of the Bronx, one of the most overburdened communities in the country. Forty percent of New York City garbage is dumped here, dozens of miles of highway crisscross the borough while public transportation is scant (and few residents own cars), 1 in 4 local kids suffers from asthma, and more than half of Hunts Point children live below the poverty level. The South Bronx also has some of the city’s highest obesity and hunger rates. 

“When I was younger, I thought these were just things we had to live with,” says Victor, who was home schooled by his mom until he finished high school last spring. “But when joined the Point, I realized we could make changes.” He’s talking about The Point community center, a nexus of neighborhood revitalization, where as a kid, he took free after-school programs in art, piano and, starting when he was 13, activism. “That’s when I learned how to be a social leader.” He also learned how to skate, cruising the city streets as a way to get around. “A skateboard is a free means of transportation,” he says. “It runs on fat and sweat.” Pretty soon, he’d lost 40 pounds. He was hooked. 

Last year, a rep from Usher’s youth advocacy group, Powered by Service, came to the Point, offering $500 seed grants to young leaders with smart ideas. Inspired, Victor and a couple friends hatched a plan to start a summer youth camp combining skateboarding with activism. They won the grant and Eco Ryders was born. 

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The Monkey Wrencher Goes to Jail

DeChristopherMug Tim DeChristopher, the 29-year-old Utah activist who disrupted a 2008 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oil-and-gas auction, received his sentence yesterday: two years in federal prison, three years supervised release, and a $10,000 fine. That’s about what his supporters, who packed the Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse in Salt Lake City, were expecting from the two-count conviction for making false statements and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act. What the supporters didn’t expect, and what caused no small amount of outrage, was DeChristopher being led out of the hearing in chains to begin serving his time. (The defense expected DeChristopher to be allowed to self-report to prison.)

“This court is broken!” shouted Ashley Sanders, a member of DeChristopher’s activist nonprofit Peaceful Uprising, who was in the gallery. “Is this a corporate court or our court?” DeChristopher’s supporters responded, “Our court!” and began singing protest songs.

After U.S. marshals dragged Sanders and Peaceful Uprising codirector Ashley Anderson from the courtroom, another DeChristopher supporter stood up and yelled, “This judge is a spineless bastard!”

Those protests, however, were mere theater compared with the 35-minute statement DeChristopher read to the court prior to his sentencing. The activist knew it could be his last public speaking gig for a while, and he made the most of the opportunity.

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America's Top Ten Most Endangered Rivers

American Rivers, the country’s foremost river focused nonprofit, released their annual list of the top ten endangered rivers yesterday. It marks the 26th year American Rivers has released the report, drawing attention to some 360 waterways--pristine or polluted.


“It’s not a list of the unhealthiest rivers,” says Amy Kober, AR’s communications director. “We want to highlight rivers that are at a crossroads so the public can weigh in and make a difference."

Topping this year’s list is New York’s Susquehanna. AR's calling for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to analyze the consequence of natural gas companies drilling in the river's basin. They're particuarly concerned with fracking, a controversial mining practice known to seep arsenic and/or hydraulic fluid into underground water supplies. Record-breaking flooding on the Mississippi earned the river special mention for its antiquated flood control systems, and Illinois’s Chicago River came it at number four for sewage pollution--don't swim there.

Each year, some 100 rivers are nominated by the organization's 65,000 members. If there's one you'd like to see on 2012's list, email AR. Publicity garnered from the top ten list has helped get government commitments for dam removals on Washington’s Elwha and White Salmon rivers. For more info on dam removals in Washington, check out my story on Hemlock Dam in last fall’s Water Issue. In the meantime, watch Outside TV's profile of pro kayaker Andy Maser weighing in on why dam removal is so important for kayakers (and salmon). The top ten list American rivers there's still time for you to protect is below.

1. Susquehanna River (NY); Threat: Natural Gas Extraction

2. Bristol Bay; Threat (CA): Copper and gold mining (Read Tim Sohn's feature Gold Fish for more)

3. Roanoke River (VA); Threat: Uranium mining

4. Chicago River (IL); Threat: Sewage

5. Yuba River (CA); Threat: Dams

6. Green River (WA); Threat: Mining

7. Hoback River (WY); Threat: Natural Gas extraction

8. Black Warrior River (AL); Threat: Coal mining

9. St. Croix River (MN); Threat: Loss of protections

10. Ozark National Scenic Riverways (MO); Threat: Overuse and under management


--Kyle Dickman

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State of the Salmon Address

This is a big month for wild salmon advocates. On Sunday, May 1 at 8 PM Eastern, PBS will air a Nature special, Salmon: Running the Gauntlet, that offers a terrific broad-strokes history of the collapse of the fish in the once-prolific Columbia River basin. A more detailed look at that collapse, due primarily to four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington, can be found in Steven Hawley’s new book, Recovering A Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities (Beacon Press, $27). Of course, the event that salmon junkies are most keenly anticipating isn’t a TV special or a book's publication. On May 9, enviro advocates will take on the Obama administration’s plan for salmon recovery—which doesn’t include dam removal—in federal court.

Coho Salmon A mature Coho Salmon makes its way upstream to spawn. (Photo by Hannah Smith Walker)

Earlier this week I spoke with Hawley and Jim Norton, writer and producer of Salmon: Running the Gauntlet, about dams, Obama’s much-discussed salmon joke in the State of the Union Address, the administration’s commitment to hydropower, and what it will take to save a fish that’s become an object of so much contention. The conversation was at times fiery, at times wonky, and very informative—at least for me. These guys know their fish facts. Did you know we’re dumping more than 200 million hatchery-raised salmon—what Norton calls “techno-industrial” fish—into the Columbia every year? Or that less than one-half of one percent those fish return? Norton, who works as a river guide when he’s not writing or making films (you can read about him steering Patrick Symmes down the Yangtze in this classic Outside story) was optimistic, saying that “we’re not going back” to the era of dams and manipulation, and predicting that “we’ll effect one of the greatest environmental restoration projects available in the modern era” within 50 years. Hawley warned that “it might be too late” for wild salmon if “by 2025, if we’re not getting serious about dam removal.”

Listen to our conversation in this podcast.

Salmon: Running the Gauntlet airs Sunday, May 1 at 8 PM eastern on PBS; Recovering A Lost River: Removing Dams, Rewilding Salmon, Revitalizing Communities was recently published by Beacon Press.

—Abe Streep

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