After a Spill: Oil Soaked Animals

This is part three of a five part series on the dirty legacy of offshore drilling. Read parts one and two.


BP has painted spills as fixable, running commercials showing volunteers cleaning oiled birds with Dawn Soap. Although it’s nice to think we can undo the damage done to animal populations, the reality of a spill is much bleaker.

When asked to estimate the number of wildlife damaged by the Exxon Valdez spill, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council is unable to give an estimate, saying simply “no one knows.” The best estimate for wildlife deaths are as follows: upwards of 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. Many of the species damaged by the initial spill are still reported as recovering by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council over twenty years later. The above are considered low estimations for the immense amount of deaths caused by the spill. Killer whale researchers monitoring two distinct pods in Prince William Sound before and after the spill have seen the devastating effects of oil on the whale populations. Thirteen out of thirty-five killer whales in the resident pod died after the spill and the population still hasn’t rebounded. Even worse off is the transient pod, the Chugach transients, who due to their status as top predator “accumulate contaminants from everything below them. High levels of PCBs and DDT in their blubber may be causing reproductive problems: The Chugach transients haven't birthed a single surviving calf since 1984.” Twenty five years with no successful offspring is a devastating reality for Alaskan killer whales and extinction is a possibility for a pod that has lived in the area for thousands of years. The extreme disruption caused by the spill continues to affect animal populations as well as local biodiversity and human industry today—despite twenty five years of active monitoring and clean up.

Continue reading "After a Spill: Oil Soaked Animals" »

Celebrating the Outdoors

On Monday we celebrated John Muir's legacy on what would have been his 176th birthday with the Filson Company, working together to raise awareness and further our mission of encouraging people to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. John Muir was a naturalist and a preservationist who founded the Sierra Club in 1892, just five years before the Filson Company began making and selling rugged clothing and gear for outdoorsmen. To this day we both strive to forge a connection between people and nature.

Connecting people to nature is where John Muir excelled. He founded the Sierra Club as a group of alpinists who loved mountaineering.  And he was always an advocate, taking people outside to visit special places in hopes that it would move them to help protect those places.  After more than 100 years, getting outside and into the natural world is still a great way to inspire and engage people.

It is with this in mind that the Sierra Club has provided opportunities for 250,000 people to participate in outings into the outdoors, and also why the Our Wild America campaign has created its Nearby Nature initiative. For many people getting outside is more difficult than ever as more than 80% of the country now lives in suburbs or cities.  Protecting natural places near those densely populated areas is crucial to ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to explore the natural world and form those connections. They need accessible places to connect with family, friends, community, and the planet.

So thanks to Filson for helping us promote and engage people with the great outdoors. And a happy belated birthday to John Muir! We’ll keep working to ensure that his legacy lives on.

After a Spill: Coastal Damages

This is part two of a five part series on the dirty legacy of offshore drilling. Read part one here


The damages from the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil disasters are extensive and long-lasting. The Deepwater Horizon spill completely devastated the coastal wetlands and marshes of the Gulf of Mexico. The National Wildlife Federation finds that 1,100 miles of shoreline experienced some level of oiling following the blowout, and that oiling persisted along some 200 miles. Between June of 2011 and September of 2013, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority records indicate that workers removed 12.1 million pounds of oil substances from the state—still nowhere near as much as was spilled. Between the months of March and August, more material was collected and removed in 2013 than in 2012. Not to mention the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on February 27, 2014 removed over 1,253 pounds of a submerged oil mat, despite that very area being surveyed 9 times since the Deepwater Horizon spill. Our beaches are not getting better.

The fact that new submerged oil mats are still being located confirms that the spill clean-up is far from over. A recent study suggests that significant amounts of oil may be inert on the floor of the Gulf, with the potential to remobilize in the event of severe weather to the further detriment of shore ecosystems. Excess oil in the Gulf not only harms local organisms, but also contributes to the already serious issue of land erosion.

Shoreline erosion, already an urgent concern in the marshes of Louisiana, is accelerated by the presence of crude oil. Washed ashore, it damages or kills the mangroves and marsh grasses that hold the dry land together. In the past 80 years, the Mississippi River Delta has ceded 1,900 square miles of wetlands to open water. In addition to direct contamination, construction of levees and channelization of the Mississippi River have altered the natural silting processes that generate marshland. Further development of canals and channels for energy infrastructure in the Gulf exacerbates the problem. By 2060, the State of Louisiana predicts another 1750 square mile loss of marshland—irreparable and costly damage. To combat this enormous problem the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East (SLFPA-E) filed a landmark lawsuit last July against approximately 100 oil and gas companies to hold them accountable for damages caused by industry wells, pipelines and canals. For decades oil and gas companies have profited from local resources while destroying the very ecosystems people rely on. These damaged barrier islands and coastal marshes are critical in climate mitigation; they reduce storm surge and flooding impacts, as well as provide habitat for a vast array of local flora and fauna.

Whether it is in Alaska or the Gulf, oil and gas companies are destroying coastal ecosystems even before a spill occurs. But, when a spill does occur, the damage is widespread and persistent. Four years later the Gulf of Mexico is not cleaned up, and the next big storm could re-oil the precious coasts and beaches so many people rely upon for their livelihoods.

-- By Foley Pfalzgraf



After a Spill: Oily Decades lie ahead for damaged coasts

This is part one of a five part series on the dirty legacy of offshore drilling.

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Four years ago the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. Between April 20th and July 10th, the uncapped oil well spewed almost 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This unfortunate anniversary is a cause for reflection on oil and gas development in our country, and what we’re willing to risk for it.

Known as the largest environmental disaster in US history, the Deepwater Horizon spill claimed 11 lives and generated an oil slick that was visible from outer space. Unfortunately, the Deepwater Horizon spill is not the first spill to wreak havoc with coastal ecosystems and economies in America. The Exxon Valdez spill occurred over 25 years ago on March 24th, 1989 and released roughly 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s delicate Prince William Sound area. Although BP claims its clean up job is finished in the Gulf, reflecting on the twenty-five years of contamination still ongoing in Alaska paints a different story. Only a few short years have passed since the spill in the Gulf, and oil is still found on beaches; looking northward, oil can still be found on Alaska’s shores 25 years later—the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill can be expected to endure far longer than many attest.

Previously the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the Exxon Valdez spill “is widely considered the number one spill worldwide in terms of damage to the environment.” This is due mostly to the extreme wildlife diversity in the area, the timing of the spill, and the difficulty of the cleanup. Indeed, the cleanup took more than four summers before the effort was called off, additionally “not all beaches were cleaned and some beaches remain oiled today,” according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. In the summer of 2001 (12 years after the spill) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that over 20 acres of beaches were oil-contaminated, this was more than twice the estimate from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council survey conducted in 1993. Officially, 21,000 gallons of oil remain, but many consider this estimate conservative. Official estimates tend to be far too shortsighted and do not adequately estimate enduring contamination. A report on February 28, 2014 found that Exxon Valdez oil can still be found between boulders and this oil is similar to 11 day old crude and thus highly toxic. Further the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council admits, “The remaining oil will take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely.”

Twenty-five years haven’t managed to heal Alaska’s beaches; and four years have not healed the Gulf. The outlook for other and future spills having successful cleanups is becoming increasingly bleak as long-term effects are still coming to light for both the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon spills. Despite the horrifying results of these spills, there are still calls to open up more areas in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic, and down the Atlantic coast for production. Isn’t it time we say enough is enough?


-- By Foley Pfalzgraf


Obama Administration Restores Clean Water Act Protections to Streams and Wetlands


The Obama administration has proposed a new rule to ensure waterways are clean and safe from pollution, just as weather is warming up so Americans can start enjoying them. For years, confusing Supreme Court rulings and agency guidance have left our country's small streams and wetlands at risk of pollution. This new rule will finally clarify which US waters are protected under the Clean Water Act and restore protections to almost all of the nation's fresh waters – ensuring safe drinking water for 117 million Americans.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 and articulated that it applied to “all waters of the US,” they understood that bodies of water are interconnected. Many of us remember learning this in elementary school – how streams and rivers wind their way to join lakes and wetlands. Prior to 2001, virtually all streams, wetlands, lakes, and other natural water bodies were covered under the Clean Water Act.

However, the Clean Water Act was thrown into confusion by two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 and subsequent agency guidance. For more than a decade, lack of clarity around the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act has left many of our nation's waters unprotected – threatening the public drinking water supplies of more than 117 million Americans, putting 20 million acres of wetlands at risk, and leaving 59% of all stream miles in the continental United States unprotected.

The Sierra Club applauds the Obama administration for this effort to restore a common-sense approach to protecting our nation's lakes, rivers, and streams. Clean water is an undeniable necessity for the enjoyment of these resources – not to mention the health of our families, our environment, and our economy. As the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have recognized with this rule, ensuring the protection of water bodies upstream is vital to keeping pollution out of our waters downstream.

However, it is critical that this rule protect all of America’s wetlands and waterways. The proposed rule stops short of restoring pre-2001 protections for many regionally important wetland and water bodies located outside floodplains, including prairie potholes, Carolina bays, vernal pools, and playa lakes. The science is clear that these so-called “isolated” wetlands can affect quality of downstream waters, especially when these wetlands are considered in aggregate on a regional or watershed basis.

Today's rule is a major step towards restoring clean water safeguards for all U.S. wetlands and water bodies. We look forward to a robust public comment period and to seeing a strong rule finalized quickly.

-- By Jessica Eckdish


p.s.-- Join us in thanking the Obama administration for restoring clean water safeguards

The Lacey Act - Leading the Fight Against Illegal Logging

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A Siberian tiger cub.

From furniture to paper and pencils, wood products are a part of our everyday lives. Though wood products are now more than ever coming from sustainable sources, up to 30 percent of wood traded internationally has been harvested illegally. Not only does illegal logging damage the environment, it disrupts our climate, hurts communities, and threatens American jobs.

Thankfully, with a landmark law called the Lacey Act, the United States is helping lead the fight against illegal logging. To get a snapshot of the costs of illegal logging and how you can help, take a look at our new webpage.

Deforestation, which is driven in part by illegal logging, is one of the largest sources of climate-disrupting pollution. Each year deforestation accounts for roughly 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide, around 17 percent of global climate-disrupting pollution. Further, illegal logging threatens valuable habitat for endangered animals and plants. A great report from the Environmental Investigation Agency details how illegal logging in the Russian Far East, allegedly to supply the flooring giant Lumber Liquidators, is threatening the last 450 Siberian tigers in the wild.

Illegal logging also threatens communities that live in and around forests. The illegal harvesting and removal of timber deprives countries of roughly $15 billion a year in tax revenue. Instead of funding public improvements that benefit communities, revenue from illegal logging funds underground crime.

Trade in illegally harvested timber threatens American jobs by driving down the price of wood products. Cheaper wood might sound good, but it actually places a huge burden on American companies. In fact, it’s estimated that lower prices due to the trade of illegally harvested wood products ends up costing U.S. companies $1 billion annually.

Thankfully, the United States has taken the lead in fighting the trade of illegally harvested wood. In 2008, the U.S. Congress amended the Lacey Act to ban the import of illegally harvested wood. Now, companies that import wood products must identify the species and origin of their products. Violators of the law face fines and jail time. Led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal government has opened investigations into companies that are alleged to knowingly import illegally harvested timber.

Since its amendment, the Lacey Act has shown a strong track record of requiring companies to identify the source of imported wood, both leading to more sustainable supply chains and helping decrease illegal logging. Currently, opponents of the Lacey Act are trying to weaken this landmark law. To help ensure the U.S. continues to lead in the fight against illegal logging and climate disruption, tell the President and Congress to fully enforce the Lacey Act!

--Jesse Prentice-Dunn, Representative, Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program

A Victory for the Mendocino Coast


This is a guest column from Rep. Jared Huffman, Congressman for California's 2nd District.

The environment and economy of the North Coast just scored a big victory. Last Tuesday, President Obama designated the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument, protecting these pristine and breathtaking coastal lands. This landmark event is a testament to the power of a committed and engaged community.

President Obama's executive order protects more than 1,660 acres of the Mendocino coast, home to Great Blue Herons, Peregrine Falcons and the Laysan Albatross. This complex and fragile ecosystem includes habitat for endangered species like the Point Arena mountain beaver and the Behren's silverspot butterfly. More than two miles of the Garcia River and the estuary are also protected - good news for our salmon and steelhead fisheries.

Protecting this national treasure isn't just good for the environment - it's a huge win for the local tourism industry, already Mendocino County's biggest employer. The California Coastal National Monument, established by President Bill Clinton nearly 15 years ago, is one of the most-viewed, but least-visited National Monuments in America. Though it spans more than 1,100 miles of California coastline, few are able to visit the 20,000 small islands, rocks, and exposed reefs that make up the monument. As the first land-based addition to the California Coastal National Monument, this week's designation provides a gateway for visitors to experience the Monument and see some of the best ocean views in Northern California.

National Monuments bring tourists from around the world to shop at local businesses, dine at restaurants, and stay at hotels, strengthening the local economy and spurring job growth. In Mendocino County, 74 percent of tourists visit the region's public lands, bringing an estimated $314 million in annual economic activity to the region. The potential benefit to the local economy is just one of the reasons why the campaign to protect this amazing stretch of the Mendocino coast has had such broad support - from State and local elected officials, the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians, conservation groups across the country, and local businesses and civic leaders. This broad, team effort was critical to our success.

My predecessor, Representative Mike Thompson was an important part of that team. He initiated the bill to include this area as part of the Coastal National Monument. When redistricting shifted Rep. Thompson's new district to the south, he passed the torch to me.

I am proud to continue the coastal protection work that this district demands and deserves. The very first bill I introduced as a Congressman was to protect this land. Last July the House of Representatives unanimously approved my bill - so far the only conservation bill of its kind to pass the House in the 113th Congress. Our two California Senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, supported this effort in the Senate.

Last year, the Obama administration laid the groundwork for this historic designation when Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined me and other community leaders for a hike on the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands. It isn't often that a Cabinet Secretary visits - and it's rarer still that one comes to discuss expanding a National Monument in our backyard. We held a public meeting where she heard tremendous support from the local community for adding these breathtaking lands to the California Coastal National Monument.

What an honor it was to attend the signing ceremony last week in the Oval Office, flanked by several of the local leaders who championed this proposal, including Leslie Dahlhoff, former Mayor of Point Arena; Larry Stornetta, the former land owner of a portion of the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands; Merita Whatley, Manager of the Point Arena Lighthouse; Eloisa Oropeza, Tribal Chairwoman of the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians; and Scott Schneider, President and CEO of Visit Mendocino County Inc.

But the enduring significance of the President’s action is far greater than that ceremony. The National Monument ensures that our children and grandchildren will always be able to hike along the bluffs and watch whales migrate just off the shore. It is fitting that President Obama followed in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt by using the Antiquities Act - the same law used to protect the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. This jewel of the Mendocino Coast is a worthy addition to the California Coastal National Monument, and I’m thankful that the President agreed.

Sierra Club Volunteer Wins White House “Champions of Change” Award

BenblonderBen Blonder

This week the US Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell honored fourteen Champions of Change for engaging the next generation of conservationists. I was lucky enough to attend the event at the White House and walked away feeling truly inspired. The honorees are each helping to fulfill Secretary Jewell’s youth initiative by ensuring that young people and communities have opportunities to play, learn, serve and work outdoors.

It was wonderful to hear the stories of so many amazing organizations and individuals working to reverse the growing divide between young people and nature. These “Champs” are truly setting young people on a course to improve their health and well-being, establish lifelong connections with nature, and lead tomorrow’s conservation movement.

Among them was Benjamin Blonder, a Sierra Club Tucson Inner City Outings leader. Tucson Inner City Outings is one of fifty-two volunteer led Sierra Club outings groups sharing their love for the natural world with people, mostly youth, with limited opportunities to experience the outdoors.

The other honorees shared a wide range of initiatives such as hiking clubs, ecological restoration projects, urban youth leadership development, and even veteran resiliency building. One success story came from ELK (Environmental Learning for Kids), an organization working with the Trust for Public Land to secure funding to purchase land in one of Denver’s most economically distressed and challenged neighborhoods, bringing nearby nature into the community.

Continue reading "Sierra Club Volunteer Wins White House “Champions of Change” Award" »

Senate Subcommittee Takes Up Climate Disruption

The topic of the day at the Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing was climate change. The hearing was held to discuss natural resource management, a very real concern in a world undergoing widespread global climate change. We can already see the effects of climate change right here in America, today. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that this past January was one of the four warmest in recorded history. The Environmental Protection Agency is already predicting longer and more common droughts in the drought prone west, rising sea levels along the coasts and more intense hurricanes to hit our eastern shores. Further, the warmer drier climate nationwide stands to cause serious disruption to American livelihoods from sea to shining sea.

The hearing was also the same week as the release of U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Kingdom’s Royal Society report “Climate Change: Evidence and Causes.” The report provides scientific evidence definitively supporting the reality of human caused climate change, and is aimed to educate the public and legislators. In the face of the facts climate change denial seems impossible—but then again I’ve found hearings on Capitol Hill to be full of surprises. Despite the scientific consensus on climate change the EPW hearing illustrated that there are still those who contest the reality of climate change.

Continue reading "Senate Subcommittee Takes Up Climate Disruption" »

Celebrate! Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands Added to the California Coastal National Monument

Stornetta.Par.69962.Image.375.281.1_BLMPhoto courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Today, President Obama took the significant step of designating Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands as part of the California Coastal National Monument. Located along the south coast of California’s Mendocino County, these public lands include 1,665 acres of majestic views, tide pools, and coastal wetlands that are home to an abundance of sea mammals, sea birds, and abalone. The designation marks the first expansion onto land for the California Coastal National Monument which stretches along 1,100 miles of California’s coast.

Adjacent to Manchester State Beach and the Point Arena Lighthouse, the Point Arena - Stornetta Public Lands area includes more than two miles of coastline, portions of the Garcia River, the Garcia estuary and a five-acre island—Sea Island Rocks. Its wildflower meadows and shifting sand dunes provide a home for otters, seals, pelicans and a host of other wildlife. The area is vital habitat for migratory birds, salmon, and several endangered species including the Point Arena mountain beaver and the Behren's silverspot butterfly.

The area is also a tremendously popular tourist draw. Thousands of people visit the area every year to watch wildlife, fish, and hike-- and in doing so contribute to California’s booming outdoor recreation economy. Today's designation ensures that local communities will continue to benefit as more people visit the area.

Just last month, I had the opportunity to visit Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands with my wife as we were driving north on Highway One from San Francisco. At that time, Sierra Club activists, business owners, and community leaders were all busy organizing to protect this special and rugged place for future generations. As we stood on those bluffs and watched the waves crash below us, we understood why those people had been pushing for years to permanently protect this unique place. And now, less than a month later,  thanks to the help of California Congressmen Huffman and Thompson, as well as Senators Boxer and Feinstein, their efforts have proven fruitful.

Please join me in thanking President Obama for responding to the widespread desire among Americans by permanently protecting our outdoor heritage for future generations.

-- Dan Chu, Senior Director, Our Wild America campaign 

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