Sierra Club Alienates its Would-be Allies

lake-chabot cropped Photo credit MillionTrees dot me

What the Sierra Club should be fighting to save – but isn’t

Most people think of the Sierra Club as an organization battling for trees and nature, for forested lands like the one in this picture. They believe it’s fighting to save the environment and opposing the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals. So they’re shocked to hear the Sierra Club supports the East Bay projects to destroy hundreds of thousands of trees, and use thousands of gallons of herbicides to prevent regrowth.

sign petition to sierra clubThere’s a petition to ask the Sierra Club to stop, to withdraw the lawsuit and its support for these projects. You can sign that HERE if you haven’t already. There are over 2600 signatures already. And there are comments, which we’ll discuss below.


 sierra club mailer referencing John Muir and Rachel Carson

Sierra Club mailer referencing John Muir and Rachel Carson

The Sierra Club fosters this pro-tree anti-pesticide image. Look at the mailer they recently sent out. “You don’t have to be John Muir or Rachel Carson to save the world,” it said. “You just have to believe, like they did, that one person can make a difference.

muir-john-new year-card front

Greeting card sent by John Muir

John Muir was of course the Sierra Club’s founder. He was the great nature lover who originated our National Parks – and planted eucalyptus trees near his home (which were later cut down by the National Parks Service for being non-native).  Muir would have been angry:

Any fool can destroy trees. They cannot run away; and if they could, they would still be destroyed, chased and hunted down as long as fun or a dollar could be got out of their bark hides, branching horns, or magnificent bole backbones.”  –John Muir, ‘Our National Parks’ pg 364

He even sent a friend a greeting card featuring eucalyptus trees.

Rachel Carson Silent Spring coverRachel Carson was the famed author of Silent Spring, a passionate indictment of pesticide use. Described on its Amazon page as a landmark book, it’s considered the origin of the battle against pesticides. She left money to the Sierra Club, including royalties from her book

So when the Sierra Club sends out mailers like that, it clearly reinforces the message that it stands for all trees, and against pesticides. Only, if that were true, they wouldn’t take the stance they have on the East Bay projects.


The Sierra Club supports the destructive East Bay projects that would cut down some 450,000 trees and use thousands of gallons off toxic herbicides (Roundup and Garlon) on the stumps and plants they don’t want there.

And not only is the Sierra Club supporting this project – it’s currently suing FEMA, which is to fund this disaster – demanding it cut down more trees immediately. The Sierra Club wants them all gone, now. And they don’t oppose the use of pesticides, either; they claim that the projects will need minimal pesticides, hand-applied – when the project managers themselves admit they will use thousands of gallons. When people provided FEMA with evidence that pesticides were already in use where UC Berkeley has started the felling of trees, and FEMA wrote to UC Berkeley about it – Sierra Club demanded FEMA retract its letter.

We’re disappointed but not surprised that the Sierra Club tries to hand-wave the impact of herbicides. Some years ago, when we sought Sierra Club support in saving Sutro Forest from a plan that would have cut down some 30,000 trees and used hundreds of gallons of toxic herbicides to prevent regrowth, we got no help. Instead, we were told to “please moderate your thoughts.   Think about whether you use dish detergent in a dishwasher or hair conditioner or hair shampoo.” We doubt any of those are as toxic as Roundup – a probable carcinogen and possible endocrine disruptor, or Garlon which is a highly toxic herbicide associated with birth defects in rats even at very low doses.

They also support the Natural Areas Program’s plans to cut down thousands of trees and use even more herbicides than it currently does.


The people whom the Sierra Club is alienating are its would-be allies. If you go to the petition and scroll back through the pages of signatures, there’s an unusually large number of comments. They’re mostly from people who love trees and nature, and who oppose toxic herbicides on public land. They’re from environmentalists who worry about climate change, and know that trees sequester carbon. (In fact, eucalyptus is an excellent carbon sink: Its wood is dense, it grows fast, and it lives for hundreds of years.  Unless its felled and chipped – then, like all felled trees, it stops sequestering carbon and starts to release it back into the atmosphere.)

These are people who are – or would like to be – sympathetic to the Club. In fact, many people who signed the petition are current or former or would-be future Sierra Club members.

Their reactions to this? We’re quoting a few of the comments here, edited only to remove typos and add emphasis. (There are many more, too many to quote all of them, but you can go to the petition and look. We didn’t have a way to ask permission to quote names – but they’re on the petition.)


speech bubbles 1a“I’m shocked! I will never donate any more money to this organization.”

“I am a Sierra Club member and I will cancel my membership if you continue to support the tree removal.”

“I am in shock as I thought the Sierra Club was in favor of saving our forests and never using pesticides. I will be dropping my membership immediately from the Sierra Club. I was sure they were 100% for nature.”

“And we had just started supporting Sierra Club… it is hard to know who to trust!”

“Please stop this insanity. I am a former member of the Sierra Club, and I’m embarrassed by your advocacy of removing trees and poisoning the land.”

speech bubbles 1b“Sierra Club I can no longer support you. I am fighting along millions to stop use of Monsanto roundup. Tell me you are not on their payroll. Killing trees? Who’s in charge here?”

“I will not be renewing my membership to the Sierra Club, due in the next couple of months. The removal of millions of trees using dangerous pesticides is insane! It will endanger many animals and wildlife, poison the local environment AND leave the entire area vulnerable to ecological degradation. Any trees or other plants that the Sierra Club intends as replacements for those they wish to kill will take decades to serve the purpose that currently is being met by what is already there.”


“This is so short sighted…poison our soils, kill off the animals population that lives in these trees and destroy the water shed we need for the hills, and all that land areas. I’m glad I have not returned to the club….not worth watching the destruction-led ideology happening (as well as a waste of my membership monies).”

One commenter was moved to write a sonnet (in the text box).sonnet sierra club

“I am a Sierra Club Member and serve on the Executive Committee of the Toiyabe Chapter. I grew up in the Oakland Hills, and those trees were part of my life. They protect the wildlife and provide needed shade. Cutting them down will NOT make the area safer from fire. I am very disappointed with the Sierra Club’s decision to support this action. The amount of pesticide to be used is unacceptable in an urban area (in any area, really). We need every tree we can get in California right now!”

“I am a former member of the Sierra Club and am appalled at the proposed wanton destruction of our Oakland woods! It is inexcusable because it is not backed by science or the residents!”

“Leave the trees. Use of pesticides to go back to the way it was and disrupt current life, not good. Sierra Club was the first group I belonged to because they helped the environment. I no longer renew my membership. They are known as the wayward children of stewards to the environment.”

“Former Sierra Club supporter. Used to live near there, my sister still does. Terrible idea…now, especially, is not the time for this genetic cleansing.”

“This is really important. Please stop doing this. I am a Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer survivor. I spent tremendous amount of time in the GGNRA before I got sick. Please stop this. It is not a garden. It is not YOUR garden. It is not to be manicured to design specifications. My Grandfather was a General, commander-in-Chief of the Presidio in the 1960s. His and all the men and women whose legacy left these beautiful lands certainly did not intend on you turning it into a garden and using pesticide to return it to the state before they were of service to fight for it. Best, Sandra”

speech bubble 3bMy family has supported the Sierra Club for years. I would like to still do so, yet this is surprising. I live here and have been watching the cutting. This forest is no longer new, despite being non-native. It is home many insects, animals, and native plants, and removes CO2 from our air. Removing it only increases the fire danger (from all that chipped wood left behind) and the risk of mudslides is huge.”

“I will not re-join the Sierra Club until they stop supporting this horrible plan to dump toxic chemicals right in our backyard. ‘Non-natives’ have been here for over 100 years now and are part of our ecosystem and support butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. Stop this destructive plan now!”

speech bubble 2d“Am a member of Sierra Club and disagree with this policy — this policy came about by non-democratic means.”

“Many Bay Area Sierra Club leaders are not in agreement with the Club’s position on this issue.”

Member since 1980, but considering not being a member anymore, because of this extreme error filing this lawsuit.”

speech bubble 3a“Dear Sierra Club: This is exactly the kind of plan I expect you to be against — the cutting down of living forests and then pouring toxic chemicals into public lands. I’ve been a member in the past and usually think highly of the Sierra Club. Your goal to return the Bay Area hills to a state of grassland, scrub, and chaparral makes absolutely no sense in the time of global warming and drought Trees provide shade and lower high temperatures. They enable many wild animals to survive despite high human habitation nearby. Poisoning the ground poisons wildlife near or in those grounds. Please desist the slaughter.”

“This is racist, genetic cleansing, ideology taken to the extreme. I have withdrawn my support of the Sierra Club. Additionally, this adds to global warming and air pollution by burning, and poisons our environment by pesticides. Apparently FEMA has money which it refused to use for support of impoverished minorities damaged by the hurricane, and is now seeking the stamp of approval by the green faddists, who are ignoring the overall picture while following a sectarian eugenics program.”

“I oppose the deforestation of our hills – I was evacuated in the 1991 fire storm and I think that grassy hillsides would be MORE dangerous than eucalyptus and Monterrey pine. I am all for native vegetation but not at the cost of denuding our hillsides. I am a Lifetime Sierra Club member.”

“I am an active San Francisco Bay Chapter member. To be fair, there has been a lengthy chapter process on this issue. Unfortunately, I am convinced that the club’s radical position represents a huge mistake. The project’s certain harm to ecosystem services and exacerbation of climate change impacts will likely far outweigh any potential environmental or safety benefits.”

speech bubble 1eI am a Sierra Club member and live in the Oakland Hills for the past 20 years. I have been through both the fire and the earth quakes. I hike the parks here every day and find this the most ill conceived plan imaginable. In the early morning hours the trees drip with much needed water. There are owls and monarch butterflies and raptors. What I see is clear cutting all along skyline and housing developments now everywhere that the trees have been felled. More houses being built every day. The use of toxic pesticides is outrageous to all of us who strive to live a healthy life. I am completely opposed to this outrageous plan.”

As someone who has supported the Sierra club for over 30 year in various way including having a credit card with your name on it for years I feel betrayed by your advocating the destruction of where I live. I was here for the fire, I evacuated at the latest moment and I feel this deforestation will make it dryer and winder. We need to preserve every tree we can in this time of global warming! We are lucky we can get anything to grow on some of these hills and to clear cut and poison is stupid beyond belief.”speech bubble2b

“I am a lifelong environmentalist and a longstanding member of the Sierra Club. I am appalled by the position the Sierra Club has taken on this critical issue. I plan to cancel my membership unless the Sierra Club stops advocating the insane, destructive policy of clear  cutting and poisoning our beautiful Eucalyptus, Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress.”


We would expect an environmental organization to recognize they’ve made a mistake here, and that their plan is both devastating to the environment and a betrayal of their friends. So far, their response has been an error-filled article in their newsletter, the Yodeler. (We’ll post about that another time.)

Some suggest it’s too big to care, as hinted by the “hostile corporate takeover” comment above. Or that it’s allied with the chemicals companies, as the sonnet above states.

  • “Having worked in the environmental non-profit field for a number of years I can attest that the arrogance of the Sierra Club. I have seen firsthand how their superior funding as one of the oldest and best endowed environmental NGO’s leads to decisions that fly in the face of overwhelming opposition from a community. Reverse this decision, it clearly makes no sense.”
  • “This issue concerns me EVERY DAY. The loss of these biotic communities which live & thrive within these wonderful East Bay forests would be DEVASTATING to me to the wildlife AND to the quality of life in the whole Bay Area, including the quality of AIR. That Sierra Club is standing WITH the University of California, FEMA AND Monsanto on this issue speaks very loudly about SC’s real alliances.”

Another viewpoint is that the Sierra Club has some political axe to grind.

  • “I can’t believe that Sierra Club is supporting this horrific deforestation program in my own backyard. They cannot have read the facts that point to the harm the program will do, nor educated themselves to the nonsense of destroying all non-native’ trees. There is definitely something political going on here.”
  • “What can be behind this policy? Merely lack of independent due diligence? or some more sinister backroom arrangement? I am currently working as an activist on NO COAL in Oakland and was considering joining Sierra Club with my $ and volunteer service, but cannot get an understanding of this harmful policy.”

claremont canyon garlon smallFor whatever reason, this is what the Sierra Club is ending up supporting:

  • The destruction of trees and release of carbon into the atmosphere;
  • Landscapes of 2-foot-deep mulch with a gradual incursion of broom and other species that can manage in difficult environments;
  • And the use of thousands of gallons of herbicides – including those labeled “Tier I: Most hazardous” by SF’s Department of the Environment.
East Bay clearcut THIS is the plan for the forests — fear overrides wisdom

East Bay clearcut. THIS is the plan for the forests — fear overrides wisdom. (Copyright Jack Gescheidt, used with permission)

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1 Response to Sierra Club Alienates its Would-be Allies

  1. Pingback: Sierra Club “Corrects” the Record – Fails | Save Mount Sutro Forest

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