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Hunters are also often an important ally when the Sierra Club fights to defend wild lands, providing support in areas that might otherwise be hostile. "The Sierra Club is overwhelmingly urban and suburban," Ruckel says. "The hunting community is more rural. We need every ally we can find."
In addition, many veteran club activists believe that Lamm and the other anti-immigration candidates don't understand how the Sierra Club functions.
"They seem to believe it's appropriate for members of the board of directors to dictate policy," says former chairman Vincent, who worked with the Pueblo Sierra Club chapter to defeat a proposal by the U.S. Army to build a chemical-weapons incinerator just outside the southern Colorado town. "That's not the way the Sierra Club works. It's a bottom-up organization. The board doesn't decide from the top what our policy will be. It gets passed up through the system from the grassroots. The thing that's most frightening is these people feel they can tell the rest of the club what its position can be."
He points out that another ballot question on immigration is set for next year. "That's the appropriate way for these people to pursue their agenda," he adds. "Running people who don't know much about the Sierra Club for the board is not the way to get things done."
Lamm and fellow immigration candidate Morris, however, are questioning how the board does business. They recently attacked the current leadership for accepting more than $100 million from contributors and then not divulging who made the donations or how the money will be spent.
"The Board is approving confusing budgets which contain millions of dollars that the fiduciaries of the Club do not know the source of, nor the legitimacy of. This is an irresponsible and reckless policy, which risks the good reputation of the Sierra Club," the two wrote in an open letter.
"One of the hottest seats in Hell is always reserved for people who defame falsely other people's characters, knowing such claims are false. It goes without saying that this was extremely painful to us, but it also made no sense to us, until we discovered that the club might well have something of Enron proportions to cover up and which they don't want to see exposed. A small group of people now control a large amount of money, without adequate controls or accounting. That is dangerous for the club and for the environmental movement. Vote for us, or against us, but please clean up the creeping corruption of the club we all love."
Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope defends the board's action, pointing out that the donations were made to the Sierra Club Foundation, which is independent of the Sierra Club. The foundation is a charity that gives money to environmental causes (including grants to the Sierra Club), while the club is an advocacy group focused on influencing public policy.
All of these disputes trouble Ruckel, because they are preoccupying the board and its members at a time when ecologists are facing the most hostile national government in half a century. President Bush has repeatedly snubbed environmentalists, making a point of opposing the Sierra Club on virtually every issue it holds dear, from relaxing pollution controls on power plants to refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol to reduce climate-altering gases. Proposals for new wilderness areas have been deep-sixed, and Congress has given huge tax subsidies to the oil and gas industry for new drilling on environmentally sensitive lands.
"We're having to focus on this internal dissent and distraction," Vincent says. "That's a major part of why this whole thing is so regrettable."
Lamm also agrees that the November election should be the Sierra Club's number-one priority, but he insists that the days of the environmental movement ducking the immigration question have to end. "They're definitely ignoring a major environmental problem for political reasons," he says. "I'm not trying to change their priorities; I just want immigration on the scale. Do we really want to live in an America that has 500 million people?"