HR Green Tales: Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is the country’s oldest, and easily one of the best-known, environmental organizations. The legendary naturalist John Muir founded it in 1892, with a mission to preserve, protect, and enjoy nature. Since then, the Sierra Club has been a leader on a number of environmental initiatives aimed at reducing energy consumption, expanding the market for renewable energy, promoting sustainable living, preserving habitat, and more.

The organization’s local chapter, the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club, has over 750 members from throughout the Shenandoah Valley. To further the organization’s mission, the group focuses on education, political action, and offering people opportunities to get back to nature. Ralph Grove is the group’s chair. He has been involved with the Sierra Club for over 25 years and has played a key role in many local and statewide efforts—while also leading many of the group’s regular hikes!

As Ralph explains, John Muir “was a visionary in his time who realized the need to protect the most significant wild places in a new and growing country.” In modern times, the Sierra Club has worked hard to realize Muir’s vision and dedication. For example, in Virginia the organization launched the first offshore wind conference to promote development of wind energy, while also campaigning for meaningful changes to energy laws and renewable energy standards for public utilities. At a more local level, groups of the Sierra Club work on issues such as transportation, environmental justice in minority communities, and keeping the ban on uranium mining in place.

A characteristic of the Sierra Club is its efficacy in promoting positive change in laws, business, and society. Ralph explains, “Our Beyond Coal campaign has helped to shut down or block approval of over 100 coal-fired power plants across the nation, including several in Virginia.” In addition, they team up with groups such as Mountain Justice to prevent mountaintop removal mining. The Sierra Club also works to preserve scenic rivers and wilderness areas in Virginia. Ralph adds, “We’re closely involved in forest management, and helped to develop the new forest management proposal in partnership with many other groups involved in that process.”

Another hallmark of the Sierra Club is its “active” nature, which is evident in everything from its political campaigning, organizing rallies and other events, or sponsoring trips into the wild. The Shenandoah Group is no exception. “We engage in education through outreach efforts, locally and statewide,” Ralph says. “We engage in political campaigns and lobbying at the state and federal level (such as the upcoming rally in Washington, D.C. on February 17th). We also have an extensive outings program, which brings people from all over the state together for hiking, canoeing, and other outdoor activities.”

Of course, the Sierra Club faces significant challenges in executing its mission. One major challenge, according to Ralph, is that “the energy industry has enormous financial reserves, and they don’t hesitate to use them” in any number of ways. “We can’t match their money, unfortunately, and that gives them an edge in political contests.” Another challenge is getting enough people engaged in the political process and connected with the environment.

Despite the challenges, the national, state, and local arms of the Sierra Club are continuing to strengthen environmental protections and educate the public. Ralph says that ongoing campaigns in Virginia include promoting renewable energy and conservation-friendly energy policies and laws, maintaining the ban on uranium mining, protecting national forests, and fighting construction of new coal-fired power plants; nationally, the main focus is on reducing dependency on fossil fuels and promoting renewable energy.

Visit http://virginia.sierraclub.org/shenandoah/ to find out more about the Shenandoah Group of the Sierra Club…and watch out for them next time you are hiking!