Rocking the Sierra Club’s boat 

Montana Sierra Club members burble over with free love. The club is for atheists and ministers, vegans and meat-eaters, hunters and animal-rights activists, says Drusha Mayhue, member of the Montana Chapter’s executive committee. It’s for cowboys and college kids, says Bob Clark of the Bitterroot Mission Chapter. For teachers and lawyers and doctors.

“This,” says Clark, “is the cross-section of America.”

The organization could become less a Kellogg’s Cornflakes kind of club if Paul Watson has his way.

Watson—a member of the Sierra Club’s national board, co-founder of Greenpeace, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a Time Magazine environmental hero and pirate of the high seas who rams illegal whaling vessels—ruffled feathers when he announced last year that he has a new conservation strategy for the Sierra Club. It’s anti-hunting, for starters, and it may be anti-immigration, according to recent news reports from California. This March, club members will vote in new members to the national board. Future board membership will determine how easily Watson can pursue his agenda.

The message from Montana club leadership is silence on the Watson front, an insistence that the club is for everyone and does not pursue a radical agenda…and an urgent message to vote.

“The Sierra Club is probably the most democratic non-profit organization in the United States—probably in the world,” says Mayhue, who encourages members to be aware of the ballots’ subtext. “It’s really important for people to know who they’re voting for and to question.”

Fran Coover, active volunteer, has been a member “off and on throughout most of my adult life.” On summer weekends she hikes into small roadless areas and takes inventory for the club. She hadn’t heard that the club might be under siege, but she’s seen similar insurgencies in the past. Watson is banking on low-voter turnout, and Coover says it’s that “intrinsically undemocratic” scenario that would upset her.

“It would deeply grieve me,” she says, “that the heart might be torn out of the organization as a result of this kind of chicanery.”

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