Despicable behavior: The Sierra Club sinks to a new low

If you’re a member of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, you will soon receive a letter from a fellow Club member exposing the Club’s advocacy for deforestation and pesticide use on public lands in the Bay Area. It will also contain a postcard which you can return to express your opinion of the Club’s policy.

The Sierra Club is worried. They’ve already issued a “pre-buttal” in the form of a note tucked into their newspaper, the Yodeler (available here: SierraClub – Yodeler Insert) that directed members to read their on-line “pre-buttal.”  Their “pre-buttal” is factually inaccurate, for which the national Sierra Club takes no responsibility.

Herbicide spraying in one of the project areas
Herbicide spraying in one of the project areas

Why would they allow an opposing letter through to their membership?

The Sierra Club didn’t allow the member’s letter to go to their mailing list out of any interest in members hearing both sides of the story. It’s the law.

California State law requires that non-profit organizations with elected boards, such as the Sierra Club, enable their members to communicate with fellow members. This doesn’t mean they release their members’ contact information. The letter must be given to the non-profit organization, which uses a third-party direct mailing company. In this case, the mailing was arranged with the national headquarters of the Sierra Club, which manages the mailing list of the entire membership.

The Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club has 6,300 members, so it is expensive to take advantage of this privilege. All the more reason to be outraged by the fact that the Chapter pre-emptively sabotaged this effort to communicate with its membership.

Here’s the story

We will let the author of the letter to the Chapter members tell you what happened by publishing her report to the many people who are collaborating in the effort to prevent the destruction of our urban forest (emphasis added):

January 27, 2016

Friends, I am writing to tell you the fate of my letter to the members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. My letter has not been sent yet, but it probably will be soon. The local chapter inserted a printed letter into the published version of the Yodeler informing members that they would be receiving my letter. That letter told them to go to the Chapter website to see a point-by-point “pre-buttal” to my letter. That is available on-line HERE.

I sent the staff in the national headquarters the email below and copied the Chapter staff who signed the letter in the Yodeler. You can read that email to see what I asked for. Now I have had a conversation with Bruce Hamilton who is in the legal office of national headquarters and I am writing to tell you the final outcome:

Mr. Hamilton freely admits that he gave my letter to the Chapter before my letter was sent. He did not see anything wrong with having done that. He says that the national headquarters assumes no responsibility for what the Chapter has done nor anything they say in their “pre-buttal.” I pointed out that I have provided evidence that the Club has refused to meet with us. He says the national headquarters takes no responsibility for ascertaining the facts. He has refused to request that the Chapter remove their “pre-buttal” from the website or revise it in any way. I told him that I would consult a lawyer about what “remedies are available to me.” [Redacted personal information]

So that is the fate of my letter to the members of the local Chapter of the Sierra Club. One hopes that members will now be so curious about my letter that they may actually read it! [Redacted personal comments]

In solidarity,

Mary McAllister

From: Mary McAllister
Sent: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 6:50 AM
To: ;
Cc: Michelle Myers

Subject: Letter to members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter

Dear Mr. Hamilton and Ms. Epstein,

As you know, I have been trying to arrange a mailing to the members of the San Francisco Bay Chapter for some months. My letter has not yet been sent, yet the Bay Chapter has preemptively sabotaged my letter with an insert in the printed Yodeler alerting people to read the Chapter’s on-line prospective rebuttal to a letter that has not yet been sent.

The on-line “pre-buttal” starts by claiming that the Sierra Club has never refused to meet with me. I have attached [available here:  sierra-club-petition-to-national-leadership] my letters to the Sierra Club requesting a meeting that were sent in November. Those letters were sent certified and I have the return receipts, proving that the Club received my request for a meeting. The Club did not reply to those letters.

Also, below is my email correspondence with a member of the Chapter Conservation Committee attempting to get this issue on the agenda of the Conservation Committee in September 2015. This request was also ignored or denied. Since no one responded to me, I do not know which. [These emails are available here: Sierra Club – Conservation Committee]

These are just two of the most recent attempts to discuss this issue with the Chapter. I have a much longer paper trail of attempts that go back several years, including an email from someone representing Mr. Brune.

If the Chapter and/or the national Club are now willing to meet with us, I am still ready and willing to do so.

Meanwhile, I ask that the on-line “pre-buttal” be removed until my letter is actually sent and received by Chapter members. The well has already been poisoned, but this is the only remedy available to me at this time.

When my letter has been sent and received by members, I hope that the Chapter rebuttal will be more accurate than what is presently on-line. The Chapter leadership has been sent a multitude of studies, reports from environmental consultants and government professionals such as the US Forest Service. They therefore know—or should know—that nothing they are saying in their “pre-buttal” is accurate. I would be happy to present all these materials to you and others in a meeting.

I am one of hundreds of people who have been fighting for the preservation of our urban forest in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly 15 years. Please understand that although I am required by law to make this request as an individual member, I do so on behalf of thousands of people who share my commitment.

Mary McAllister

The bottom line

We are still trying to get the facts out to all Sierra Club members, and to all those who recognize that its views are out of step with the environmental realities of the 21st century.

We hope that those who are still members of the Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club will read the letter from a fellow member and send the postcard expressing their opinion of Chapter policy regarding deforestation and pesticide use. Thank you for reading this post.

As a reminder: The map below shows all the areas that are affected by this massive deforestation scheme that will fell nearly half a million trees. It’s a travesty that the Sierra Club is not only supporting these projects, but has also filed a lawsuit demanding that they be even more destructive than planned.

FEMA Project Areas
FEMA Project Areas

11 thoughts on “Despicable behavior: The Sierra Club sinks to a new low”

  1. Thank you for this story. Our local chapter had a visit from the proponents of this massacre and they brought along a glossy 4 page brochure that supposedly supported their position. We wondered how the Bay Chapter could finance such a publication when our chapter, which has 4700 members, was never asked to approve it. The Sierra Club seems lost in its mission.
    This story needs to go to the press. Again and again.

    1. Thank you, Mary. What Chapter are you in? How did your Chapter respond to the appeal from the SF Bay Chapter for support of their destructive agenda?

      I have seen that glossy brochure because it is distributed at every public meeting where the Sierra Club advocates for its agenda. I too wonder where the money comes from. I also wonder where they get the money to finance their lawsuit that demands 100% destruction of non-native trees on 2,000+ acres of public land in the East Bay. They don’t have many more members (6,300 members) than your chapter (4,700 members), which suggests that the money is not being provided by the membership. Do you have any clues about a fund source? Or suggestions about how to find out? As you can see from this post, we are being stonewalled by the Club.

      I hope you will share this post with other members of your Sierra Club Chapter. If we are ever successful in convincing the Sierra Club that they are making a mistake by demanding the destruction of our urban forest, it is likely to come from inside the Club, rather than outside the Club.

      1. I am a newly active member of the Marin Chapter of the Sierra Club. I decided to become active after I saw the appalling efforts to denude the East Bay and spread pesticides.
        I will make inquiries to the best of my ability on the funding sources.

        1. Thanks for the clarification, Mary. Marin County is a part of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club. The Bay Chapter is composed of Marin, San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties. Each county has its own “Group” within the Chapter, so there is a Marin Group within the Chapter.

          I have studied the Club’s and the Chapter’s bylaws, but I do not recall any rules about the approval of expenditures. For example, did the Marin Group have an opportunity to express its opinion about filing a lawsuit in the East Bay? Does the Marin Group have anything to say about the policies of other Groups within the Chapter? I suspect that the Executive Committee of the entire Chapter makes most of these decisions. Those are some of the many questions you can ask of your Group leadership and the Chapter leadership. I suggest you visit the Chapter website to learn more about the complex and vast leadership structure of the Chapter, as well as the bylaws.

          Because you are a member of the SF Bay Chapter of the Club, you will receive the letter from the fellow Chapter member. I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to express your opinion of the Chapter’s policy and urge other members to do the same.

          Thanks again for your interest in this issue. The Sierra Club is theoretically a democratic organization. That means that if the majority of members are opposed to the destruction of our urban forest, we should be able to change that policy if we actively participate in Chapter meetings and elections.

          With your permission, we can take this “conversation” to personal emails. Let me know if you want to do that.

  2. Hello,

    I just read the latest The Sierra Club sinks to a new low. I’m not from California, but follow Death of a Million Trees as a conservationists with the same concerns. The California law is something that interests me. I would like to know where to find the California State law that requires non-profit organizations with elected boards, such as the Sierra Club, enable their members to communicate with fellow members.

    Carolyn Marsh

    Chicago area


    1. Non-profits in California are regulated by the Attorney General’s office. They have published a Guide for Charities:
      Here’s what that guide says about the right of members to the charity’s mailing list:
      Q. I am a statutory voting member of a charity and would like to use the charity’s mailing list to send out information. Am I entitled to use the mailing list?
      A. Yes, with limitations. The mailing list of your charity is considered a valuable corporate asset, and the value diminishes if the list is distributed. California law provides specific procedures for member mailings through a “blind” use of the list. Your information is mailed out without disclosing the contents of the list to any person. The charity cannot refuse your mailing request based on the content of your message, so long as your mailing is reasonably related to your rights as a voting member of the charity.

      National Sierra Club by-laws:
      SR 4.1.2: Access to Membership List
      (a) A Club member in good standing may request access to the names and postal addresses of Club members for a purpose reasonably related to that member’s interest as a Club member. All requests must: (i) be made in writing; (ii) include the Club member’s name, address and, if known, Club membership number; (iii) be directed to the Club Secretary, care of the Executive Office; (iv) specify the entire list or that portion of it, based solely on criteria discernable from postal address and/or voting rights, being requested; and (v) clearly state the purpose for which access is requested. To assist in showing that the request is made for a purpose reasonably related to the member’s interest as a Club member, a copy of the material to be mailed may be submitted with the request. In any event, a copy of the material must be sent to the Executive Office at the time it is mailed to Club members.
      (b) Access to the membership list will be provided through a Club-approved mailing house for one-time use. The Club will charge a fee for its cost of compiling and supplying the requested list to the mailing house. All other costs associated with the mailing, including printing and mailing house fees, are the sole responsibility of the Club member and should be arranged with and paid directly to the mailing house. [6330] (h) Mailings. (i) A member’s request for access to the membership list to communicate with other Club members about candidates in a Club election is a purpose reasonably related to that member’s interest as a Club member. [see SR 4.1.2]. A copy of such communication and a description of the members to which it was sent must be sent to each candidate in the election and to the Executive Office at the time it is first sent to Club members.

  3. they must be getting a lot of money from Monsanto and Dow to condone their pesticide product use. they must think all of their members are stupid.

    1. Could be. Unfortunately we do not know how to determine that. The public record laws that enable us to acquire documents that answer such a question do not apply to private corporations. Do you know of another way?

  4. I received the petition and letter, but many of the informational links provided seem to be broken. Can these be posted online so they can be accessed from a single URL? No Google short URLs, please. It’s just far to easy to get these wrong and so miss out on the info we need.

    1. The links in the paper letter were shortened URLs so they could be typed more easily. They were tested several times. However, we are happy to provide the original URLs:

      For more information:

      On the East Bay projects:
      On the petition to the Sierra Club:
      On the use of herbicides in project areas:
      On how deforestation contributes to climate change:
      On the Bay Area’s “native” landscape:
      On the Sierra Club’s lawsuit for more tree cutting:
      On the petition opposing the East Bay projects:
      On biodiversity of the eucalyptus forest:
      Other specific questions:

  5. There’s an old saying about not seeing the forest because of the trees. In this case it would seem that only “approved” trees are worth saving. I would like to think that the Sierra Club is for saving any tree, but it seems they are not. To work hand in hand with those responsible for destruction of any trees is a travesty of what the Sierra Club claims to be their mission. Since I was very young, I have seen so many, many trees gone. Maybe the Sierra Club should have more interest in saving any trees now and worrying about what type of trees are being saved later. It would be terrible if one day we could see what the forest looked like without any trees. K. Quito, Sierra Club member and lover of trees.

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