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April 14, 1998

Joining the Fray

by Neil S. Milligan

There are literally thousands of environmental advocacy groups, from the corporate-sized to the neighborhood grassroots. Following is a brief cross-section of some with a local presence.

The Nature Conservancy

Definitely the largest "green" group with state representation, TNC claims a quarter-million individual members nationwide. Because of its pledge to be noncontroversial and avoid politics, TNC is a favorite of corporate donors - and because of this it has the largest budget of the national organizations. The group's main concern is to remove habitat from development pressure, whether buying it outright at market-prices or encouraging land-holder cooperation. Sometimes the land remains TNC property and is managed for conservation or sustainable resources; often it is only held until federal agencies are allotted adequate budgets to take it under government protection, then TNC money is available for more land purchases. Members are invited on regular daytrips with the Alabama Chapter and the national office coordinates vacations at some of its preserves around the US. Membership includes a bimonthly magazine and state newsletter. TNC has several local projects, a state office (2821-C 2nd Ave. S., Birmingham 35233, 205-251-1155), and a website (http://www.tnc.org).

National Audubon Society

A conservative conservation organization that also takes corporate conscience-money, NAS has a budget about one-eighth that of TNC. Though national priorities often displease grassroots members, there is a certain amount of independence allowed in the local chapters. NAS does get involved politically and offers plenty of resources to encourage member-activism. It manages several nature centers and sanctuaries nationwide (local members are involved with one on Dauphin Island) and brings its programs to 4th and 5th grade classrooms. An excellent bimonthly magazine provides outstanding photography and stimulating articles. The local chapter publishes a newsletter, meets once per month and takes frequent daytrips and an annual weekend retreat. The local membership contact is Edith McClinton, 432-4898, and the national website is http://www.audubon.org/.

Sierra Club

The largest national organization that prides itself on refusing polluter proceeds it is also the oldest, founded in 1892 by preservationist and Yosemite Wilderness advocate John Muir. Because of its energetic political work Sierra dues and contributions are not tax-deductible. It retains a democratic arrangement with annual leadership elections and occasional policy-guiding ballot initiatives. (In 1996 the membership passed a "Zero Cut on Public Lands" forest policy.) National membership includes association with the state Chapter and the local Group (one of eight across Alabama); officers are elected for executive positions in both of these structures as well. Sierra supports an environmental justice movement and networks its high-school and college members through the Sierra Student Coalition (http://www.ssc.org). Weekly action-alerts and a monthly "Planet" newspaper provide timely updates to in-depth articles in the bimonthly "Sierra" magazine (which also includes fine wilderness photography). The chapter and groups publish newsletters and the local group meets once per month. Outings include frequent day and overnight trips, the annual state conference and longer volunteer-guided vacations of assorted activity levels. Local membership contact is Lou DiCostanza, 626-4012, and the national website is http://www.sierraclub.org/.

Alabama Environmental Council

AEC, formerly The Alabama Conservancy, has been "protecting Alabama's environment since 1967." A main office in Birmingham (2717 7th Ave. S, Suite 207, Birmingham 35233, 205- 322-3126) is augmented by several chapters including the Jubilee Chapter in Baldwin County. Some lobbying is done, but most of the efforts of this small group focus on environmental education and protection of the state's natural areas. Recycling programs and Earth Day events are typical AEC projects and its Watchdog Campaign investigates reported environmental offenses across the state (call 1-800-WTCHDOG, or e-mail watchdog@alenvironmentalcouncil.org). AEC organizes an annual membership meeting, educational outings and the yearly "Green Tie Affair" fundraiser, and publishes a bimonthly newsletter. Local membership contact is Marcy Gerhart, 990-8520, and AEC's website is http://www.alenvironmentalcouncil.org/.


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