Sierra Summit

Conversations and observations about California's mountains

March 31, 2009
Efficiency of green groups ranked

We hear a lot about energy efficiency these days. What about organizational efficiency?

The American Institute of Philanthropy, one of the nation's leading non-profit watchdogs, has just released its newest Charity Rating Guide and Watchdog Report in which it grades organizations (A through F) based on their fund-raising and organizational efficiency.  

The report is hard-copy only. If you're interested, I suggest that you subscribe and I'll include information about how to do that below.

But to give you a sample of what's in the report, here is how some environmental groups active in California and the Sierra fared:


                                             Cost to raise $100     Executive salary in 000's


American Forests           A-        19                          115 - 142

American Rivers            B-         21 - 32                 129 - 170

Arbor Day Foundation  B+         17 - 27                 187 - 388

Audubon Society             B          30                        309 - 390

Conservation Fund          A+        2                         218 - 476

Defenders of Wildlife       D         22 - 50                 212 - 315

Ducks Unlimited               A-       19 - 25                 232 - 292

Environmental Defense  B+     14 - 21                  271 - 417

Friends of the Earth         B+      14 - 16                  93 - 149

Greenpeace*                   C-       26 -50                     88 - 167

Nature Conservancy      A-       12                          270 - 407

Sierra Club*                    C         39                          219 - 264

Trout Unlimited              A-        14 - 16                 148 - 224

Trust for Public Land    A+        4                           182 - 282

Wilderness Society       C+     18 - 28                  173 - 267

World Wildlife Fund     B        15 - 27                   228 - 347

 *Contributions to these groups are not tax-deductible.

The American Institute of Philanthropy rates non-profit organizations of all stripes, from the Disabled Veterans Association to the American Cancer Society.  If you'd like to subscribe to the Charity Rating Guide and Watchdog Report, go to the following link:     

March 31, 2009
Kudos to NPR for climate debate
This morning, National Public Radio in Sacramento (KXJZ) aired a fascinating debate about the merits of reducing carbon emissions to combat climate change. If you missed it, I strongly encourage you to listen in at this web page:

Unlike a lot of climate debates, this one - held in New York in British Oxford-style format (one motion, one moderator and multiple advocates for both sides) actually raises the level of the discussion. Imagine that. 

The motion before the panelists was simple: Major reductions in carbon emissions are not worth the money. The issue is particularly important here in California - a state that is home to the world's eighth largest economy and a world leader in the war on carbon.  

The debate lasts about an hour - and in the end, audience members have their say. They  vote on which side has carried the day. Is it worth it to reduce carbon emissions - or not?  I won't give away the results, but I think you'll find them surprising. And no matter what your view on the matter is, my guess is you will learn something by listening in.  

March 25, 2009
Climate change and national forests - a rural perspective
Annette's 341-c.jpg
Since 1993, Lynn Jungwirth has spoken out often and eloquently on behalf of rural communities and healthy forests. Now, she is talking about climate change, too. 
Earlier this month, Lynn - who directs the Watershed Center in Hayfork, a tiny town in northern California - testified before a Congressional sub-committee about how national forests can help combat climate change - and restore rural economies at the same time.  It is a big dream and, as Lynn made clear, it won't be easy. I found her testimony intriguing - and I thought you might too. She began with a broad overview and moved on  to more complex - and often contentious - issues of forest management and carbon sequestration. So, without further adieu, here are a few highlights. 

"Climate change discussions in the United States ... have been dominated by an urban, industrial perspective that focuses on transportation, electricity generation, and large-scale manufacturing.... The rural perspective is somewhat different, perhaps because rural communities and landscapes are experiencing the ecological stresses of climate change, including insect pandemics, intense wildfires, degraded fisheries, invasive species, and ecosystem conversion at an observable rate. We don't actually need the scientists to measure the change in climate; we are living it."

"Healthy, resilient forests sequester carbon. In the Trinities, we started 12 years ago, thinning overstocked stands both for hazardous fuels reduction and to improve the quality of the spotted owl habitat. Subsequent measurement has shown increased growth rates in the remaining trees. The carbon sink is increasing. What is not so obvious is that forest restoration can also provide biofuels for transportation, reduce carbon intensive energy use in the industrial sector through combined head and power biomass plants, and reduce the carbon intensity of electrical power by co-firing coal plants with wood pellets and using woody biomass for electrical generation (a common strategy in the European Union)."

"The Trinity Forest is a nice little forest. It is over a million and a half acres in the Klamath Knot, one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet. Please don't manage it for carbon. Manage it to be resilient. Manage it to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Manage it to be here for another 400 years. If you do, the carbon sink will come. The greenhouse gas emissions from wildfire will drop. The biofuels can be developed. The renewable energy will be developed and sustained. The owl and the coho will have a chance at survival. And so will we."

If you'd like to read Lynn's testimony in its entirety, you can do so at this link:

More information about the Watershed Center can be found at:

March 24, 2009
Wood Power - Why Not Here?
A new article in Science magazine (March 13, 2009, Vol. 323) points out that highly-efficient wood-fired power plants are booming across eco-friendly Europe. 
"Europe's thousands of of new community-scale advanced wood combustion facilities clearly demonstrate that, with public backing, (wood-fueled power) can be rapidly implemented, can reduce oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions and can increase energy security," the article says. 
But here in California, where forests are unnaturally dense and could help fuel a wood-power revolution, wood-fired power plants are scarce. 
Just yesterday, in fact, Sierra Pacific Industries announced it was shutting down a wood-fueled plant in Sonora, along with two sawmills in Sonora and Camino. The company citied a poor timber market, environmental litigation and state regulatory burdens as the reasons for the closures. More than 300 workers will be affected. 
But if Europe can make wood power work, why can't we? The Duke University-led team  that wrote the Science article clearly hopes wood power can play a bigger role in the United States. And they believe that - with careful monitoring - it can be done sustainably and offer social, economic and environmental benefits. 
"Wood energy economics are generally more favorable in North America than in Europe and it is ironic that advanced wood combustion was initiated in Europe," they write.
And they add: "Considering the controversial plans to expand the nation's nuclear capacity, how can we not ask about the future potential of wood energy, especially if the nation were to target its development not only in forests and woodlands, but on low-productivity agricultural lands and in cities?"
The article is available online only to subscribers of Science. But a press release about it can be found at:

About Sierra Summit

The Author
Tom Knudson lives in the Sierra Nevada and travels widely throughout the range. His hobbies include fly-fishing, backpacking and cross-country skiing. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes, one for a 1992 Sacramento Bee series "Sierra in Peril," a watershed work about environmental threats to the mountain range. E-mail Tom at

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