Dissident members of the Sierra Club say the environmental group is selling out, compromising its ecological values as it gains political clout in Congress.
"I don't think John Muir would join today," Margaret Hays Young of the club's New York City group said of the naturalist who founded the 99-year-old organization."There's a climate of almost revolt at the grass-roots level. The business of making deals and using our native forests as a bargaining chip is appalling," she said.
The critics say they want to publicize the internal wrangling over political strategy so the 598,000-member organization will be shamed into endorsing more extreme proposals to halt logging on federal lands.
Club leaders believe they are on the verge of winning congressional approval of unprecedented protection for old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.
But club activists in New York, Oregon, California, Texas and Louisiana are among those who continue to push for proposals that many in Congress consider radical.
The organization also is drawing fire from groups fighting for forest protection in the Rocky Mountains, Midwest and New England.
"We have destroyed 95 percent of America's forests. We should be trying to save every last stick of what is left," said Tim Hermach, a 30-year member of the Sierra Club's Oregon chapter who launched a splinter group in 1988 because of his frustration with the Sierrans' search for "moderate, middle ground."
"We are at the edge of a cliff. We can't slow down to 90 mph. We have to hammer the brakes and turn around," he said.
National leaders say they welcome the internal debate but fear the adoption of more radical proposals could threaten their cause.
"If you embrace the most radical or visionary proposals, my sense is you are not going to be able to rally sufficient political support in the next five years to pass anything and, as a result, we will lose everything," said Bruce Hamilton, director of field services for the club's national headquarters in San Francisco.
Private criticism of the dissenters has been even more pointed.
Carl Zichella, director of the Sierra Club's regional office in Madison, Wis., said in a letter to Hermach's Native Forest Council last month:
"The timber industry must view with glee the effort of green one-upmanship they see this as."