SALT LAKE CITY - The Sierra Club is threatening to disband its southern Utah chapter for speaking out against the Bush administration's push toward war with Iraq.
The San Francisco-based 700,000-member environmental organization said its 175-member Glen Canyon group violated Sierra Club policy in publicly taking its own stand on the issue.
In November, the national organization's board of directors approved a resolution supporting efforts to strip Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. It said: "The Sierra Club is concerned about the global dangers presented by possible Iraqi aggression and about the dire environmental consequences of war."
At the same time, the national organization warned that Sierra Club policy "does not authorize individual members, leaders or club entities to take public positions on military conflicts as they arise."
The Glen Canyon chapter's leaders decried that as a "gag order" and issued a news release Nov. 26 asserting their right to speak out.
"We decided to fight rather than just resign," Glen Canyon vice chairman Patrick Diehl said. "We specifically challenged as what we view as the gag order. This was pretty much throwing down the gauntlet."
In the news release, Diehl said: "The present administration has declared its intention to achieve total military dominance of the entire world. We believe that such ambitions will produce a state of perpetual war, undoing whatever protection of the environment that conservation groups may have so far achieved."
Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope has threatened to dismiss the four Glen Canyon Group officers.
In a recent e-mail, Pope said: "I would leave dissolving the group as a means of last resort if acting against individuals who won't adhere to club policy fails to resolve the situation."
He said the four leaders are "quite explicitly, intentionally and knowingly, stating that their group is not in their view bound to adhere to the policy decision made by the board with regard to Iraq."
"Civil disobedience is an honorable tradition, but you can't continue serving as sheriff while practicing it," he added.
The Glen Canyon branch was formed in 2000 and supports draining Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona line and banning cattle grazing on public land.
The group, one of three Sierra Club branches in the Utah chapter, represents environmental concerns involving a broad stretch of cherished natural landmarks, including the Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Bryce national parks.
Lawson LaGate, the organization's Southwest Senior Regional Representative, said the complaints from Glen Canyon surprised him.
"As far as I know, it's going on among those few people there. I haven't heard any other discussion among the Utah membership," LaGate said.
LaGate said whatever happens to the group or its leaders will not affect environmental advocacy in southern Utah.
"The Sierra Club is here to stay and we will continue to focus on southern Utah issues regardless of what a few individuals choose to do," LaGate said.
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah, stands on Jan. 1, 2001. The Sierra Club is considering whether to disband its southern Utah group, whose concerns include the Arches National Park, because of the smaller group's strong stance against a war with Iraq.