Smart Blog of the Week from ELPC’s Colleagues
Friday, July 27, 2012
Last night, I attended a wonderful Sierra Club fundraising event in Madison honoring Jonathan Ela’s many years of inspired, effective and fun – one of Jonathan’s necessary attributes – environmental and natural resources preservation work in Wisconsin, the Great Lakes region and nationally. I first met Jonathan in the early 1980s when he was the Sierra Club’s regional director and was starting up the Club’s political action committee. He is a leader, a motivator to many, a wickedly funny storyteller and an avid sailor.
Jonathan greatly deserves the many accolades voiced at last night’s event. Please take a look at Spencer Black’s July 24, 2012 column in Madison’s Capital Times entitled “Honoring Jonathan Ela, an environmental leader.” All of the kudos are right on target – and more – as we recognize and honor Jonathan’s many accomplishments. Bravo Jonathan!
Best wishes and enjoy summer!
Spencer Black: Honoring Jonathan Ela, an environmental leader
JULY 24, 2012 6:00 AM • SPENCER BLACK | LOCAL COLUMNIST
Environmental progress never just happens. Behind every environmental victory — be it the creation of a national park, adoption of a rule to protect air quality, or passage of a law to clean up toxic waste — there’s a story. And that story is the tale of citizens who dedicated themselves, often against long odds, to fight to protect and improve our outdoors.
One of the folks in Wisconsin who has fought the longest and hardest to protect the environment is Jonathan Ela. A Madisonian born and raised, Jonathan has been at the forefront of the modern environmental movement from before the first Earth Day to the present.
Jonathan’s friends and supporters will be gathering for a picnic to honor his four decades of leadership in the national environmental movement. It is an occasion I will be sure not to miss.
Jonathan began his career working for Sen. Gaylord Nelson, helping pass legislation that greatly expanded our national park system. While Nelson, the father of Earth Day, remained his friend and mentor, Ela’s destiny was to work for the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest and oldest environmental advocacy organization.
While he was a Sierra Club staffer, there wasn’t a major Midwestern environmental issue in which Ela didn’t play a leadership role. He founded the Midwest office to organize club members to be advocates for our waterways. He focused attention on the value of and threats to our planet’s largest fresh water resource by authoring “The Faces of the Great Lakes.” He led the fight to protect our region’s greatest river, the mighty Mississippi, by forming a coalition of conservationists, businesses, labor unions and local leaders to oppose expensive and unnecessary pork barrel navigation projects that would have not only wasted taxpayer dollars, but caused severe harm to that valuable ecosystem.
But perhaps Jonathan’s greatest accomplishment was pushing the Sierra Club and environmentalists in general to take part in election campaigns. When the policies of Ronald Reagan and his Interior Secretary James Watt took aim at our wild lands, Jonathan saw the need for the Sierra Club to drop its hands-off approach to elections. What began modestly as the defense of an environmental champion in a congressional primary in 1982 has grown, under his leadership, into a highly effective political program culminating in the Sierra Club’s active role in the 2008 presidential election.
Jonathan also served as chair of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, successfully working to protect public lands, adopt strong mercury controls, and enact the country’s strongest rule to limit phosphorus pollution of our lakes.
I’ve known Jonathan for a long time. When I first started out as a Sierra Club activist, he served as a mentor and I took his place when he left the Midwest office. I now serve beside him on the National Sierra Club board.
As much as I think about his accomplishments in the policy arena, I also admire that he never lost his ability to laugh. When things looked grim, as they often do for environmental activists, Jonathan’s great wit could always be counted on to bring smiles to the hard-pressed troops.
Jonathan will be honored in the most fitting way possible — by the launching of the Jonathan Ela Activist Fund. The fund will be used to recruit the next generation of Sierra Club leaders. Bringing new activists into the fight for our natural resources, with both wit and principle, has always been Jonathan’s calling, and he will continue to inspire a new generation of fighters for our environment.
Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years and was chair of the Natural Resources Committee. He currently serves on the Sierra Club’s national political committee.