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Kayaking and rafting swamp monsters ran Gore Creek in Vail in protest on June 10, 2019, where Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was keynote speaker at the Western Governors Association meeting. The protest was organized by Colorado Sierra Club, Conservation Colorado and other environmental organizations. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The national Sierra Club is threatening to suspend local leadership of the 20,000-member Colorado Chapter of the environmental group and replace it with a temporary board of dedicated local members, national and local leaders said. 

No one incident led to the threat of suspension, the leaders said. Instead, they cited years of unresolved conflicts between the Colorado leadership and executive committee and volunteers, which Sierra Club relies on heavily for outdoor work, trip organization and contacting politicians and regulators on policy. 

“The Sierra Club Board has a responsibility to act in the best interest of the organization and our millions of members and supporters. We do not take these steps lightly, and we are welcoming input before making any final decisions,” national President Ramon Cruz said in a statement emailed Friday. 

A mass letter to Colorado members last week cited failures to resolve the problems “after efforts over a number of years — including training, coaching, and individual accountability measures — have failed to help chapter leaders move through ongoing conflicts and address cultural issues at a more systemic level.”

Suspension looms, the letter went on, because of an “ongoing recurring pattern and concerns about inappropriate behavior, harmful and non-inclusive management culture, and ongoing harmful impacts that continue to be raised by internal stakeholders and documented by external professionals.”

Colorado Chapter spokesman Thomas Young said suspensions are rare but not unprecedented among the 63 local chapters across the nation. 

“The national board has tried a variety of conflict resolution attempts over the last two years and they just haven’t worked out,” Young said. 

The national office encouraged chapter leaders and members to weigh in on the Colorado situation through the end of January. Membership privileges will not change, nor will local staff roles.

 “No decision has been made on suspension at this point. They’re seeking input throughout the rest of the month, and we’ll take it from there. But as far as the operations of the chapter, nothing’s going to change,” Young said. 

On a policy level, Colorado’s chapter has been heavily involved in issues ranging from the impact of the Central Interstate 70 rebuild on neighborhoods, cleaning up pollution and emissions from the oil and gas industry, air pollution that impacts national parks and other pristine areas, and reduction of local plastic use. 

Last summer, Politico reported on an internal review of national and local Sierra Club conflicts, including accusations of mishandling workplace discrimination and harassment within the organization. 

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...