Sierra Club
Sierra Club Press Release

For immediate release:
December 4, 2011

Contact: Mark Westlund, 415-977-5719

Elden Hughes, Sierra Club Hero and Champion for Desert Wilderness, Dies at 80

Sierra Club honorary Vice President Elden Hughes, a stalwart advocate for California’s desert wild places, has died. He was 80.

As chair of the Sierra Club's California Desert Committee, Elden Hughes was one of the key architects of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, and was for decades a leading voice in educating the public and decision-makers about the priceless resources in California's deserts. Along with scores of other activists, Elden traversed the desert identifying wild lands and wildlife deserving of protection, and told their story to the people with the power to preserve these lands.

Working first with Senator Alan Cranston and later with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Elden helped persuade them to champion the desert through visionary legislation. Once the California Desert Protection Act was introduced, Elden and his wife Patty visited Washington, D.C. repeatedly over many years, making the case for national parks and wilderness areas in places many that many people thought of as a wasteland.

Elden often brought baby desert tortoises along with him to Washington, beguiling congressional staff and opening doors to legislators who otherwise might have been unlikely to support the bill.

Within the Sierra Club, Elden's advocacy led the organization to declare passing the Desert Protection Act a national priority, and soon volunteers and staff in every state were urging their elected leaders to support the bill. Their work and that of other organizations culminated in 1994 passage of Senator Feinstein's legislation, which created the Mojave National Preserve, made Joshua Tree and Death Valley into national parks, and preserved scores of desert wilderness areas.

"Elden leaves a legacy that will outlast us all," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, "in the form of enduring conservation of this magnificent, diverse ecological region for future generations. He's a wonderful example of how much one determined person can accomplish if he's willing to work hard and share his vision with others."