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Our History

Earthjustice is the nation’s premier environmental law organization. We believe that everyone has the right to a healthy environment. Since our founding more than four decades ago, we’ve defended that right by using the power of the law to fight for the earth and its inhabitants.

  • California red firs (Abies magnifica) at Timber Gap (9,511 feet), a 2-mile climb out of the Mineral King valley. Miners used red firs—also known as silvertip firs—for fuel and to reinforce mine shafts.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    California red firs (Abies magnifica) at Timber Gap (9,511 feet), a 2-mile climb out of the Mineral King valley. Miners used red firs—also known as silvertip firs—for fuel and to reinforce mine shafts.
  • Looking south from Black Rock Pass, Sawtooth Peak (12,343 feet, center) looms over one of the finest sets of stairstep lakes in all the Sierra: Columbine, Cyclamen and Spring Lakes. The upper elevations of the terrain that Disney coveted are visible in the right background.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    Sawtooth Peak (12,343 feet, center) looms over one of the finest sets of stairstep lakes in all the Sierra: Columbine, Cyclamen and Spring Lakes. The upper elevations of the terrain that Disney coveted are visible in the right background.
  • Morning breaks over the lowest lake in the Big Five Lakes chain.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    Morning breaks over the lowest lake in the Big Five Lakes chain.
  • National Park Service employees headed for Big Arroyo lead a pack of horses over Black Rock Pass. The Kaweah Peaks Ridge is in the background. Note the distinct transitions in the rock from black to red.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    National Park Service employees headed for Big Arroyo lead a pack of horses over Black Rock Pass. The Kaweah Peaks Ridge is in the background. Note the distinct transitions in the rock from black to red.
  • The resplendent Mineral King Valley.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    Mineral King Valley. Farewell Gap is visible on the left, at the end of the valley. Vandever Mountain (11,947 feet) is the mountain to the right of Farewell Gap. Moving right, the tallest peaks are White Chief (11,159 feet) and Hengst (11,146 feet). Below these mountains were the epicenter of Disney's ski resort plans.
  • A marmot along the trail to Eagle Lake. These largest members of the squirrel family are voracious eaters, and their tastes are known to extend to hiking gear and car components.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    A marmot along the trail to Eagle Lake. These largest members of the squirrel family are voracious eaters, and their tastes are known to extend to hiking gear and car components.
  • Sierra lilies (Lilium kelleyanum) along Eagle Creek. This lily is native to California, where it grows along streambanks, often in red fir forests. The flowers don't provide a platform for pollinators, but instead dust visitors with pollen from the long anthers that hang down.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    Sierra lilies (Lilium kelleyanum) along Eagle Creek. This lily is native to California, where it grows along streambanks, often in red fir forests. The flowers don't provide a platform for pollinators, but instead dust visitors with pollen from the long anthers that hang down.
  • Sunset colors the dramatic view east from Sawtooth Pass towards a sea of towering peaks.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    Sunset colors the dramatic view east from Sawtooth Pass towards a sea of towering peaks.
  • Dusk settles on a camp near Pinto Lake.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    Dusk settles on a camp near Pinto Lake.

Earthjustice’s roots go back to 1965, when the Sierra Club launched a campaign to protect Mineral King—a stunning valley at the southern tail of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The valley’s isolation, harsh winters and steep, avalanche-prone slopes weren’t enough to deter Walt Disney from envisioning a massive ski resort decorated with parking lots, hotels, daisy chain chair lifts and two million yearly visitors.

Our founding attorneys had a very different vision. Years of political maneuverings had failed to halt the resort, so a group of visionary lawyers took a risk that changed environmental protection forever—they filed a lawsuit to protect Mineral King from development.

The case climbed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1972 ruled in favor of Walt Disney. But this apparent defeat was actually a thrilling victory: a footnote in the majority opinion indicated that Mineral King’s lawyers could have demonstrated that private citizens who use the valley would have been irreparably harmed by the development.

And that’s exactly what we did. Earthjustice—known then as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund—filed suit again, in partnership with nine plaintiffs who visited Mineral King often and would be harmed by Disney’s development. This precedent-setting action secured standing to sue for private citizens, confirming the public’s right to fight for the environment in court.

Take A Walk Through What Was Saved At Mineral King:

The impact of Earthjustice’s first case can hardly be understated. Since setting a foundation for environmental law at Mineral King, Earthjustice has filed thousands of lawsuits on behalf of the environment and all the life that depends on it.

We’ve partnered with hundreds of organizations and thousands of passionate supporters to take on the most pressing environmental challenges of the day, such as climate change, fracking, air pollution and oil drilling in the Arctic. And we’re winning.

Our commitment to defending the right of all to a healthy environment has never wavered, though there have been some changes along the way.

In 1997, we changed our name from the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund to Earthjustice to reflect our role as a legal advocate for not just the Sierra Club, but also for a large and diverse group of clients.

And over the years, we created an international program to address human rights, trade and environmental issues; a communications team to build a groundswell of public support for the issues and cases we take on; and a policy and legislative team to craft laws that support and extend our gains and to prevent legislative efforts that undermine environmental progress.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished and are ready to take on today’s environmental challenges in order to establish a just, healthy and prosperous world.

The earth needs a good lawyer. And we’re the right people for the job.