updated 4/26/2005 9:01:59 AM ET 2005-04-26T13:01:59

Sierra Club members Monday flatly rejected a change in the group’s policies that would have advocated reducing immigration to the United States as a way to protect the environment.

The proposal was defeated by nearly 84 percent of the 122,308 members who voted, the club announced. About 16 percent of the club’s more than 750,000 members cast ballots during voting that began in early March.

Members also elected five new members to the 15-member board of directors, which sets club policy and oversees the San Francisco-based organization’s $100 million annual budget.

Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization, a network of club activists seeking stricter immigration limits, backed a “yes” vote and five of its own candidates; none won a board seat.

Advocates of stricter immigration said the U.S. population, now about 300 million, is expected to more than double this century if nothing is done to slow growth. They said overpopulation has led to a variety of environmental problems, including exploitation of resources, the erosion of wilderness areas and species extinction.

“I think there’s a lack of understanding of the sheer magnitude of the problem,” Dick Schneider, a supporter of the immigration proposal, said after its defeat. “The connection between population and environmental degradation is so clear-cut that it’s a natural issue for the Sierra Club to be involved in.”

Opponents, including many current and former club leaders, argued that wading into the politics of immigration would alienate allies such as labor unions and civil rights groups, and will not slow population growth worldwide.

“Our members have once again displayed great wisdom and made their views perfectly clear,” Sierra Club president Larry Fahn said in a statement. “Now we can put our focus back where it is needed most, into strengthening communities and building alliances to protect our environment for our families and our future.”

The vote against the immigration question was 102,455 to 18,998. Some members voted for directors but did not cast votes on the proposal.

The club, founded by famed conservationist John Muir in 1892, has debated its position on immigration for years and in 1998 voted to remain neutral.

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