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Brower, David Ross (1912 – 2000) American Environmentalist and Conservationist

David Ross Brower (1912 2000)
American environmentalist and conservationist

David R. Brower, the founder of both Friends of the Earth and the Earth Island Institute , has long been widely considered to be one of the most radical and effective environmentalists in the United States.

Joining the Sierra Club in 1933, Brower became a member of its Board of Directors in 1941 and then its first executive director, serving from 1952 to 1969. In this position, Brower helped transform the group from a regional to a national force, seeing the club's membership expand from 2,000 to 77,000 and playing a key role in the formation of the Sierra Club Foundation. Under Brower's leadership the Sierra Club, among other achievements, successfully opposed the Bureau of Reclamation's plans to build dams in Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado as well as in Arizona's Grand Canyon, but lost the fight to preserve Utah's Glen Canyon. The loss of Glen Canyon became a kind of turning point for Brower, indicating to him the need to take uncompromising and sometimes militant stands in defense of the natural environment . This militancy occasionally caused friction both between the groups he has led and the private corporations and governmental agencies with which they interact and also within the increasingly broad-based groups themselves. In 1969 Brower was asked to resign as executive director of the Sierra Club's Board of Directors, which disagreed with Brower's opposition to a nuclear reactor in California's Diablo Canyon, among other differences. Eventually reelected to the Sierra Club's Board in 1983 and 1986, Brower is now an honorary vice-president of the club and was the recipient, in 1977, of the John Muir Award, the organization's highest honor.

After leaving the Sierra Club in 1969, Brower founded Friends of the Earth with the intention of creating an environmental organization that would be more international in scope and concern and more political in its orientation than the Sierra Club. Friends of the Earth, which now is operating in some 50 countries, was intended to pursue a more global vision of environmentalism and to take more controversial stands on issuesincluding opposition to nuclear weaponsthan could the larger, generally more conservative organization. But in the early 1980s, Brower again had a falling out with his associates over policy, eventually resigning from Friends of the Earth in 1986 to devote more of his time and energy to the Earth Island Institute, a San Francisco-based organization he founded in 1982 and of which he is presently chairman.

Over the years, Brower played a key role in preserving wilderness in the United States, helping to create national park's and national seashores in Kings Canyon, the North Cascades, the Redwoods , Cape Cod, Fire Island, and Point Reyes. He also was instrumental in protecting primeval forests in the Olympic National Park and wilderness on San Gorgonio Mountain in California and in establishing the National Wilderness Preservation System and the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review, which resulted in the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

In his youth, Brower was one of this country's foremost rock climbers, leading the historic first ascent of New Mexico's Shiprock in 1939 and making 70 other first ascents in Yosemite National Park and the High Sierra as well as joining expeditions to the Himalayas and the Canadian Rockies. A proficient skier and guide as well as a mountaineer, Brower served with the United States Mountain Troops from 194245, training soldiers to scale cliffs and navigate in Alpine areas and serving as a combat-intelligence officer in Italy. For his service, Brower was awarded both the Combat Infantryman's Badge and the Bronze Star, and rose in rank from private to captain before he left active duty. As a civilian, Brower employed many of the same talents and abilities to show people what he has fought so long and so hard to preserve: he initiated the knapsack, river, and wilderness threshold trips for the Sierra Club's Wilderness Outings Program, and between 1939 and 1956 led some 4,000 people into remote wilderness.

Excluding his military service, Brower was an editor at the University of California Press from 1941 to 1952. Appointed to the Sierra Club Bulletin 's Editorial Board in 1935, Brower eventually became the Bulletin 's editor, serving in this capacity for eight years. He had been involved with the publication of more than 50 environmentally oriented books each for the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth, several of which earned him prestigious publishing industry awards. He wrote a two-volume autobiography, For Earth's Sake and Work in Progress. Brower also made several Sierra Club films, including a documentary of raft trips on the Yampa and Green Rivers designed to show people the stark beauty of Dinosaur National Monument, which at the time was threatened with flooding by a proposed dam.

Brower was the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees and serves on several boards and councils, including the Foundation on Economic Trends, the Council on National Strategy, the Council on Economic Priorities, the North Cascades Conservation Council, the Fate and Hope of the Earth Conferences, Zero Population Growth , the Committee on National Security, and Earth Day . He had twice been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Brower has promoted environmental causes around the globe, giving dozens of lectures in 17 different countries and organizing several international conferences. In 1990, Brower's life was the subject of a PBS Video Documentary entitled For Earth's Sake. He also was featured in the TV documentary Green for Life, which focused on the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Before his death on November 5, 2000, after battling bladder cancer , Brower was still actively promoting environmental causes. He devoted much of his time to his duties at the Earth Island Institute, and in promoting the activities of the International Green Circle. In 1990 and 1991, he led Green Circle delegations to Siberia's Lake Baikal to aid in its protection and restoration. Brower also lectured to companies and schools throughout the U.S. on Planetary Conservation Preservation and Restoration (CPR). His topics included land conservation, the economics of sustainability and the meaning of wilderness to science. Brower's book, Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run, includes a credo for the earth, which reflects what Brower had hoped to accomplish with his lectures and publications: "We urge that all people now determine that an untrammeled wilderness shall remain here to testify that this generation had love for the next."

[Lawrence J. Biskowski ]


RESOURCES

BOOKS

Brower, D. For Earth's Sake. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 1990.

. Work in Progress. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 1991.

PERIODICALS

Foster, C. "A Longtime Gadfly Still Stings." Christian Science Monitor (8 April 1991): 14.

McKibben, B. "David Brower: Interview." Rolling Stone (28 June 1990): 5962, 87.

Russell, D. "Nicaraguan Journey: The Archdruid at 76." Amicus Journal 11 (Summer 1989): 3237.

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