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David Brower Legacy

A tireless defender of wild areas such as the Grand Canyon and the California redwood forests, David Brower helped define the modern environmental movement, distinguishing himself as one of the most inspiring leaders of the 20th century.

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David Ross Brower

“Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.”
— David Brower

A daring mountain climber, visionary leader, and passionate activist, David Brower — founder of Earth Island Institute — played a crucial role in creating the contemporary environmental movement.

In 1952, Brower became the first executive director of the Sierra Club. Brower helped breathe new life into the organization, which had lost much of its strength after the death of the group’s founder, John Muir. As head of the Sierra Club, Brower spearheaded campaigns to keep giant dams out of Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon. His advocacy led to the establishment of nine national parks and seashores, including Kings Canyon National Park, Redwoods National Park, and Point Reyes National Seashore. He played an instrumental role in passing the Wilderness Act of 1964.

One of Brower’s signature accomplishments was his innovative use of media technologies. Under his direction, the Sierra Club began publishing “exhibit format” books that combined exquisite outdoor photography with conservation messages, helping to raise environmental awareness. Brower was also one of the first activists to use full-page advertisements in prominent newspapers as a way of shifting public opinion and building grassroot support. These media campaigns, combined with Brower’s relentless organizing, gave shape to the nascent environmental movement. During Brower’s tenure as executive director of the Sierra Club, the organization’s membership went from 2,000 (mostly in California) to 77,000 across the US.

After leaving the Club’s staff in 1969, Brower went on to form the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth (which today has independent affiliates in 68 countries), and Earth Island Institute.

Brower’s life-long love of wilderness began with childhood family vacations to the Sierra Nevada, and as a young man, when he earned a reputation as a world-class mountaineer. He made 70 first ascents, and participated in a historic attempt on Mount Waddington in Canada, and the first ascent of New Mexico’s Shiprock. During World War II, Brower served in the legendary 10th Mountain Division in which he led daring assaults involving hazardous rock climbing to overcome enemy positions.

Brower’s passion for the Earth and its inhabitants earned him international respect. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times (in 1978, 1979, and 1998, jointly with professor Paul Ehrlich). In 1998, Brower received the Blue Planet Prize for his lifetime achievements. Author John McPhee made Brower the subject of his best-selling book, Encounters with the Archdruid.

David Brower passed away in 2000 at age 88. At his memorial service, many people recalled one of Brower’s favorite quotes about himself, a comment by Russell Train, EPA Administrator under President Nixon: “Thank God for Dave Brower; he makes it so easy for the rest of us to be reasonable.”

Today, Earth Island Institute continues Brower’s legacy through our annual Brower Youth Awards, which highlight the accomplishments of bold, young environmental leaders. In early 2009 we moved in to the David Brower Center, an ecologically sustainable building in Brower’s hometown of Berkeley, California that serves as a home to leading environmental groups.