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David R. Brower

David Brower 1912 - 2000  
  • First Executive Director of the Sierra Club, frequently quoted Muir, and encouraged modern recognition of his legacy.
  • David Brower was a leading figure in campaigns to keep dams out of Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon; and to promote establishment of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and Redwood and North Cascades National Parks.
  • Brower, when asked in an interview how he was introduced to wilderness, said: "Through the reading of John Muir. Muir told me about wilderness."
  • In documentary films and writings, Brower encouraged others to appreciate and protect wilderness. Brower created the Sierra Club's Exhibit Format series of coffee-table books - the first of their kind. Beginning with This is the American Earth, featuring photographs by Ansel Adams and other photographers, and with evocative text by Nancy Newhall, the series moved to color photography and became very successful in introducing the public to the ideals of wilderness preservation. Brower deeply understood the use of the media (large, coffee-table books with lots of pictures, as well as films, posters, and other media). (Unfortunately, the Sierra Club no longer publishes Sierra Club Books.)

  • Brower wrote many essays and book introductions for the Exhibit Format series, including introductions for the 9th book in the series, Gentle Wilderness, featuring photographs by Richard Kauffman and text by John Muir. That book incorporated extensive excerpts from Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra. Brower also wrote the forward to the Sierra Club Library edition of Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra.

  • David Brower at Hetch Hetchy in November of 1999Inspired by John Muir, in 1955 he created a film about Hetch Hetchy,Two Yosemites (YouTube). The film depicts two "crown jewels" of Yosemite National Park: Yosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy Valley on the same day. In Yosemite Valley, trees, meadow grasses, wild flowers, waterfalls, and wildlife are all available for public enjoyment as part of the national park experience. However, the only two human visitors [Dave Brower and professional photographer Philip Hyde] to visit Hetch Hetchy Valley on this day are met with a grotesque "moonscape" of a field of stumps, and a sandstorm from the barren landscape. This contrast was despite San Francisco's grandiose claims that the beauty of Hetch Hetchy would be "improved," and its never fulfilled promise that public recreation on the reservoir in the form of boating and swimming would be available. Dave Brower's classic film was one aspect of his fifty-year effort to encourage the restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley. Brower stated: "From his earliest Sierra days John Muir [saw] the importance of building a constituency to protect Yosemite. If people knew about a special place, they would want to protect it." [Foreword by Dave Brower to Muir's book, The Yosemite, p. xv, Sierra Club Books, San Francisco, 1988].
  • In an interview six months before his death (May 27, 2000), Brower said: "I think this [damming the Hetch Hetchy Valley] is one of the biggest mistakes ever made in California, and I just want to see it back the way it was, the way I learned from John Muir, the way he wanted to see. And, I got the idea from him, and I can't break that idea. When I read what John Muir had said about Hetch Hetchy, I felt as desperate as he did. And, I didn't think anything could be done about it. So, I just gave up. But, that was the last time I gave up on anything (laughter). Back when I first saw this (O'Shaugnessy Reservoir), I thought it had been destroyed for all our time, and I'm sorry I gave up that soon. We have to re-think what rivers are about. Muir knew why they existed. And, I've learned since then that rivers have a purpose. One of the purposes is to flow from the mountains to the sea. And, they shouldn't be interrupted in their way."
  • Brower instituted a series of Biennial Wilderness Conferences, and frequently published proceedings from these conferences.
  • On his death in 2000, Dave Phillips, Executive Director of Earth Island Institute, said, "Dave Brower is a latter-day John Muir." Of course, as his son Kenneth Brower says, "He got a lot of that "Muir reincarnate" stuff from the press, especially with his early Sierra Club victories against dams in Dinosaur National Monument and Grand Canyon.  He was flattered by the comparison, of course, but not crazy about it.  He preferred to be the first incarnation of Dave Brower and the first coming of himself."
  • Brower was one of four modern environmentalists who shared Muir's vision profiled in the recent National Geographic Society book, John Muir: Nature's Visionary by Gretel Ehrlich.
  • After leaving the Sierra Club, Brower founded Friends of the Earth, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Earth Island Institute. In his last year of his life, he was a founding board member of Restore Hetch Hetchy, a campaign organization urging the restoration of the valley that Muir fought a losing campaign to save. John Muir inspired Brower to advocate restoration of Hetch Hetchy Valley (off-site link).
  • An excellent documentary film telling the story of Brower's life, and using many of his 16 mm movie images of wild places from the 50's and 60's, is Monumental: David Brower's Fight for Wild America. (YouTube Film Trailer)

  • Sometimes controversial for his decisive stands in favor of environmental protection, Brower was profiled in John McPhee's excellent book, Encounters with the Arch-Druid. A more comprehensive , and excellent biography is 2015's David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement by Tom Turner, as well as 2016's The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower by Robert Wyss. Brower's son Kenneth, a prolific environmental writer, has written an intimate portrait of his father: The Wildness Within: Remembering David Brower by Kenneth Brower.



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