David Ross Brower was born in Berkeley, California on July 1, 1912. He first visited the High Sierra’s and Yosemite National Park when he was only six years old, and by the mid 1930s, he had become nationally known for his climbing and ski-mountaineering exploits, credited with 70 first ascents in the Western United States. In the late 1930s, as a key organizer in the campaign to create Kings Canyon National Park, Brower began a career that had a profound impact on America’s wild lands. Joining the Sierra Club in 1933, Mr. Brower had an immediate impact, becoming a member of its board of directors in 1941, and serving as the organization’s first executive director from 1952 to 1969.
It was in these and other roles that Brower played a significant role in protecting our national parks system from dams and reservoirs. As a first major accomplishment, Brower successfully led the fight to keep a dam from being built that would have flooded Dinosaur National Monument on the Upper Colorado River. In the battle to preserve that place and our parks system as a whole, however, it was agreed that a dam and reservoir would be built in lesser known and recognized Glen Canyon.
“America’s Most Regretted Environmental Mistake”
After this compromise had been agreed upon, Mr. Brower went to see Glen Canyon. He had heard from those familiar with the area that Glen Canyon was a treasure worth preserving for future generations; he realized once he arrived that this was not a place for a reservoir. David Brower declared that flooding Glen Canyon under the depths of a stagnant reservoir would come to be America’s most regretted environmental mistake. He worked hard to stop Glen Canyon Dam from being completed and was only a few feet from the desk of decision makers the day the gates on the dam were closed, making one last attempt to keep the waters of the Colorado River from flooding the spectacular Glen Canyon.
Grand Canyon Dams Victory
Together with Eliot Porter and the Sierra Club, Brower created the book, “The Place No One Knew,” as a testimony to Glen Canyon’s unparalleled beauty and as a reminder of the value of wild and natural places. From his fights to save Glen Canyon, David Brower went on to keep dams out of Marble and Grand Canyons for generations to come. Quickly rising to define the modern environmental conservation movement, Brower’s tactics were well planned and to the point. The most famous of his “Grand Canyon Battle Ads” asked readers “Should We Also Flood the Sistine Chapel So Tourists Can Get Nearer the Ceiling?” which sparked a nation-wide protest against the planned dam project in the Canyon.
In 1969, Brower founded Friends of the Earth (FOE), where he created the League of Conservation Voters, and initiated the founding of independent FOE organizations in several countries. FOE now has branches in sixty-six countries.
Brower was re-elected to the Sierra Club board in 1983, 1986, 1995, and 1998, helping to create national parks and seashores in Kings Canyon, the North Cascades, the Redwoods, the Golden Gate, Great Basin, Alaska, Cape Cod, Fire Island, and Point Reyes. He also helped to protect primeval forests in Olympic National Park, and wilderness on San Gorgonio. Brower was instrumental in the Sierra Club’s decision to support decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam and restore the integrity of the Colorado River in Glen and Grand Canyons. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts three times (in 1978, 1979 and again in 1998–jointly with Professor Paul Ehrlich). He was also the founder and Chairman of Earth Island Institute and led conservation battles until his death at age 88 in November, 2000.
Reversing “America’s most regretted environmental mistake”
In 1996, David Brower joined the board of the fledgling Glen Canyon Institute. In October, 1998, David Brower was awarded the Blue Planet Prize for his environmental accomplishments. The Blue Planet Prize is awarded annually by the Asahi Glass Foundation of Japan and is the richest environmental prize in the world. He used part of the prize money in a challenge grant to help the still young Glen Canyon Institute develop and work toward its stated mission to restore a free-flowing Colorado River through Glen and Grand Canyons. David Brower never forgot the importance and splendor of Glen Canyon, the heart of the Colorado River, and remained a strong supporter of draining Lake Powell Reservoir and restoring Glen Canyon throughout his life.
Click here to watch a two minute segment from Let the River Run, featuring David Brower’s original footage of Glen Canyon.