For those of us who treasure the wilderness and want to preserve every pristine particle in it, the death late last month of Martin Litton was a bit jolting. Sure, he was 97 years old and certainly lived what eulogies often refer to as “a full life.”
And by that, we’re talking about a controversial outdoorsman who filled that life with stints as a LA Times reporter, WWII glider pilot, nature photographer, river runner, curmudgeonly conservationist and devout environmentalist.
By comparison, Martin Litton makes the equally grey-bearded “Most Interesting Man in the World” beer commercial character look like an Iowa accountant.
National Geographic contributor Kenneth Brower recently wrote a glowing description of Litton, an environmental pioneer who, as a sideline, founded his own dory fleet business, running rivers in boats of his own design. (Fun fact: Litton holds the record as the oldest man to row the Grand Canyon, which he did at the age of 87.)
Brower’s must-read piece for National Geographic waxes poetic on the accomplishments of this amazing man. Below are a few highlights:
- It was Litton who first understood the damage that a Marble Canyon Dam would inflict on Grand Canyon National Park.
- It was Litton who uncovered U.S. Forest Service mismanagement of the giant sequoias of California.
- It was Litton who knew which stands of redwoods would make the best Redwood National Park, for he had scouted them all by foot.
- When things began to go wrong in Kings Canyon National Park, it was Litton who alerted the rest of us.
Brower writes that Litton, “and a handful of others launched the environmental movement as we know it — or at least how we once knew it — as combative and to be reckoned with.”
Barbara Boyle, a senior representative of the Sierra Club described the hard-charging environmentalist as “passionate, original, tempestuous, stubborn, charming, obnoxious, courteous, inappropriate, dogged, fiery, and impossibly effective.”
And Litton and his generation, “brought us the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Environmental Protection Act, a great expansion of national parks, and a raft of other good environmental legislation,” according to Brower.
Brower’s National Geographic article — Appreciation: Lessons From the Man Who Stopped Grand Canyon Dams — describes Litton’s life in much more detail, and we would encourage you to read it in its entirety.