Politics & Government

Senators want to name California peak after late Sierra Club leader

WASHINGTON — California's two Democratic senators want to rename a prominent Sierra Nevada peak after David Brower, reigniting debate over the legacy of the late Sierra Club leader.

Beloved in some circles, despised in others, Brower shaped the national environmental movement for several volatile decades. He also relished climbing glacial peaks like North Palisade, which at 14,242 feet is the fourth tallest in California.

"Naming the North Palisade Peak after David Brower is a fitting tribute to a man who loved the High Sierra and all of America's wilderness," Sen. Barbara Boxer declared in a statement.

Boxer joined her colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, in introducing the legislation this week that would convert North Palisade into Brower Palisade. The mountain abuts Kings Canyon National Park in easternmost Fresno County.

"David Brower was a true champion for the environment," Feinstein stated, adding that renaming the peak "will be a lasting reminder of (his) leadership and lasting contributions to the environmental community."

Feinstein and Boxer began crafting the bill after being contacted in May by state Attorney General Jerry Brown, who in turn had been urged to make the name change by a group calling itself the Committee for Brower Palisade.

But not everyone loves environmental zeal, and among the skeptics is the congressman whose district includes the proposed Brower Palisade. Conservative Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, was unenthusiastic when informed by The Bee about the senators' bill.

"I probably wouldn't support something like that. ... I would prefer it not to be in my district," Nunes said. "The radical environmentalists' agenda is hurting my constituents."

Congress has considerable experience naming and renaming objects. Sometimes, it's easy work. On Tuesday, for instance, the House approved renaming a post office in Jamestown, N.Y., after a former Democratic congressman and lieutenant governor.

Natural and geographic features, though, are different.

Colorado lawmakers, for instance, tried four years ago to rename a national wildlife refuge after former Democratic congresswoman Pat Schroeder. The effort fizzled.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, comprised of civil servants from different federal agencies, customarily takes the lead in assigning names to natural features. The board, which has extensive rules governing geographic names, has not received a proposal to honor Brower.

"Congress rarely names or renames natural features because it recognizes that (the board) was established precisely to handle such a responsibility," noted Lou Yost, executive secretary of the Board on Geographic Names.

Old names, moreover, can have their own appeal.

Truckee resident Craig Dostie, an experienced ski mountaineer and currently senior editor of Backcountry magazine, acknowledged Wednesday that he retains a "sentimental attachment" to the name North Palisade. He associates the name with vivid memories, noting the climb to the peak is "not for the faint of heart."

At the same time, Dostie also greatly admires Brower, who was on the first team to make a winter ascent of North Palisade.

"We cringe (at the change)," Dostie said. "On the other hand, we don't think it's a bad thing."

Named the first executive director of the Sierra Club in 1952, following World War II service with the Army's 10th Mountain Division, Brower later went on to help found Friends of the Earth and the League of Conservation Voters. Over many years, Brower's organizational offspring have alternately inspired and infuriated Californians.

Brower and his allies helped establish the Redwoods National Park and the Point Reyes National Seashore, among other preserves. They have also challenged, on occasion, some of the same lawmakers now being asked to honor Brower's memory. The Sierra Club, for instance, sought unsuccessfully in 2002 to defeat the powerful Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee.