Augusta, Maine—After more than two and a half decades at the helm of the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), Everett “Brownie” Carson will step down from his job as Executive Director later this year. Widely considered one of Maine’s most well respected voices on environmental policy, Carson joined the NRCM staff as a lawyer in 1983, and was promoted to the position of executive director in 1984.
Carson helped build the organization into the largest, most effective nonprofit advocacy organization working to protect Maine’s environment, wildlife, and people, and one of the most effective state-based environmental advocacy groups in the nation.
Under Carson’s tenure, NRCM’s staff has grown from seven to 23 and its supporters now number more than 12,000. The group has focused on informing and bringing together Maine citizens to make their voices heard on environmental issues, ranging from threats to Maine’s North Woods to protection and restoration of Maine’s rivers, clean energy initiatives, and laws to remove toxics from consumer products.
“My decision did not come easily, because I love this work and the people who are so much a part of it,” says Carson. “But I have decided to spend more time outdoors, hiking the mountains, paddling rivers, cycling back roads, sailing the coast, and exploring the back country and parks of this beautiful state. My wife, Dana, who has supported my efforts over the years, shares this passion for exploring—in Maine and beyond. My desire to spend more time with our daughters, my two older brothers, and other family and friends also influenced this important decision.”
“Brownie has been extremely effective at what he does because his feelings are genuine,” says Bill Houston, president of NRCM’s board of directors. “He speaks from his heart with a passion that connects him with people who share his values in protecting the environment that makes Maine so loved. Working with our board, staff and membership, Brownie has positioned NRCM well for the future and we are grateful to have had his powerful leadership for the so long.”
Under Carson’s leadership, NRCM has won some of the most significant victories for the protection of Maine’s waters, air, forests, and wildlife for future generations. In 1984, in his first major campaign after taking the helm at NRCM, Carson rallied the people of Maine to defeat the Big A dam that would have destroyed the West Branch of the Penobscot River, famous for its stunning beauty, world-class white-water rafting and prized salmon fishing. The battle ended successfully in 1986 with defeat of the proposed dam.
Another great victory for the people of Maine came in 1993, when Carson and his staff worked with local groups to fend off construction of a coal-fired power plant proposed for Bucksport, which would have caused serious air pollution problems for Waldo and Hancock counties, including Acadia National Park.
In 1999, Maine made national and international headlines when the 160-year-old Edwards Dam in Augusta was removed to restore a free-flowing Kennebec River. Its removal marked the first time the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruled that the ecological value of a free-flowing river was greater than the economic value of a dam, and ordered a dam removed. This followed 10 years of hard work and determination by Carson and others at NRCM, working with the kind of strong and diverse coalition Carson has become known for building. As a result, alewives, sturgeon, and other sea-run fish, along with Osprey, Bald Eagles, and other wildlife, now flourish in an additional 17 miles of free-flowing river and beyond.
During Carson’s tenure, NRCM helped pass many first-in-the nation laws, including the expansion of Maine’s Bottle Bill to include non-carbonated and alcoholic beverages, and a series of product stewardship laws that require manufacturers, rather than tax payers, to collect and safely recycle products that contain harmful chemicals. Now, other states are following Maine’s lead. NRCM has also worked to improve water quality by suing corporate polluters along the coast.
Carson, of Brunswick, a native of Lexington, Virginia, has lived in Maine since 1965 and spent many boyhood summers camping in Maine’s North Woods, canoeing the West Branch, and boating the coast with his family. He is a 1972 graduate of Bowdoin College and 1977 graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. During time away from Bowdoin in the late 1960s, he served as an infantry platoon commander in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Before his move to NRCM, he spent six years at Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which provides legal services to low-income Maine families.
Formed in 1959 by a handful of citizens committed to protecting the Allagash, NRCM quickly began to provide a strong voice for Maine’s environmental community in policy debates. Prior to Carson’s arrival, the group had already seen passage of major legislation, including the well known “billboard law” and the original “bottle bill,” both put in place to protect Maine’s scenic roads. Before the Carson years, and especially under his leadership, NRCM became an effective advocate for land protection, including the Land for Maine’s Future program, so that generations to come have access to the forests, lakes, seashore, and rivers that are essential to Maine’s identity and hold the key to the state’s economic future.
For his efforts, Carson has received numerous awards. In 2005, he received Bowdoin’s Common Good Award, which honors Bowdoin alumni who have “demonstrated an extraordinary, profound, and sustained commitment to the common good, in the interest and for the benefit of society.” That same year, Carson also received Down East magazine’s Environmental Award, for which the magazine described him as “an environmental leader of national stature,” and National Wildlife Federation’s National Conservation Achievement Award for exemplary leadership in protecting wildlife and natural resources.
Under Carson’s leadership, NRCM has earned dozens more awards, including the 2008 Cooperative Conservation Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the 2007 Climate Protection Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“There are many people who make NRCM the extraordinary organization we are today: a talented, committed, and courageous staff; a diverse and dedicated board; and loyal and generous members and activists, who are essential partners in taking care of Maine,” says Carson. “I have every confidence in a strong and vibrant future for NRCM. The organization faced great challenges in its first 50 years, and achieved important successes that stand today as landmark accomplishments.”
“On behalf of NRCM staff, board of directors, and the people of Maine, I offer deep gratitude,” says Houston. “We have all benefited tremendously from Brownie’s leadership on what have been some of Maine’s toughest environmental issues. Maine is a much better place, thanks to Brownie Carson’s leadership, vision, and commitment over these many years.”
NRCM’s board has appointed a committee to conduct a nationwide search for a new executive director for NRCM. Carson plans to continue his work until his successor is on board.