The Next Generation of Eco Warriors

Last week, the Earth Island Institute feted six young activists at its annual Brower Youth Awards ceremony in San Francisco. Each year, the organization, founded by climber and firebrand David Brower, honors the country’s next generation of environmental leaders who are using creativity and community to launch grassroots campaigns in everything from water use to land conservation to environmental education.

As part of the non-profit’s New Leadership Initiative, which funds youth-led programs around the country, the BYA solicits hundreds of applicants. Then seven judges, including Energy Action Coalition founder and 2002 BYA awardee Billy Parrish, winnows them down to six. Winners receive $3,000 and get to participate in a week of environmental conferences and leadership training. This year’s recipients are an impressive lot, as always proving that age shouldn’t be a barrier for making positive change.

Jacob Glass, 21, backpacked through the remote Scotchman Peaks on the border on Montana and Idaho to shoot the documentary En Plein Air. The film shadows a pair of artists as they camp and paint their way through the rugged backcountry, one of the last and largest wild tracts in the northern Rockies. “Life’s simpler and harder out here,” says one of the painters. It’s that juxtaposition—and the juxtaposition of art and wilderness—that propelled the film to nationwide attention. It also highlights the efforts of local conservationists to secure federal wilderness protection for the Scotchman Peaks.

When Asa Needle was 13, he joined a local youth-run cooperative, Toxic Soil Busters, in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, where lead poisoning poses a serious health risk in many inner city parks and yards. Three years later, Needle is now the leader of the remediation team. Through soil testing and lead-free landscaping he and his fellow Soil Busters have restored more than 40 contaminated yards in urban Worcester.

Raised in a low-income, single-parent household, Maya Salsedo, 19, has always struggled with food insecurity. Her family had little or no access to healthy food or organics, and instead sourced much of their meals at local fast food chains. Last year, while working with the Earth Island Institute’s Rooted in Community project, Salsedo drafted the Youth Food Bill of Rights, which proclaims the right to—among other things—sustainable, culturally-affirming, local, fair, GMO-free, organic food; healthy school lunches; and government funding to support nutritional education for kids and families.

For more information about the Brower Youth Award winners and deadlines for 2013 applicants, go to

—Katie Arnold

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