Statement by Tom Kiernan, President and CEO of American Rivers, on the Passing of Brent Blackwelder

November 30, 2023

Brent Blackwelder was a lifelong advocate for environmental protection and a true champion for rivers. As one of the founders of American Rivers, and our first board chair, he built the foundation for our organization’s 50 years of success.  

In the early days of American Rivers, Brent fought the construction of massive dams, advocating for economic sensibility and conservation. In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, he organized the annual National Dam Fighters Conference, drawing advocates from across the country. As Brent described it, “We had to move fast or we would lose our best rivers. It was the golden age of dam building and we needed to fight back.” 

For example, in 1975 on North Carolina’s New River, Brent was instrumental in stopping a dam and reservoir that would have swallowed farmland and devastated river health. Brent and colleagues not only killed the dam, they also succeeded in securing Wild and Scenic designation for the river. This precedent-setting success proved river conservationists could beat harmful water projects and score big wins on a national level. 

Brent later served for many years as President of Friends of the Earth. He testified before Congress more than 100 times on environmental issues and was instrumental in instituting reforms to make the World Bank more conscious of environmental concerns.   

All of us at American Rivers are grateful for Brent’s vision and leadership. His legacy lives on in the many rivers he protected that remain clean and free-flowing, and in the diverse and powerful movement of river advocates that continues to grow across our country. 

About American Rivers   

American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on Rivers. For more information, please visit