Mark Dubois

Motivated by Love

Recorded: October 9, 2012

No love was greater than Mark's love for the Stanislaus River. When the river was threatened with a dam, Mark was driven to chain himself to a rock to keep the river from being flooded. His epic battle was lost, but he continued to fight for California rivers with greater success.

As a co-founder of Friends of the River and the International Rivers Network, Mark Dubois has long been a leader in river conservation. In 1979, he captured national headlines when he chained himself to the bedrock of the Stanislaus River Canyon as a new reservoir filled. While his action forced only a temporary reprieve for the Stanislaus, the growing movement to protect rivers brought a halt to major dam building in the United States.

Mr. Dubois was international coordinator for Earth Day 1990 & 2000, events that involved 200 million people from 184 countries. He coordinated ten consecutive lobbying efforts at World Bank/IMF annual meetings, and founded WorldWise, a grassroots campaign for international development bank reform.

A wonderful interview with Mark can be found at conducted by Richard Whittaker.

Mark Dubois: My parents were able to get a old mining claim on the south fork of the Trinity River and we went up there, you had to hike in a mile to get there and we’d you know in this little one room cabin, we – that’s where I felt most comfortable. I didn’t feel very comfortable in the city, but I just loved being out there, right. And then along the way, I started – I got involved in caving and the first caves I found were along this river called the Stanislaus. And little did I know that place would just seduce me and draw me in and I just fell in love and fell in love and fell in love and it became the most amazing teacher of my life. It became every relationship I’d ever had on the planet in human form was wrapped up in this place. It was teacher, mentor, lover, student, you know parent guide, you know it was all those things.

Mark Dubois: And so you know when Jerry Meral asked me to you know “Hey, we’re going to do this thing called [unintelligible], how’d you like to coordinate Sacramento?” “Oh sure, I can’t coordinate myself, but you know a couple hours a day.” Like the river that has the tongue and at some point you enter the tongue and you can never go back. Well, by saying yes to him, it swept me into all these different – so every year we had a different campaign and we kept losing, every year a new campaign and we kept losing. And at one point, we were – we had gone up to the river to mourn our losses and to plan the next campaign and we did the mourning and we didn’t figure out what was next. But the next morning I got up and I hiked up Will Hollow Creek and out of this limestone creek, the water was dripping crystal clear and the grape vines were reaching out, the water was crystal clear, the butterflies were crossing and at that moment I knew I didn’t have a choice, that if I turned away as disastrous as the odds were, I’d be like the people in Germany. I’d be turning a blind eye to what I knew.

Mark Dubois: By then I had learned the economics, the politics, I knew that it had been a great idea; you know I’m coming out of building and building and building but now we knew better. Now I knew the water was going to be wasted, it wasn’t adding that much. And so the next phase, I have no idea when it came to me but at some point I knew that well if you’re going to flood 9 million years worth of evolution, you might as well take one other critter with you. We get the word, sure enough the Army Corp is planning on violating the Supreme Court mandate that you know your team had helped take to the Supreme Court saying “States have the rights to determine and the state of California said we don’t need the water so we’re not going to fill it until we need it.” They were going to violate that because the court wanted to get out of it. They wanted to test their turbines and move on.

Mark Dubois: So they were going to be violating a Supreme Court mandate and I’m going “this is the time.” Our geek who knew how to read those thick books came in and said “Mark, the water’s going to be up on Monday morning.” And so now I’m in sheer panic because I have no idea how you even attach yourself to a rock. By the next morning I had drafted my letter and my friends were typing, I went over to the hardware store and I always had preferred truth and this was an awkward situation “Well do you have a – how do you attach mining equipment if there was only bedrock?” And so I learned how to do a star drill and poke a hole in the poor rock. And when I came back I took my letter and I ended up dropping it to the Army Corp, but as I dropped the one at Jerry Brown’s office, right outside his window Peter Behr had helped plant the tree that 20 people had hiked down and this Toyon was the only living thing in the lower Stanislaus, everything else was under the reservoir. And as I came out, I went to that little shrub and it had grown. And in that moment it was the most, the most powerful experience in my life. I realized it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter whether I was around for 100 years or 1 week. By not being afraid, by speaking for life with all of my life, it didn’t matter. It was the most interesting. It was the most interesting sensation I’ve ever had. And so with that, I was now instead of the panic of what to do, the rest became details.

Mark Dubois: So the next morning I was apparently on the front page of the New York Times and the San Jose Mercury and the word got out. We kept trying as you know, you know we did another statewide initiative; we tried a number of things and ultimately while we were in the midst of an initiative that would have not only protected the Stanislaus, it would have done ground water, in stream rights and water conservation. But ultimately, the year we were doing the initiative there was an unusual flood in that which would have taken 8 years, who, filled the reservoir in one year and just took all of our hearts away and we you know, sank us a bit. So I’ll say that you know I went up and I knew I had to…be with the loss. So I remember going up and the first and the first thing I thought, I just broke into tears. Anyway, it was worse than we could have imagined so we lost.

Mark Dubois: And three years later the Tuolumne got saved and at the celebration for the Tuolumne someone said “Whoa yeah, we’re honoring so and so and all these people,” oh and we need to honor the Stanislaus because its loss helped all these politicians come on board. And three years later the 3 rivers got saved and this time instead of when I was there “Yeah we’ll help you conserve a river, we’ll dam it up.” This time, politicos, congressmen were trying to get more miles of river protected for Kings Canyon in Merced. So it was like I knew we had come this vast distance. We had been a part of shifting the consciousness and connectedness of what’s going on with rivers.