He was an environmentalist as well as a general aviation pilot. His efforts helped save the Grand Canyon where he ran with his dories, and his writing and other work helped preserve the tallest trees in California.
After a long life filled with adventure and passion, he died on November 30, 2014 at his Bay Area home in Portola Valley, California.
He was 97.
Mr. Litton understood that unimpassioned bureaucrats will generally do no good, especially if operating from a long distance and pressured to please those they are supposed to regulate. “People always tell me not to be extreme. ‘Be reasonable!’ they say. But I never felt it did any good to be reasonable about anything in conservation, because what you give away will never come back—ever.”
While being interviewed for A Fierce Green Fire, he described his fight to halt dams in the Grand Canyon with this classic line: “My attitude was always, be unreasonable. I mean, let’s not be nice. If you don’t have any hatred in your heart, what are you living on?”
In another interview, fellow Sierra Club director William Siri nioted: “Martin was never the environmental statesman, but he was fascinating as a speaker. He used colorful phrases, analogies and metaphors and they were often cutting, sometimes irresponsible. He never pulled his punches. He was never inhibited; if he felt something, he just said it.”
Bettina Boxall created a wonderful obituary at LA Times, including this paragraph: Litton’s big hands were most comfortable wrapped around dory oars or the controls of a small plane. He had piloted gliders loaded with troops and equipment during Allied invasions in Europe. Decades later he would fly politicians and journalists in his vintage Cessna 195 (pictured), skimming over redwoods or landscapes that needed saving, expounding on the glories of nature untamed.
“Nature has its rights,” he once said. “It has a right to be here untrammeled, unfettered. Man doesn’t have to screw everything up.“