I have been an “environmentalist” since I was a kid—before I knew that’s what it was called. I went camping for the first time when I was less than a year old, sleeping in a box on the floor of my grandparents’ vintage 1950’s fold-out tent-trailer in the pine forests of Central Wisconsin. From there, we graduated to the big, green canvas tent that leaked like a sieve, but smelled really good of pine pitch and other outdoor stuff. From various beat-up cars and pickup trucks my family traversed the Upper Great Lakes and Northwoods forests of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota many weeks and weekends every summer. I also tramped many miles in Northwoods and Midwestern prairies after a hunting dog and my dad on bright fall days. These things and a huge family garden were important for my family when growing up and tied me to the landscape more than most city kids.
I was a huge closet enviro-nerd growing up. I actually read field guides for birds, wildflowers, ferns, and fungi until I could recognize them on my many hikes in the wetlands and woods behind our house on the outskirts of Madison, Wisc. In third grade, I discovered a Sierra Club magazine that my dad brought home from his boss at one of his jobs. I read it cover to cover, cut out all the pictures and pinned them up. Also in third grade and around the same time as the first Earth Day , I coerced a bunch of girls with whom I was having a sleepover to engage in an “art project” that involved making “anti-pollution” buttons and signs. I then carted them all to school the following Monday and convinced the teacher that it would be great to have the class sport the buttons and signs while picking up trash on the playground—I’m surprised now I had any friends. Two things to take from that: I have been an environmentalist for a really long time and I am bossy (although we prefer the term “leader” these days).
I knew I wanted to go to law school as early as my teens—a funny choice given no one in my family had gone to college, much less law school. At my socio-economic level, we didn’t even know any lawyers. It was definitely the potential for crusading that drew me. In college, at the University of Wisconsin (where protest marching is standard extra-curricular activity), I continued the nerd streak. Three out of the four speeches I was required to give for my public speaking class involved the environment. While my early career was pretty standard law firm stuff, I never lost sight of working for the environment and every step along the way led me closer to that goal. Working for the attorneys general in Wisconsin and Minnesota allowed me to move into environmental protection-related work, including enforcement actions. Immediately prior to coming to Earthjustice in 2008, I was the legal director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy for more than eight years where I often had the privilege of representing and appearing in court on behalf of “clients” such as the Mississippi River, Lake Superior, countless wetlands and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Now, at Earthjustice, I get to work to protect Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier and numerous other outstanding national parks and wilderness areas, iconic species like orcas and salmon, and the scarce waters of the Northwest. My work has been as varied as cleaning up or shuttering old coal-fired power plants to reigning in wasteful overuse or illegal use of groundwater and surface water.
As an adult, my outdoor horizons have expanded, which is what ultimately drew me and my partner to the Northwest. I will never get tired of the natural world and working to protect it and consider it an incredible privilege to have that actually be my job.
Janette Brimmer spent most of the first 20+ years of her law career working to protect the forest, lakes, and prairies of Minnesota (with a brief stint in her home state of Wisconsin). Janette attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for both undergrad and law school, receiving her J.D. in 1986. Her law career has involved private practice, working for the Attorneys General of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and serving as the Legal Director for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. Janette also taught Environmental and Natural Resources Law at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota and at the University of Minnesota, College of Natural Resources. She intends to spend the next 20+ years (or more!) working to protect the Northwest. In her spare time she roots around in her garden, reads a ridiculous amount, romps with her two big dogs, and bikes, hikes and camps with her partner Rick.