Manager of Natural Resources Management, West Region | Guntersville, Ala.
When it comes to things wild and unruly, there’s little that David Brewster doesn’t grapple with in the course of his job. Rough-and-tumble wildlife like vultures, osprey, bears, beavers and other species? Check. Out-of-control aquatic weeds like hydrilla, milfoil and water hyacinth? Check. Property- and potentially life-threatening “danger trees”? Check. Invasive, scenery-chewing plants like kudzu, privet and honeysuckle? Check. Thoughtless humans dumping trash on precious public lands? Check.
Keeping things in line is all in a day’s work for Brewster, who takes it in stride. “The job that we do is managing 293,000 acres of public land. Many of those acres are intentionally not developed, to make sure they're available for public use—and in the best shape possible,” he says.
Some individuals, though, can be a right pain, as they are crafty and resilient. “We really have to look out for our property,” he explains. “People encroach on it; they cut trees on it, they build pools on it. They don’t do due diligence and watch where the property lines are. We’ve had a cases people have built entire houses on TVA property and those have had to go.”
Brewster chalks that up to human nature, and a willingness to consider that it’s easier to act than ask for permission. “We have to put on the black hat some of the time,” he acknowledges.
Still: “We’re more white hat than black hat,” Brewster says of himself and his 11-member team, which works the TVA west region extending from Watts Bar Reservoir to where the Tennessee River joins the Ohio at Paducah, Ky.
The team oversees important cultural and archaeological stabilization work; does public outreach and education; preserves endangered and rare ecological resources; improves recreational assets; maintains healthy boundaries; and creates ADA access to TVA assets and much more.
“It’s important that we are protecting and enhancing the natural resources we are entrusted to oversee,” Brewster says. “A lot of the work we are doing is leaving a better condition for future generations.”
As a Guntersvillian he is, of course, a fisherman, and one thing he enjoys as far as public outreach is educating people about fish. “We have a 700-gallon aquarium we take to certain outreach events to show the diversity of fish specific to the reservoir in that area,” he says. “People are fascinated to see the fish in their own backyard. A lot of people aren’t aware of the diversity we have here.
“It opens a discussion of what Natural Resources does in this region. People understand that TVA generates power, but maybe not that we manage all this land and shoreline. It opens a lot of eyes.”
Another fish-related outreach program he’s proud of is Cast for Kids, a charity TVA has partnered with that brings children with disabilities on fishing trips to reservoirs around the Valley. “To get on the boat with these kids and see the joy of taking their first boat ride or catching their first bluegill—I get emotional thinking about it,” Brewster says. “It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever been involved with at TVA.”
Another thing Brewster sees on a daily basis as a resident of Guntersville is cormorants, which have taken up residence on the lake. “They’re an invasive species; they used to migrate to the southern coast and Florida, but now they have these nice man-made reservoirs with great fisheries here in the Southeast U.S. Why migrate when the life is good?” he says. “My staff is in the middle of a research project with Mississippi State University assessing the effects of cormorants on native vegetation. We’re exploring how their excrement buildup changes the composition of the soil.”
This study, to Brewster and crew, is fascinating. “We’re all some form of ‘ologists,’ so it’s always interesting to us,” he says. “We deal with everything from pygmy snakes to algae to gray bats to mussels to bears, and we love it all.”
For his part, Brewster is a geologist who double majored in marine biology, which—land and water—made him a perfect fit for TVA Natural Resources. He’s home grown, having had his introduction to TVA during college through the Youth Adult Conservation Corps in the 1980s, of which TVA was then a part.
He started mowing meteorological stations, then participated in mosquito larvae counts. He worked as an aquatic plant biologist in the 90s, then as a land permitting specialist in the 2000s, then as a water quality specialist working with farmers on nonpoint source pollution. It was this well-rounded background that made him the perfect choice for team lead in the western region when the job came open in 2006.
Like so many Natural Resources employees, Brewster is an avid outdoorsman, who enjoys not only fishing, but hiking, birdwatching, camping and above all, hunting.
“I’m a big hunter, everything from deer to turkey, and I recently got my first bear in Alaska,” he says. “I travel to hunt—I’ve been to areas virtually untouched by man, where what you pack in is what you have to deal with, and you’re seeing species you’ve never seen before—so far removed from the daily churn, from modernization.”
That’s his ideal—and Kim, wife of 32 years, knows to expect him gone on weekends much of the time from October through January. But Brewster rues the fact that for so many others, the outdoors is foreign territory.
“A lot of people aren’t getting outdoors anymore, and that’s a shame,” he says. “What we’re trying to do with much of our outreach is plant a seed with people to get outside and enjoy what Mother Nature has out here, and utilize the land that was set aside for the people of the United States. We want you to come out and hunt, fish, bike, hike and camp on TVA land.”
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