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The Campaign to Keep Dams Out of Dinosaur National Monument and the Birth of Modern Environmentalism in the United States 1
Revised April 5, 2006
San Francisco emerged from the Depression before World War II and flourished as the financial hub for development of the Western United States. In 1945 Bank of America became the largest bank in the world. Bechtel built Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in the early 1960’s, and by the 1970’s developed into the largest privately held corporation in the world.
Just up the hill from Kaiser, Bank of America, Bechtel, Utah Mining and Construction and others in San Francisco’s financial district, stood the Mill Towers headquarters of what developers called the “enemies of progress,” the Sierra Club. Before the 1950’s the Sierra Club had only a few thousand members, but in just two decades its numbers soared into the hundreds of thousands. While the West boomed after the War, the conservation movement transformed into modern environmentalism; adding the twist of public pressure through media, tourism, letter writing and lobbying on the national level of politics to the land protection ideals of the early conservationists such as writer and activist, Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, explorer, author and founder of the Sierra Club. Those who knew him said John Muir died of heartbreak over the loss of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to the dam builders. Hetch Hetchy, sister Valley to Yosemite, before the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioned a dam and flooded it, once contained waterfalls and verdant grottos lush with native grasses, trees, waterfowl and wildlife. The Sierra Club leaders after John Muir vowed to never let such a tragedy happen again.
Today, in the new millennium, an international trend toward removing dams is gaining momentum because dams rarely pay for themselves economically. Most dams, especially the larger ones, are economic losers without even factoring in the tremendous cost to ecosystems, fishing, tourism and other industries. Today scientists know that Rivers are the heart of the limited fresh water cycle on planet Earth. My dad, landscape photographer Philip Hyde, often ranted about “Big Dam Foolishness.” He said tomorrow’s wars would be over water and other limited resources. Dad came of age in the same era as the Sierra Club and corporate America.
After the Japanese dragged the U.S. into World War II by attacking Pearl Harbor, Dad, like many young men then, enlisted in the Army Air Corp. He did not begin service until the fall of 1943 because he had been enrolled in San Francisco City College. He took photography classes, but he was much more inclined toward his flight training courses because he wanted to be a pilot.
In the days leading up to the War, Martin Litton, later a prominent Sierra Club leader, famous river guide and pilot, wrote travel and editorial features for the Los Angeles Times. Martin Litton today is still an activist at age 94. He travels, speaks and writes articles for the campaign against logging Giant Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Monument, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park Service, and is next to Sequoia National Park. He said that before World War II, “the entire region of Glen Canyon and the Colorado River all the way up to the town of Escalante was proposed as Escalante National Park by FDR and the sexy-movie-star-turned-U.S. Congresswoman from California Helen Gahagan Douglas.”
In A Story That Stands Like a Dam, Russell Martin explained that the Roosevelt administration planned to “establish an enormous new preserve straddling the Colorado River and reaching from Lee’s Ferry, near the Utah-Arizona border, north and east all the way to the town of Moab, Utah, on the main stem of the river, and up the arm of the Green almost as far as the town of Green River, Utah. It would encompass 280 miles of the Colorado’s winding canyons, including all of Glen and Cataract canyons, 150 miles of the San Juan River, 4.5 million acres in all.”
The political climate changed during World War II and Escalante National Park died before it could become more than a proposal. “A lot of dirty work was done during the War,” Martin Litton said. “Various parts of government had projects up their sleeve that they wanted to do, but the public would not let them. They waited until the public was distracted or away and then they did things like the road through the paradise that was Malibu Canyon.” Michael Cohen in The History of the Sierra Club explained that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1943 had obtained “permission to survey a dam site within Dinosaur National Monument, on the grounds of national security and the need for power.” Dinosaur National Monument straddled the Utah-Colorado border at the upper end of the Colorado basin on the Green River and Yampa River, tributaries to the Colorado River. During the War 134 potential dam sites on the Colorado watershed became part of a study the Bureau of Reclamation published in 1946 called The Colorado River: A Comprehensive Report on the Development of Water Resources.
The same year, Dad freshly “separated” from the Army Air Corp and safely back in San Francisco, enrolled in the first summer class of Ansel Adams’ newly founded Photography Department at the California School of Fine Arts, later renamed the San Francisco Art institute. Also in 1946, Dad took classes at the University of California Berkeley where he fell in love with my mother, Ardis Marie King, of Sacramento. They married at the Clairmont Hotel in Berkeley on June 29, 1947.
Meanwhile three states away, in the remote northeast corner of Utah…
(CONTINUED IN BLOG POST, “Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 2“)