Martin Litton: Environmentalist, Conservationist, Sierra Club Director, Bush Pilot, River Guide, Hiker, Writer, Journalist, Visionary and Landscape Photographer
Continued from the blog post, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 1.”
See the photograph larger here: “Avenue Of The Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.”
After seeing Martin Litton’s feature articles in The Los Angeles Times protesting proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument, David Brower recruited the young journalist to join the Sierra Club and continue the fight against dam building and other wilderness degradation in earnest.
Martin Litton and Philip Hyde made the landscape photographs of Dinosaur National Monument that became the Sierra Club book, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers with introduction and chapter one by Pulitzer Prize novelist Wallace Stegner. The controversy over the dams in Dinosaur National Monument, along with the first quality images of the area brought home by Philip Hyde and eloquent arguments by Martin Litton in Sierra Club Board Meetings, prodded the Sierra Club Board of Directors to decide to expand the interests of the Sierra Club beyond California and the Sierra Nevada.
The battle over Dinosaur not only made the Sierra Club a national organization, but also brought the cause of conservation national recognition. A number of conservation groups including the Wilderness Society and others formed a coalition of organizations opposing the Dinosaur National Monument dams. The conservation ideals exemplified by visionaries such as Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir, were combined with new lobbying efforts, grassroots on location campaigning, full-page ads in national newspapers and other methods that became modern environmentalism.
The Dam Builders Reach For The Grand Canyon
“Post-War industrialists in league with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation found their high water mark when they reached for the Grand Canyon,” Philip Hyde explained in a 2004 interview. “World wide citizen action prevented Big Dam Foolishness from getting a foothold in the Grand Canyon. Dam builder’s influence declined from then on.” Today, there is a world-wide movement to remove dams on major rivers, but in the 1950s and 1960s, conservation groups did not yet have much power. David Brower, leader of the new environmental movement and Executive Director of the Sierra Club, and Martin Litton hatched a plan to stop the Grand Canyon dams. They organized a river trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. The river trip participants included the who’s who of the day in landscape photography, geology, ecology and other sciences and disciplines. Martin Litton acted as lead boatman, Francois Leydet joined the trip as a writer, Eliot Porter and Philip Hyde as photographers, David Brower as filmmaker, to mention only a few. Their creative efforts and scientific observations became the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series book, Time And The River Flowing: Grand Canyon. The book went out to every member of Congress and with other written material circled the globe and caused a worldwide outpouring of support for saving the Grand Canyon.
Also on Martin Litton’s list of conservation successes was the making of Redwood National Park. The centerpiece of the redwoods campaign, the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series book The Last Redwoods: Photographs And Story Of A Vanishing Scenic Resource with text by Francois Leydet and photographs again by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton, helped the Sierra Club establish its argument for a Redwood National Park between the California state parks along Redwood Creek where the largest redwoods remained rather than a Redwood National Park proposed by Save The Redwoods League that merely combined existing state parks. Read more on the Redwoods campaign and the making of The Last Redwoods with Martin Litton and Philip Hyde in future blog posts.
Martin Litton was the 185th known person to float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1955 and founded the company Grand Canyon Dories in 1971. He ran commercial river trips using small oar-powered wooden boats originally used for fishing in Oregon and known as drift boats, but adapted by Martin Litton for use in whitewater and renamed Grand Canyon Dories. Martin Litton wrote the introduction to a number of noted books on the Grand Canyon and other environmentally sensitive wilderness areas and national parks, as well as working as managing editor for Sunset Magazine. During his work for Sunset Magazine, Martin Litton used various made up names in print for his photo credits because Sunset Magazine did not want him to actively participate in controversial environmental campaigns.
At Age 94 Martin Litton Is Still Fighting For Redwoods
Though history has not given Martin Litton as much credit as others, at the present age of 94 he continues to work on various environmental campaigns and fly his Cessna 195. He even rowed a Dory through the Grand Canyon at age 90. Martin Litton held a seat on the Sierra Club Board of Directors from 1964 to 1973. He helped found the American Land Conservancy and served on its executive committee for 10 years. In 2005 he ran as a write-in candidate for the Sierra Club Board of Directors, but he did not win the election. His current focus is preventing the logging of Giant Sequoia Redwood Trees in Sequoia National Monument. See an excerpt from the recent film on Martin Litton. He still speaks regularly on conservation, often with outrage at the logging of the Giant Sequoia Trees:
The mission of the Forest Service is to get rid of all the nation’s forests so they can start over. Under the guise of removing hazardous trees, they are taking out all the dead trees that are serving as homes for woodpeckers and owls. Their credo is to remove trees that are dead, dying, or in danger of dying. That’s every tree in the world… I feel sorry for my grandchildren. The only true optimist is a pessimist. You have to realize how bad things are before you can improve them.
Stay tuned for excerpts from my fiery interview of Martin Litton in the next blog post in this series, “Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 3.” Also in future blog posts read more stories of Philip Hyde and Martin Litton working or traveling together: a river trip up the Klamath River, down the Colorado river, flying over the California Coastal Redwoods, through Grand Canyon National Park.