Posts Tagged ‘Big Dam Foolishness’

Martin Litton: David Brower’s Conservation Conscience 2

October 7th, 2011

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.”

Chiaroscurro, Sun Through Fog, Avenue Of The Giants, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California, copyright 1964 by Philip Hyde. First published in "The Last Redwoods: Photographs And Story Of A Vanishing Scenic Resource," by Francois Leydet with photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton, in the Sierra Club Exhibit Format Series.

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.

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 1

January 24th, 2010

Steamboat Rock, Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado, 1951, by Philip Hyde, published in “This Is Dinosaur” edited by Pulitzer Prize winner, Wallace Stegner.

(See the photograph full screen: Click Here.)

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“)