The Battle Heats Up to Save Dinosaur National Monument from Dams and Philip Hyde’s Photographs Begin to See More Use
(Continued from the previous blog post, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 6.”)
In early 1953, finally David Brower proposed a Sierra Club campaign against the two proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument. The Sierra Club Board approved the campaign on the grounds that it was imperative to maintain the integrity of the National Park System. In May 1953 David Brower enlisted the donated services of Charles Eggert, a professional photographer, to make a quality film covering the river trips and promoting alternatives to the dams. Martin Litton, a pilot and Los Angeles Times editor and writer, who loved the outdoors and the Sierra from his youth, wrote a series of articles condemning the Colorado River Storage Project in the Los Angles Times. David Brower saw Martin Litton’s articles and convinced him to join the Sierra Club. Martin Litton then began to write articles for the Sierra Club Bulletin while continuing his editorial efforts with the Los Angeles Times.
This Is Dinosaur: Wallace Stegner, Philip Hyde and Martin Litton
In 1955 David Brower enlisted novelist and Stanford writing professor Wallace Stegner to write the forward and edit This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers. Philip Hyde’s photographs joined those of Martin Litton and others to illustrate the book. This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country and Its Magic Rivers was the first book ever published for an environmental cause. As a result, Wallace Stegner, who later won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Angle of Repose, became a writer and spokesman for the Sierra Club, and as a land preservation advocate in general. The proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument turned into a heated national debate in Congressional committees between development interests and an alliance of environmental coalitions including the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs and the Council of Conservationists. David Brower and the Sierra Club gathered and led the coalition of various organizations.
The environmental coalition rallied the American people around the idea of maintaining the integrity of the National Park System by not allowing any development in Dinosaur National Monument. The Sierra Club used what would become its standard strategy of publicizing, initiating a letter-writing campaign and encouraging recreational use of the threatened area. In 1950, about 13,000 people visited Dinosaur and only 50 of those by river. In 1954 nearly 71,000 visitors showed up, and more than 900 rafted Dinosaur’s canyons. Philip Hyde’s photographs of Dinosaur National Monument appeared with articles in National Geographic, the Sierra Club Bulletin, Life and other national publications. Martin Litton on his own wrote a series of articles not only for the Los Angeles Times but after he became managing editor of Sunset Magazine. He wrote articles for Sunset Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle on Dinosaur National Monument. Also independent from the Sierra Club, Bernard DeVoto wrote an article in the Atlantic Monthly that raised the national awareness about the Dinosaur controversy. As a result of these efforts Americans began to write letters and over 200 Members of Congress turned against the Colorado River Storage Project. A copy of This is Dinosaur landed on the desk of every member of the House, the Senate, most high-level management in the Department of Interior and newspaper editors nationwide.
The Glen Canyon Sacrifice
The Sierra Club maintained that the water storage and power generating capacity lost by eliminating the Dinosaur dams, could be made up downstream on the Colorado River by building the proposed Glen Canyon Dam higher. As David Brower’s team of volunteer engineers looked into the technical aspects, they calculated that the proposed Glen Canyon dam, if built higher, could store more water with less evaporation than the dams planned in Dinosaur National Monument. The Bureau of Reclamation argued that Echo Park would evaporate more than an enlarged Glen Canyon dam. David Brower’s team not only found errors in Bureau of Reclamation evaporation figures, but discovered flaws and miscalculations in the entire project. The proposed reservoirs in dry years would evaporate more water than they could store from wet years. Environmentalists ultimately won the battle to prevent dams in Dinosaur with the numbers that proved the economics unsound.
“They were trying to build so many dams to hold over storage from the wet years to the dry years that in the period it was held over it would have an enormous amount of evaporation and the water benefit would be negative,” David Brower said. “We were building excellent opposition to the whole project because its economics were now being shown to be faulty. Its hydrology—its engineering of the river—was becoming transparently faulty.” In the Congressional hearings David Brower used what he called ninth grade math to question the Bureau’s figures. “In the course of our looking into the project,” David Brower said at a water resources hearing in San Francisco, “We found it distressingly full of errors, contradiction, inconsistencies and very questionable arithmetic, which is slowly being admitted, item by item.”
Conservation Becomes Modern Environmentalism
In The History of the Sierra Club Michael Cohen said that a group of the leaders of conservation organizations, who called themselves the Council of Conservationists, accepted a donation from Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr., a longtime Sierra Club member and ran a full-page advertisement in the Denver Post on the eve of a meeting of the Upper Colorado River Basin development groups, who stood to gain from the building of the dams. The ad read, “Conservationists who have been leading this battle are NOT anti-reclamationists [not against dam building or against the Bureau of Reclamation], and are NOT fighting the principle of water use in the west.” It warned that their position was stronger than ever since the deficiencies of the proposal were now exposed, that the Dinosaur dams were “obviously extravagant” and “serve far more local political purposes than national economic purposes.” The ad further admonished that congressmen would have to explain an expensive, “controversial project far away,” in an election year. The campaign to save Dinosaur National Monument with it’s use of full-page advertisements coupled with a diverse strategy of publicity, a letter-writing campaign, Congressional lobbying and other political and activist tactics transformed conservation into modern environmentalism.
Congress rewrote the Upper Colorado Storage Project Bill without the dams in Dinosaur and inserted the phrase, “no dam or reservoir constructed under the authorization of this act shall be within any national park or monument.” The environmental groups withdrew opposition and the bill easily passed. David Brower and other conservation leaders afterward regretted that they did not continue opposition to the whole project and thereby save Glen Canyon. Martin Litton said, “If we hadn’t believed in ourselves, we never would have stopped the Dinosaur thing. If we had believed in ourselves enough, we would have stopped Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.” Wallace Stegner succinctly expressed that at the core of the controversy was the resource-based “development-minded corporate West.”
“Dinosaur was a great turning point in the Sierra Club’s interest and in other people’s interest in the canyon country,” Philip Hyde said. “The more people used the monument, the less power it gave the Bureau of Wreck-the-Nation. It was a turning point for them too. Before that they thought they had carte-blanche to go anywhere and do anything they wanted to, regardless of whether the area had been legally preserved or not. It also probably was a turning point in the use of rivers. People discovered that running rivers was great fun and a wonderful way to see the country. A few years later the Bureau reached for the Grand Canyon and got slapped down by letters and communications from all over the world.”
(CONTINUED IN THE BLOG POST, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 8.”)