The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 8

May 20th, 2011 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, The Escalante Wilderness And Other Regional Repercussions Of The Battle Over Dinosaur National Monument

(FROM THE CATEGORY, “Excerpts Of New Book,” CONTINUED FROM THE BLOG POST, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 7.”)

Anasazi Grain Storage In The Sandstone, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 1951 by Philip Hyde.

The reservoirs on the Colorado River are currently at all-time lows because they lose more water annually to evaporation and seepage than they conserve, especially in drought years. Water and its management will increase in political prominence in the future as populations grow and the supply of water as a resource declines. The Glen Canyon Institute today is campaigning to have Glen Canyon Dam bypassed. As water in the Western United States grows more and more scarce, this idea is destined to gain momentum.

Immediately after the dams in Dinosaur National Monument were dropped from the Upper Colorado River Storage Project and the corresponding bill passed both houses of Congress, David Brower, still in Washington, spoke by telephone to a group of Sierra Club Board Members back in San Francisco, urging them to continue the fight and remain in opposition to Glen Canyon Dam. Unfortunately, in The History of The Sierra Club, Michael Cohen explained, “Bestor Robinson felt that such a purist stand would result in defeat, since the Club had made a compromise, saying in effect that the Bureau of Reclamation could have Glen Canyon. Bestor Robinson later said that ‘if you didn’t have the Grand Canyon then Glen Canyon should be preserved’; but, he argued, ‘the trade-off was necessary.’” For more about how long it took to fill Glen Canyon and other Glen Canyon miscalculations and mistakes, see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.”

The Virtues And Vices Of Compromise

“Bestor Robinson was worse than a compromiser,” Martin Litton said. “It was as if he were on the other side. The point is, no matter how hard you fight, you are going to end up with a compromise. If you start with a compromise, you have lost. Richard Leonard, Sierra Club President, believed the compromise had to be kept if the Sierra Club was to maintain credibility.”

Martin Litton said that Richard Leonard expressed concern in Sierra Club Board Meetings that Congress would be convinced the ‘preservationists’ were unreasonable.

“Richard Leonard was afraid we would be accused of suggesting the waste of the ‘entire Colorado River,'” Martin Litton said. “He thought Congressmen would say conservationists intended the Colorado River to be ‘unused’ and allowed to flood away into Mexico and the Gulf of California, as if that would have been so bad.” Studies now show that the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, is dying because its salt content has increased to unnatural levels with less and less fresh water from the Colorado River reaching it.

“Richard Leonard believed that the Sierra Club would not have been able to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon if Glen Canyon Dam had not been built,” said Martin Litton. “I disagreed with him. We had the public’s confidence in us, and we had the nation on our side as a result of Dinosaur. We could have carried that momentum right through the whole Colorado River system. I don’t mean there never would have been any pressures, but there wouldn’t have been any dam or reservoir once we got the great Escalante National Park.”

The Proposed Escalante National Park

Escalante National Park had been discussed by some members of Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt much earlier before World War II. It would have surrounded the entire area of Glen Canyon, the Escalante Wilderness and thousands of additional acres in the region. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II, Congress turned its attention to more pressing matters and Escalante National Park never materialized beyond the idea stage, not even as a proposal. Escalante National Park would have saved Glen Canyon. The Escalante Wilderness finally became officially part of the National Park System in 2000. President Bill Clinton signed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into existence on his last day in office. An act that enranged off-road vehicle users and local Utah anti-wilderness conservatives. The main drawback to President Bill Clinton’s National Monument is that under political pressure, he designated the new Monument under Bureau of Land Management care rather than the National Park service. The two agencies have significantly differing policies regarding their care and preservation of wilderness lands. President Bill Clinton compromised.

David Brower wrote in his autobiography about Glen Canyon, “My own bitter lesson there was that you don’t give away something that you haven’t seen; you don’t suggest alternatives until you’ve been there.”

The Green River, Yampa River And This Is Dinosaur

In 2005, the runoff was again higher than normal after years of drought, helping the reservoirs of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Storage Projects to recover from severe depletion. On the Green River below Steamboat Rock in Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, a river crew lifted a white three-pontoon river raft up the beach to the truck. The side of the boat’s inflatable outer pontoon said, “Outward Bound.”

The Outward Bound crew was one of hundreds of groups that float through the Dinosaur National Monument river canyons now every summer. Back when Philip Hyde ran the Green River and Yampa River, the Sierra Club had just overcome the myths of unknown danger and begun to prove to the American people that rafting through Dinosaur National Monument was safely possible.

Ardis and Philip Hyde ran the Yampa River in 1955 with a Sierra Club group. By then, many Sierra Club and other groups had run the Yampa River and the Green River since the first Sierra Club trip braved the canyons in the summer of 1951. That same year, 1951, Philip Hyde covered Dinosaur National Monument by land. It was the first photography assignment on behalf of an environmental cause. The Sierra Club sent Philip Hyde to see what Dinosaur National Monument had to offer and whether it was worth saving. Philip Hyde’s assignment and a group of essays by prominent river guides and naturalists of the time became the book This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers with introduction and a first chapter by Wallace Stegner and documentary and landscape photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton.

(CONTINUED IN THE FINAL BLOG POST OF THE SERIES, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 9.”)

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8 comments

  1. pj says:

    Interesting run down on some of the internal battles over the Colorado.

    It seems like whenever a so-called compromise is reached the biggest beneficiaries are corporate interests. Industry gets to feast, while the environmental side is often lucky to walk away with a few table scraps.

    Good post.

  2. Hi PJ, I appreciate your perspective in light of your background in writing about environmental issues.

  3. Greg Boyer says:

    I hope to see the removal of some of these dams in my lifetime. They are the result of the myoptic views and unabated greed of the “ruling class” of their day. I probably won’t, but I can always hope.

    Greg…..

  4. Hi Greg, I appreciate what you say and agree in that the “ruling class” are corporations in association with the US Bureau of Reclamation. In this association the corporations and Bureau of Reclamation sold major ‘pork barrel’ construction projects to local communities and the American people as a patriotic promise of jobs and economic improvement as the country came out of the Great Depression and World War II.

  5. Greg Russell says:

    This is a really interesting addition to this vignette of yours, David. I had no idea of all the internal struggles, but know that many of the arguments over the Colorado (not necessarily over damming, but in general) go all the way back to John Wesley Powell’s time.

    Just today I was telling a coworker about my desire to have seen Glen Canyon before it was dammed–like Greg Boyer and others, I’d love to see some of these dams removed in my lifetime. Even 1 or 2 of an estimated 75,000 in the US would be a start…

    Cheers,
    Greg

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