Why Defend National Parks And Other Wilderness By Philip Hyde

May 7th, 2013 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Why Defend National Parks?

By Philip Hyde Circa 1951

Landscape Photography Blogger Note: Philip Hyde wrote this unpublished 1951 magazine article while the controversy was heating up over two proposed dams in Dinosaur National Monument. In 1951, Richard Leonard, who was on the board of both the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, as well as David Brower, another board member who would soon after become the first Executive Director of the Sierra Club and the father of modern environmentalism, sent Philip Hyde on assignment to Dinosaur National Monument. It was the first time a photographer ever went on assignment for an environmental cause. The resulting book published in 1955, This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers, edited by Wallace Stegner, was also the first book ever published for an environmental cause. Article edited by David Leland Hyde in November 2011. To read more about Philip Hyde’s travels to Dinosaur in his own words, see the blog post, “On The Road To Dinosaur.”
Tenpeak Range From Slopes Above Image Lake,  Glacier Peak Wilderness - North Cascades National Park, Washington, copyright 1956 Philip Hyde.

Tenpeak Range From Slopes Above Image Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness – North Cascades National Park, Washington, copyright 1956 by Philip Hyde. The 4X5 large format version of this photograph helped make North Cascades National Park. It appeared on the poster for the campaign and in the Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series book “Wild Cascades: Forgotten Parkland.” The printer for the book, Barnes Press, lost the large format film original. This photograph, drum scanned from the 35 mm version of the same image with nearly identical framing is now a popular lightjet print. Before the digital era, Philip Hyde did not print his 35 mm slides large. However, with the sophistication of digital technology, the image is again released to the world.

In a few wild places on the surface of the Earth, nature has reached a climax. The United States of America has been gifted with a bountiful supply of these places of peak expression. While many were actively trying to convert these places to some kind of material gain, a few were finding out that these places had an intangible resource, a spiritual benefit that made itself felt in these natural areas. Fortunately, the inspirational character of wild places is becoming more recognized, even as exploitative uses are also on the rise.

Now more than ever, it is time for a new emphasis on intrinsic values and non-commercial use of our national parks. We have argued for preservation on principle, but the principle is little understood. People need a clearer sense of the importance of wilderness preservation. Dinosaur National Monument is a good example of how the dam builders offer people only one use of the national park system, a use that displaces most other uses. In our materially minded society, the “what can I get out of it” approach commands powerful attention. Irrigation water and electric power are strong selling points for building dams and limiting the scope of uses in Dinosaur National Monument and other units of the national park system. Conservation organizations all over the country oppose dam construction in Dinosaur National Monument. Why? What alternative uses do they propose?

To find the answer to this question, we must begin by taking a closer look at Dinosaur National Monument itself. This leads us to ask more questions: Why is Dinosaur a national monument? Why is the area set aside and its natural resources out of the reach of exploitation? The answers to these questions transcend solely material considerations. The canyons of Dinosaur National Monument were protected because they offer a benefit of greater value than can be obtained from the physical properties of the land. The labyrinthine canyons offer a place of inspiration where the integrity of nature is still intact, unaltered by the materialistic drives and desires of humans. It is a place where people can go to contemplate the works of a power greater than themselves, where they can transcend the destructive aspects of ego and lose some of their self-conscious thoughts.

That such an opportunity is a tonic to those who avail themselves of it is not sentimental wishful thinking, but has been demonstrated and proven. Preservation of an area because it provides such an opportunity is justified in and of itself alone, without any of the many other alternative uses to the industrial extraction of the natural resources.

In such a wild place as Dinosaur, where nature is at climax, the physical uses are transitory like elsewhere, but their transitory nature puts into perspective the sacrifice of other values necessary to obtain a fleeting benefit. The minerals are mined and permanently disappear when there are no more minerals. Even a great dam can become a monument to expediency by filling with mud in a region of erosion where rivers carry a heavy burden of silt. The advance of science may bypass the most foresighted means of exploiting nature, as when atomic power generates electricity, but will no place be left untouched? Will we cut down the last tree? Shoot the last mountain lion? Stone the last canyon swallow? Dam the last river and flood the last canyon? Is it not time to defend and stand by the official recognition of the spiritual benefits of setting aside at least some sacred ground where people can find much needed solace and renewal?

For an introduction as to why the battle over Dinosaur was pivotal to the conservation movement, how the Dinosaur campaign transformed the Sierra Club and brought conservation into the limelight, transforming it into modern environmentalism, see the blog posts, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 1,” and other blog posts in the same series. The Sierra Club Books Exhibit Format Series popularized the coffee table photography book. To read more about this ground-breaking book series, see the blog post, “Sierra Club Books: Exhibit Format Series 1.”

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  1. pj says:

    Great stuff… the more you publish of your dad’s work, both the writings and the photographs, the more my respect for him grows David.

    He wrote this the year I was born, yet it’s still as vital and timely as it was back then. 62 years later we’re still arguing the same things. I recognize the importance of it, but I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever really get the message. I guess all we can do is carry on…

  2. Hi PJ, thanks for the comment and tweet. I sure hope we won’t still be arguing the same issues 62 years from now, but we may very well be if there are not some very obvious repercussions of our greed and resistance to change. Of course the catch-22 then will be that it may very well be too late to stop our own doom.

    In Dinosaur, the proposed dams would have drowned 94 out of 106 river miles within the national monument. The Yampa and Green Rivers would have all but disappeared under reservoirs. Yet today, ironically, river rafting is the primary recreational activity in Dinosaur National Monument. Most of the time, there are lower impact uses of the land that are far more profitable than proposed extractive industrial uses. We are all to blame for the destruction because we all depend on power, water, metals, and the many other natural resources we refine into various products. This is why my mother and father lived a simple, frugal life with very few electronic gadgets, no TV and minimal use of petroleum burning machines. They obtained their fun and entertainment from the natural world, by observing the seasons, watching wildlife and birds, identifying plants, trees and flowers and most of all reveling in the silence. My father used to say, “The secret to happiness is to want less.” This becomes more and more relevant all the time. Our political system, laws and other regulations will never solve the problem as long as we have a media and society based on consumerism. Until it become cool and politically correct to be frugal and not buy anything extra, we will be on a trajectory to destruction not only of the environment, air and water, but our entire planet eventually.

  3. Hi David,what timely post. I am going down the Yampa for 7 days on a photography trip. I will be thinking of your father and others who had foresight enough to stand up and stop the dam builders in this wonderful place.
    Thanks Randy

  4. Hi Randy, Hope you have an exciting, but safe trip, as I have heard Dinosaur rafting adventures tend to go. Wish I could be there. We are all in debt to those who put much on the line for our national treasures.

  5. Greg Russell says:

    Wow…this is right up there with some of the best conservation writing I’ve seen, including Wallace Stegner’s wilderness letter. Your dad was a very gifted writer, and his thoughts and opinions about wilderness were wonderfully lucid.

    Reading this is very inspiring.

    Funny that 62 years later we are still arguing over development in national parks, etc. It seems that the idea of wilderness for the sake of wilderness hasn’t quite sunk in yet, has it?

    Thanks for sharing, David…

  6. Thank you, Greg. I’m sure Dad would have enjoyed meeting you and reading your wilderness writings too.

  7. Jim Shoemaker says:

    I really enjoyed this article. It’s sad that even today we continue to argue over the same issues as back then; sadder still that in the past two centuries we’ve been taught some hard lessons that we seem determinedly unwilling to learn from: The “endless” herds of American Bison that were nearly wiped out, the “endless” flocks of passenger pigeons that were, the wholesale slaughter of egrets so women of society could wear the birds’ plumage in their hats, the bounty of Sequoia and Redwoods stands that were whittled down to a fractional remnant of their former numbers, the lost valley of Hetch-Hetchy, the flooding of Glen Canyon, etc.

    There will always be people who look at nature and see nothing but dollar signs and commercial potential, and I’m not sure that photos or articles will ever sway their intentions. But it’s our job, as nature photographers and just people who love nature for its intangible value, to keep trying.

  8. Appreciate your participation, Jim. Unfortunately by the time “everyone” sees what our exploitation has done and stops such actions, it may be too late. Nonetheless, I agree with your ‘keep trying’ attitude.

  9. Jim Shoemaker says:

    Hi David, I have to admit that my attitude suffers when I read stories about what’s going on in national parks now. You’ve probably read about it by now, but a few weeks ago I first read about how sections of Joshua Tree NP had to be closed due to vandalism. It seems people are painting on rocks, trees and over Native American rock art along with committing other damage, then posting their “work” on Facebook and encouraging others to do the same. Now it’s spread to Rocky Mountain NP.

    Stories like these convince me that the human race is actively seeking to find the least common denominator of existence. It’s disheartening, and I’m not sure that such people can be reached by anything other than a baseball bat upside the head.

  10. Hi Jim, my faith in humanity is also shaken by such stories. I heard a little about the beginnings of all that, but had no idea the extent, nor did I realize it was some kind of disturbed internet instigated online fad to deface some of the most culturally important art on the planet: Native American rock art. This is just demented and sick. Beyond wrecking my attitude, it also makes me very angry. My dad would freak and probably take some kind of action, or make the right call to someone, or something. I’m out of the loop and feel a bit powerless with the onslaught of issues that need to be attended to these days. I have to keep doing what I’m already doing, but I’d love to stop what I’m doing and somehow help to put some people in jail where they belong.

  11. Hi David. I only got notice of this post a few hours ago. Strange. I am subscribed but it came to me quite late.
    Your dad’s writings have as much to “say” as do his photographs. I agree with your last comment to Jim Shoemaker…Philip would certainly “freak” as would most all of us at what takes place these days both in and out of our national parks and conservation areas. It seems people are finding less to occupy their minds and seek out the basest of activities to entertain themselves. It is gut wrenching.
    Thanks for sharing your father’s writings.

  12. Exactly right, Steve. Many in our civilization are getting further and further from our roots, further from what makes them naturally joyful and deeper into an artificial world of temporary stimulation that leaves the participant feeling hollow and more anxious to find the next new short-term thrill, rather than laying the groundwork for lasting satisfaction.

  13. What moving words. So sad that we continue to have to fight for nature on a daily basis.
    People may look back with sadness at the nature and wildlife we’ve lost but so many feel they can’t be bothered to make a difference and that someone else will step up and save the wild things in our world.

    We’ve become so selfish, so out of tune with the natural world. Yet you drive around in my home town and you see streets like Coneflower Way, cemeteries called Oak Ridge, apartment complexes named Willow Glen.

    We subconsciously seek out nature yet we consciously destroy it.

  14. Hi Kevin, excellent points all. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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