Region III Quarterly

Volume 1 - No. 2

October, 1939


By Dr. Harold C. Bryant,
Acting Superintendent,
Grand Canyon National Park.

A visitor on the rim of Grand Canyon stated that she had been afraid to return and look at the canyon lest it be changed. Her experience indicated that landscape changes are common. I remember vividly that my father, for years, talked about a return to his boyhood home. After the visit was made he lost all desire to return there because of the marked changes which had spoiled his boyhood picture of the river and the woods. The river had been diverted into another channel; the woods had been replaced by corn fields. Most of us wish to hold certain desirable places in their virgin condition and unmodified by man. The earliest ideal set up by those interested in a national park system held to the idea that it would be a worthwhile thing to pick out certain superlative areas within the United States, call them national parks, and hold them unmodified and unspoiled for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

The basic law establishing the National Park Service states it shall be the duty of the Service to "Conserve natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein" in such manner as to keep it unmodified and unspoiled for the future. Through the years we have discovered that it is not difficult to select suitable areas for protection but it is a very difficult thing to hold them unmodified.

The very objects which we set out to conserve may be destroyed, through carelessness or vandalism. A petrified tree may be knocked apart and the pieces carried away as souvenirs. Some species of animal may be exterminated on the plea that it damages trees or feeds upon some other species of game animal.

As soon as we invite millions of people into the national parks we are confronted with the need for accommodations requiring man-made buildings and campgrounds. The higher the volume of travel, the greater the difficulty of restricting development and preventing modification of the terrain. A heavily used campground endangers tree life; automobiles run over and kill squirrels; needed drinking water pumped from springs may leave drought conditions in a whole canyon.

Most of us perhaps feel that a certain amount of development for the care of the public is well justified, even if it means loss of primeval conditions, but there remains a greater difficulty: that of keeping park areas free from industrial and commercial development. Even though most people may definitely oppose commercial development, exploitation of the national parks by selfishly-intereseted people is a constant menace. Perhaps a review of some of the attempts at exploitation (and some of them have been successful) may be helpful in forcing a picture of the grave danger that continually confronts the defenders of our National Park System.

Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley

Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley
Before and after the dam was built.

It took many years to eliminate sheep grazing from national parks. Sheep men had long found beautiful green pastures in the high mountains and they fought to maintain a foothold. It was only after the United States Army sent its cavalry into the parks to patrol boundary lines and drive out sheepmen that conmercial grazing was eliminated. The situation was revived during the war when cattlemen successfully secured minimum grazing rights within certain national park areas on the basis of emergency need. There is still one national park where sheep grazing has not been entirely eliminated.

There are many fine streams and waterfalls within national parks. Power interests have long coveted desirable power sites. Yosemite's waterfalls were once carefully surveyed and reports indicated that they would produce abundant electric energy. The reports even indicated that diversion of the Merced River through a tunnel, eliminating some of the waterfalls, would produce many kilowatts of electricity at a minimum cost. Similarly, the whole of the Kings River, within the proposed Kings Canyon National Park, was reported upon and many damsites were advocated. Only the loss of interest in hydroelectric power as against the cheaper steam generated power has prevented many additional attempts to utilize power sites within the national parks.

Likewise irrigation interests have coveted water supplies that might be made available from the national parks. One of the most serious threats to the park system occurred when Idaho demanded a reservoir site in the Beckler Basin in the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. The latest demand from the same source has been for the use of Yellowstone Lake water by constructing a dam and a diversion tunnel.

Finally after the failure of John Muir and other conservationists to prevent San Francisco from destroying Hetch Hetchy Valley, in Yosemite National Park, and turning it into a reservoir, special legislation was secured making it more difficult for power and irrigation "grabs" within the national parks. Even that did not prevent the successful move by irrigationists in Colorado to divert water from the west side of the Rockies through a tunnel underneath Rocky Mountain National Park two years ago.

There is plenty of evidence indicating that the fight is not yet over -- in fact, conservationists are facing the most dangerous situation which has yet developed. Recently, when the Gearhardt Bill providing for establishment of the Kings Canyon National Park in California, came from a congressional committee, it had attached to it an amendment providing that both power and irrigation use could be made of the resources within this proposed national park. One congressman spoke of the "right kind of a park bill", (one which provided for, instead of against, industrial development). Should this bill pass unchanged, it would set a terrible precedent. Persons fighting to conserve some areas free from commercial enterprise would find that they were truly fighting a "lost cause". And certainly, with inability to keep out industrial development in new park areas, we could reasonably expect that similar developments could be forced in any established national park. Strict adherence to park standards forms the best defense. Let the bars down and a stampede for choice sites will follow.

A grave danger faces Grand Canyon National Monument because of the proposal to build a dam at Bridge Canyon. The argument used is that it will help safeguard Boulder Dam and at the same time improve availability of power and water. If and when the Bridge Canyon Dam is built, water will be backed up into the lower end of a very beautiful portion of Grand Canyon, below Toroweap Point. This lake water will not only partially fill the deepest perpendicular walled canyon contained in either the monument or the park but it will cover a magnificent geological exhibit of a great lava flow into the canyon, and a fine series of hot springs and other natural features. This lake will soon fill, with the millions of tons of debris carried by the river, thus permanently destroying the scenic beauties of that portion of Grand Canyon west of that contained within the park.

Wherever crowds congregate there are men who wish to introduce money-catching devices. I remember that in the 1920's there were many requests to install golf courses, merry-go-rounds, bump-the-bumps, roller-coasters and the like. Beach resorts have plenty of such money-catching devices. In national parks they should be strictly banned.

Another menace has always been that of change of boundary lines in order to allow the utilization of natural resources. The Federal Government is now buying back from private owners magnificent sugar pine forests to the north of Yosemite. These forests were once within the national park but were traded for important private holdings in the heart of the park. Some of the finest scenery along the crest of the Sierra Nevadas in this same park was eliminated many years ago on the basis that it contained mineral resources. Whenever the suggestion is made that it now be returned to the park because these mineral resources have never been found profitable, the plea is made that the upper San Joaquin River is desirable for power sites and, therefore, should remain outside of a national park. Furthermore, some of this region contains several storage reservoirs and hence, although it contains Mts. Ritter and Banner, higher and more scenic peaks than anything within the park at present, this superlative area is outside and not inside Yosemite National Park.

These boundary changes also have a bearing on wildlife. In many instances slices have been cut from original park areas which have greatly reduced the forage for game. The original Olympic National Monument in Washington, was greatly reduced in size to allow lumbering. The Olympic elk then found it necessary to go outside of the monument for winter feed and hence were slaughtered, yet the original plan was to give safety to this disappearing species by the creation of a reserve.

There are other conservation problems in the national parks which are less commercial in aspect but are exceedingly important.

Animal life may suffer a severe setback by having its food supply and breeding places usurped by an exotic intruder. Where the introduced European Starling occupies every woodpecker's hole, bluebirds, chicadees, and nut-hatches, the normal users of such excavations, are driven from the country. If opposums are introduced in the west where they never were found before, their egg and bird-eating habits directly affect native species of birds. Where a weed-like foxtail grass gets a foothold, it replaces native grasses that are far more useful to native animals. The proper conservation of wildlife and plant life demands that a constant fight be made to prevent encroachment of exotics, both plant and animal. There are few graver dangers to the plan to present natural unmodified environment than that involved in the exotic intruder, either plant or animal.

When we see continual changes made of primeval areas, it is time that we lay full plans for saving some areas in true primeval condition. This can only be done where roads are prohibited. The Wilderness Society has suggested that in forested areas a wilderness must contain a minimum of 300,000 acres, and on open deserts it should contain 500,000 acres to be effective. This means that there are few areas outside of national parks and national forests that can meet the requirements. Consequently these government agencies must take the responsibility of maintaining wilderness areas large enough to meet the definition.

Noise is nerve-wracking. More and more, man needs opportunity to get away from those things which wear upon the nerves. Through the ages he has found relief by the scenery in great forests. The appeal of true wilderness is found in quietude and solitude as well as in the unspoiled beauty of natural surroundings. It is increasingly hard to get away from the noise of men! Wilderness areas, far from the haunts of men, now reverberate with the sounds made by automobiles, outboard motorboats or airplanes. We may countenance horseback travel but motorized equipment largely takes away the feeling and inspiration of vast undisturbed terrain. The attempt must be made to save some places from undesirable encroachment and keep them roadless and as noiseless as possible. Like other ideals, this is increasingly hard to attain, for there are those who demand all the modern methods of travel.

The wilderness character of national parks is preserved by prohibition of airports and roads but it is a constant fight to prevent such developments. Yellowstone already has four entrance roads but Idaho is clamoring for a fifth. Great Smoky Mountains has twelve miles of ridge road but there are those who demand still more. Road enthusiasts on the Olympic Peninsula want a road across one corner of Olympic National Park which park enthusiasts demand shall remain a true wilderness park with no roads. The proposed Everglades National Park in Florida was hardly projected before plans were suggested for a loop road through it. We are not very far along toward the ideal of large roadless wilderness areas, for only two parks (both very new and one an isolated island), have thus far withstood road enroachment.

It is quite evident from the park problems enumerated above that it takes more than a law creating a park to attain true conservation of the features it possesses. High ideals, and adherence to standards alone will prevent the gradual sapping away of all the park features which can be readily utilized for commercial gain. There are some things so precious that they are priceless and placed under constant guard. So may it be with the national parks!

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Date: 17-Nov-2005