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Untitled Document

Dam foes learn from their defeats

22 October 2003


Images courtesy of Bancroft Library

The story of conservation in the American West is in large measure the story of campaigns for popular opinion, successful and otherwise. A century ago, John Muir and the fledgling Sierra Club fought to preserve spectacular Hetch Hetchy Valley, in northern Yosemite National Park, from the City of San Francisco’s ambitions to build a dam on the Tuolumne River there. The fight went on for more than a decade, until Woodrow Wilson authorized the dam in 1913; the result is depicted in the holiday greeting at near right.

The Sierra Club learned from its defeat, and a generation later, when yet more dams were proposed within a federally protected area — this time, the little-known but awesomely spectacular Dinosaur National Monument in Utah — the Club and its allies were ready. Publications (far right), photo displays, sophisticated lobbying efforts, and (perhaps most tellingly) well-coordinated public expeditions to the threatened area helped defeat the planned dams, and established pointed publicity as a key arrow in the conservationist quiver.

These two dam battles are highlighted in “Toward a Sustainable Earth, “ on view through Nov. 21 in the Bancroft Library’s Exhibition Gallery. The exhibit displays and interprets just a fraction of the some of the Bancroft’s voluminous holdings of materials from not only the Sierra Club but many other conservation and environmental organizations, including Friends of the Earth, Save San Francisco Bay Association, the Urban Habitat Program, and the Save-the-Redwoods League.