is likely to write a more important book on the subject
than Hallway Jones did in his John Muir and the Sierra
Club: The Battle for Yosemite. Even if we must sell the
house it get the Sierra Club to put it back in print with an
updated preface and keep it in print, the house must go. Two
other books explain why.
One was inspired by Alfred Heller,
California Tomorrow, in which Mr. Heller wonders if
California will stumble into its future or reason its way there.
Yosemite could be one of the most important parts of the state's
future, but not if California prefers to stumble there on its
way there. Its population has doubled since the book appeared
in 1972. And The Destruction of California,
which Raymond Dasmann warned about
years before, accelerates. No one in charge seems to want to
release the throttle or even find out where it is.
Of course, Paul Ehrlich's The
Population Bomb told where it was, but so many years
ago even the Sierra Club seems to have forgotten who co-published
it. Ian Ballantine gave the club two weeks to decide, and they
barely made it. Three million people bought the book. Two other
books the club didn't think it should publish sold a million
each"In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World"
and On the Loose, the former being judged one
of the ten most beautiful books in the world at the Leipzig international
book fair. And when Donald Hodel, as Secretary of the Interior,
wanted to tear down Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite National Park,
the club's publishing department did not wish to put John
Muir and the Sierra Club: The Battle for Yosemite back
in print. I'll try again.
The other book I want to talk about
is by Stephen Fox, John Muir and His Legacy: The American
Conservation Movement, which is aptly titled but
includes one delightful mistake, calling me "the John Muir
reincarnate." It reveals that my wife Anne, whom I married
in 1943, is the granddaughter of Colonel John P. Irish, an early
member of the State Yosemite Commission who didn't not like John
Muir, describing him as a "pseudo-naturalist."
We must sell the house, if necessary,
to keep the National Park Service from its current determination
to stumble, not reason, its way into the future. The NPS needs
to discover The Public Trust Doctrine, which prohibits spoiling
of the Earth. Derived from early Roman law and reinforced in
Magna Carta, the Doctrine rescued Mono Lake, is honored by The
Natural Step but not the World Trade Organization, which seems
to think it OK for five hundred billionaires to control more
money than the earth's bottom three billion people, equity being
Right now the National Park Service,
which cherished Yosemite as the story of a great idea, now wants
it to be the story of a profit center, with pricier hotels, scanter
camping, fewer modest accommodations, wider roads to field bigger
diesel busses, create ecological roadside mayhem, increase atmospheric
damage statewide, so that people who want to celebrate Yosemite
Valley can tie their cars outside, in various still unspoiled
places, ride snug in busses that tell them where to look at their
expense. The NPS has two or three billion public dollars to spend
instead of the accepting the discipline former NPS Director Newton
Drury enjoyed when he said, "We have no money, we can do
Holway Jones tells why we honor the
Notional Park Idea, who struggled to achieve Yosemite's full
national-park status, how much we lost when San Francisco won
control of the Department of the Interior, what that led to there
being a Notional Park Service, what the NPS and Sierra Club did
to end abuse of Yosemite, and how apathy can renew the abuse.
At a recent meeting at the Commonwealth
Club in San Francisco, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt
was explaining the new Yosemite Plan, which I think is avoiding
the the National Park Act, ignoring the court, and violating
the National Environmental Policy Act, and with a surfeit of
paper excusing its goal rather than seriously seeking the public's
advice. So I sent a question to the Secretary: "As the alleged
John Muir reincarnate, I have just learned that Mr. Muir and
Frederick Law Olmsted (whose Yosemite advice has been unequaled
since 1865) have been talking about your Yosemite plan and it
is has freaked them out. Can you reassure them?"
Mr. Babbitt thought he could, and alluded
to John Muir's advocacy of getting more cars to Yosemite.
On Christmas Eve, 1914, when John Muir
died before we'd had any substantive conversation (I was two),
California had yet to learn what the automobile would do to it,
or today's ubiquitous planes in the sky waiting for permission
to land. General Motors, Standard Oil, and Firestone had yet
to destroy rail-passenger service and San Francisco had just
got permission to destroy Hetch Hetchy Valley with a dam in Yosemite
Wondering how many cars Muir then wanted
in Yosemite seemed irrelevant, if not stumbling. California already
has more cars than parking places and freeways don't need more
It has taken a lot of talent to Save
San Francisco Bay and now the air industry wants to pave a lot
more of it to land on.
Forests need the breathing space we
and our cars and planes are using up.
Dying whales need the nutrients we are
storing as useless silt in our reservoirs.
Food has a hard time trying to grow
where it came from and condominiums now are.
We no longer listen eloquently because
we know our TV isn't listening at all to us. We have forgotten
how to read the Earth, much less take time to listen to it.
We have so many more jails, who cares
if the rapid loss of wilderness makes the Earth a new cage. Seventeen
is a nice number but do we need that many times more people in
California than were here when my mother let me be seen? Can
we send to surplus to Oregon, where they must be lonely, and
will Silicon Valley learn how to miniaturize them soon enough?
Do you mind the number of days you can't
see the Sierra because San Joaquin Valley smog won't let you
Default or design?
The National Park Service, as good a
bureau as we can ever expect, is stumbling badly. It should read
Holly's book now. Every word. Maybe even the new foreword, of
which this could be a rough draft.
Don't make a move until we learn how
to bring rail back. Bringing it back will cost a lot, but not
nearly as much as not bringing it back. Help Big Oil, Big Cars,
and Big Tires avoid suicides theirs and ours. Get help
from people who still remember how to run railroads. And while
we're up, bring back from pasture, cloning if necessary, our
best naturalists; they must guard of an irreplaceable treasure,
in perpetuity or longer.
Reason the way someone did when the
Yosemite Valley shuttle bus system was created and subsidized
back when people remembered how to do right by our parks.
Restore Hetch Hetchy with a series of focused explosions (I'm
remembering my combat days) at the south end of the dam and create
a canal like that gem in Greece. Build accommodations on the
dam, like those once planned for the North Cascades dam. Pile
a little indigenous sediment on the dam and plant it with California
natives (I mean species). Remove the rest of the dam with the
next major glaciation . Put enough of Hetch Hetchy's beauty back,
and keep it, to persuade people never to let it go again.
If what San Francisco has already paid
for Don Pedro dam won't hold the little bit of water now drowned
in Hetch Hetchy, add to Don's height. Hetchy 's height has probably
produced a billion or so dollars of electricity since San Francisco
seized the site, so they owe us what it takes to get the valley
back and use it right. There will be more water if they stop
evaporating it in Hetch Hetchy Valley and store it in Don Pedro
instead, still of high quality, to be piped to San Francisco
from where they pipe it now by siphon under Don Pedro (and his
long lost saloon).
Switch that money to get rails back.
Add a bit of the subsidy we now give the heirs of the Terrible
Big Three (cars, oil, and tires) before global warming gets any
worse than it already is, and we can easily afford to do right
by Yosemite. Take me to lunch and I'll tell you all about the
railroads I learned how to enjoy in 1915, and have seen ever
since how kind they can be to my mountains (my fifteen cars have
not been). Besides, I have been going to Yosemite since 1918
and on my sixth birthday watched the train go by that helped
build Hetch Hetchy dam. I hadn't a clue what they were up to
We know now, and can fix it.