YOSEMITE 1 OR 2 :

By Default or by Design?

No one 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 boring.

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 no harm."

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 National Park.

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 gridlock.

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 look?

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 then.

We know now, and can fix it.

David R.Brower

6-2-2000 

             

THE WILDNESS WITHIN US