The Hetch Hetchy Fight

Lum, Dwight
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
The damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley was a landmark of the American conservation movement. It is made notable by the fact that it was not a simple case of the kindly nature lovers battling the ruthless exploiters. Rather than two opposing camps, there were separate clusters of special interests whose paths crossed and paralleled in some very unlikely ways. The Hetch Hetchy fight would bring out all the vagaries and contradictions inherent in the title "conservationist." The political struggle of the city of San Francisco to use part of a national park for a reservoir was marked by twelve years of fierce controversy. It was a sometimes bitter fight that aroused animosities across California, and eventually all over the nation. Not many of the accounts during and after the battle could be called calm and objective. This may have been because it was the first open split between the two incompatible forces within the conservation movement. American conservation itself was a young and fragile thing. It had barely started showing its baby teeth through such laws as the General Land Law Revision Act of 1891, that gave the President the authority to create forest reserves from the public domain by proclamation, and the Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizing the President to withdraw from entry certain sites of special natural or historic value. Until that time, it was taken for granted that the public domain was open to all commercial ventures--hunting, grazing, mining, and lumbering. I need not go into detail on the millions of acres of land that had been torn up or the hundreds of species of animals ravaged as a result of this attitude. What is important is that at the beginning of this century the idea was finally taking hold that this country's resources were finite--and should be used with greater consideration.
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