Wednesday, January 24, 2018

John Saylor and the Grand Canyon, 1950-73*

This “green Republican”, as Smith labels him, played a significant role in the Grand Canyon’s history, first in 1950-1, then in the 1963-8 major dam battle, and finally probably would have in the 1972-5 expansion of Grand Canyon National Park, had he not died (in office) in October 1973.

Assessing that role is not a simple matter, given that during most of his career, he was in the House minority, affecting his political weight even when he was senior Republican on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. Yet those were different times than today. Congress worked differently. Democrats figured prominently on both sides of conservation/environmental/resource/development/Western issues. Saylor was a conservative of his time, and believed in a government that could work and do good, for his district and for the American people. Therefore, it was his responsibility and joy as a legislator to act constructively, to make laws, sometimes to oppose them, but overall to move government along as a positive force in the nation’s life, even as he fulminated against “big government” and “reckless over-spending”. The barn-burners and toadies-to-wealth who wear the Republican label today would scorn and revile his commitments and activities.

John Saylor: A Leader in Conservation and Environmental Issues, A Congressman, A Republican. Yes, a Republican. 1949-73

It is necessary and important, amidst my recounting of the effort to keep dams from being built in the Grand Canyon, to be introduced to John Saylor, U. S. Representative 1949-73, Republican from Pennsylvania. My own experience with Congressman Saylor was limited to 1966-8; his experience with defending our National Park System, and more generally America’s grand natural heritage, extended over a quarter-century of intense and significant environmental debate and change in public opinion and national policy.

A full account of Saylor’s life is provided in T. G. Smith’s Green Republican*. This biography, necessarily, presents a facet of the political history of a time, hard to imagine in this era, when government service was thought of as contributing to the building, widening, and strengthening of the American polity. Saylor, though rarely in the House majority, was as much or more concerned with building up America as he was in heading off wrong-headed policy directions.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Dam Battle - August 1967 Press

At the end of July, Cong. Morris Udall organized a river trip for nine of his House colleagues.  The Arizona Republic (1-2 Aug) was represented; here are the intrepid legislators near Phantom Ranch, investigating the Grand Canyon, Udall is the one grinning second from right. More important

to the newspaper was that Rodgers Morton (second from left), Republican of Maryland, “was convinced he was wrong in originally opposing” the CAP. After his six days on the river, Morton, “with a first-hand look at the country (was) convinced that the recreation advantages on the river with the dams are tremendous”. He saw that the damsites would not “interfere with Grand
Canyon National Park”, and would tell this to the “conservation groups and garden clubs in my own district” who had been “pressuring” him. Morton was the most outspoken of the group, though another member appeared shocked that the proposed reservoir would not reach to Phantom Ranch.

[This trip had no impact on the course of the legislation, but sad to say, events just downstream did affect Grand Canyon’s future. Orren Beaty, the man in the background fourth from left, slipped while on one of the pontoon rafts and hit his head on the motor, causing a serious enough injury that he was helicoptered out. Six years later, when Morton was President Nixon’s Secretary of the Interior, he was considering the question of whether motors should continue to be used on Grand Canyon trips. Remembering the Beaty incident, he decided that motors should stay while a study was done on river travel’s safety. This led to a 7-year delay in decision-making, and allowed motorboat operators to gain the upper hand in determining river traffic policy.
From my point of view, he showed remarkable consistency in the conclusions he drew in these two situations from his “first-hand look”. You can lead an ignorant person to the library; you cannot make him read books.]