The Hetch Hetchy Fight

As wilderness preservation became more popular, disagreements about the goals became more visible.

San Francisco needed a reservoir--urban water supplies at the time were usually based on a large lake that would be protected from development so the water would be clean (for another example see Quabbin)
San Francisco fire 1906
National fight lasted until 1913--about wilderness vs. human needs
Hetch Hetchy
Hetch Hetchy Valley

Consider the choice between the natural valley and a lake
  • needs of the city of San Francisco
  • which will provide more recreational opportunities?
  • do we do harm when we radically modify the environment?
    • we affect the ecosystem
    • should we leave nature undisturbed for its own sake?
argue for preservation:
  • wilderness is more important than human needs
  • the natural state of a place is what is important--humans shouldn't improve it
  • but if you ignore human use entirely, wilderness preservation won't be very popular
  • drawing the  line is tricky
argue for conservation:
  • wise use of natural areas
  • preserve nature for people--greatest good of the greatest number for the longest term (close to the modern idea of sustainability)
  • human needs are most important, but we need to think long term
  • fine if you are cutting down and replanting forests
  • what about removing a mountaintop to get at the coal and then putting the dirt back and replanting a forest
  • where do you draw the line
Preservationists lose this fight, but they learn a lot about how to fight the next time

The Greatest Good chapter 11

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
last updated 3/1/10
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