Blog Post by: Mike Town
I have always believed that the best professional development for an environmental science teacher cannot occur in a classroom nor is delivered by a trainer. Rather, many of my best lessons as well as my teaching philosophy were developed when I had the chance to visit places which allowed reflection in how I teach my courses.
Last week, I had the luxury to hike and bike in eastern Pennsylvania and the Delaware Water Gap. One of the highlights was stumbling across Grey Towers, the summer home of Gifford Pinchot. I have always admired Pinchot. He invented scientific forestry in America, and as a close friend of Theodore Roosevelt was the inspiration behind the formation of the United States Forest Service.–an organization that employed me years ago.
As I walked through the gardens, my thoughts turned to one of my favorite case studies from my course. The battle to build a dam in the Hetch Hetchy valley in Yellowstone National Park was one of the most important turning points in the history of environmental thought. It featured two significant and imposing opposite forces: Pinchot, with this belief that the multiple use of federal public lands is the “greatest good”, and John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, who believed that the greatest creations of the almighty should be forever protected. From 1908 to 1913 these two forces tirelessly lobbied Congress and educated the American public on the dam issue.
In the end, Congress passed a law, signed by President in 1913 which resulted in the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy valley. An area comparable to Yosemite Valley was lost to future generations behind a dam which would provide water to the city of San Francisco. It was Muir’s last battle and he died shortly after. However, one of Muir’s greatest legacy’s grew out of Hetch Hetchy. The 1916 National Parks Act defines the policy of National Parks and prohibits further dams. Pinchot’s legacy, the United States Forest Service continues to provide “multiple use” on the National Forests. Providing water to society is one of those uses.
In my walk, I turned my thoughts to the current drought in California and the fear that climate change will wreck havoc on the water resources of the region. I think of my friends who believe that Hetch Hetchy valley should become accessible for the benefits of future generations. This would require the removal of the dam. I wondered if Pinchot were alive today, would he fight to dam Yosemite Valley for the “greatest good” would some of the former or current students have the passion to oppose it, or at least consider their personal use of water.
Perhaps Muir and Pinchot would both agree that our changing climate and the inevitable battles over water use in the United States will be far more controversial then Hetch Hetchy. I think they will be and as a teacher I need more afternoons like last week to infuse these thoughts into my lessons.