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Green Republican

Green Republican: John Saylor and the Preservation of America's Wilderness

Thomas G. Smith
Copyright Date: 2006
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw993
Pages: 432
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zw993
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  • Book Info
    Green Republican
    Book Description:

    Green Republicanchronicles the life of Congressman John Saylor and his personal legacy as an environmental champion. Saylor believed the wilderness was intrinsic to the American experience-that our concepts of democracy, love of country, conservation, and independence were shaped by our wilderness experiences. Through his ardent protection of national parks and diligent work to add new areas to the parks system, Saylor helped propel the American environmental movement in the three decades following Word War II.

    At the height of the federal dam-building program in the 1950s and 1960s, Saylor blocked efforts to erect hydroelectric dams whose impounded waters would have invaded Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon. During the energy crisis of the early 1970s, Saylor denounced attempts to open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. He was the House architect of the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Because Saylor represented a coal-mining district, he doggedly promoted the use of coal, instead of atomic or hydropower, to generate electricity, and repeatedly won the support of his constituents over thirteen terms between 1949 and 1973. But he also fervently supported legislation to purify the air and water and redeem stripped lands.

    Considered both a maverick and a pioneer, John Saylor won respect on both sides of the aisle because he was direct, hardworking, and passionate about conservation at a time when the cause was not popular. Environmental leaders dubbed him "St. John" because he tenaciously advocated their proposals and battled resistance by resource-use proponents.

    Based on extensive research and numerous interviews with Saylor's colleagues and members of the conservationist community, Thomas G. Smith assembles the remarkable story of John Saylor, arguably the leading congressional conservationist of the twentieth century, and a major force in the preservation of America's wilderness.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7105-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Trailblazer
    (pp. 1-6)

    Some readers may consider the title of this book,Green Republican,a contradiction in terms. In recent history, the Republican Party has (probably fairly) gained a reputation for putting economic development far ahead of environmental issues. But the Republican Party, as historians and other observers have noted, has a rich conservation tradition. At the turn of the twentieth century, President Theodore Roosevelt championed the wise use of natural resources, rather than their plunder. Through executive action, the Roosevelt administration set aside wildlife refuges and millions of acres of timberland as national forests and promoted aesthetic conservation by preserving natural scenic...

  2. one Headwaters
    (pp. 7-23)

    A weathered metal sign depicting grazing livestock marked the dirt road to Bellevue Farm in the elegant horse and cattle country of northern Virginia. A stocky, eighty-seven-year-old man with lush white hair emerged from the ranch house to greet the visitor and direct him to the garage. The inside of the building was empty except for the walls, which were covered with framed photographs of prominent political personalities of the 1950s and 1960s. “This is my rogue’s gallery, and here is the chief rogue,” declared Floyd Dominy, pointing to Republican representative John P. Saylor of Pennsylvania. The picture featured a...

  3. two Political and Environmental Trailhead
    (pp. 24-42)

    Colonel Robert Coffey Jr. was a war hero. Piloting a P-47 Thunderbolt with the Army Air Force during World War II, the Johnstown native completed ninety-seven missions over Europe and destroyed fourteen enemy planes before being shot down over Germany. Avoiding capture, he worked his way into France and fought with the underground. After the war, the three-time recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross resigned from active military service in 1948 to enter politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Coffey had represented Pennsylvania’s Twenty-sixth District for less than four months before dying on a training flight...

  4. three Maverick Republican
    (pp. 43-56)

    John Saylor wanted to celebrate his mother’s seventy-ninth birthday with his colleagues on the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. He ordered platters of ham and turkey and an assortment of liquor and approached newly appointed Republican committee chair A. L. Miller about holding the event in the House Interior Committee meeting room. A teetotaling physician from Nebraska, Miller agreed to the request so long as no liquor was served. “Doctor, what is a party without a highball?” Saylor inquired.

    Determined to proceed, Saylor sent out the invitations. Miller became incensed at Saylor’s defiance and sought guidance from Republican House...

  5. four Dinosaur Canyons
    (pp. 57-77)

    The prospect of rafting wild Western rivers appealed to Saylor’s sense of adventure, so he accepted an invitation from Joe Penfold, Western representative of the Izaak Walton League, to run the Yampa and Green rivers through Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado-Utah border. Besides excitement, the voyage would provide an opportunity for Saylor and Democratic Colorado representative Wayne Aspinall, both members of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, to see firsthand the primitive sandstone canyon country that would be submerged if Congress approved the Colorado River Storage Project. All in all, the two-day wilderness experience proved a turning point...

  6. five Big Dam Foolishness
    (pp. 78-94)

    By 1955, Saylor’s antipathy toward the Bureau of Reclamation had been well established among his colleagues on the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Californian Clair Engle charged that Saylor had “developed such a spleen against the Bureau of Reclamation” that he had forgotten that there had been an election a few years ago and that a Republican secretary of the interior now headed that organization.¹

    Saylor claimed not to be motivated by partisan politics when it came to the bureau. That agency, he insisted, was engaged in an audacious program of dam building. “Those who run the Bureau...

  7. six Wilderness and Park Advocate
    (pp. 95-118)

    During the fracas over the CRSP, newspaper writer and Sierra Club member Martin Litton shared an anecdote that illustrated the growing concern of many conservationists over the threats to wild areas by dam builders and other developers. Long ago in the snowy wilds of Siberia, a sleigh was surrounded by ravenous wolves. To buy time and save the passengers, the driver cut loose one of the horses, and it was devoured. This desperate act provided only temporary relief, and the sleigh soon came under attack again. Another horse was released, then another, and with each sacrifice the sleigh was slowed...

  8. seven Coal, the C&O Canal, and Kinzua
    (pp. 119-141)

    Testifying before a House subcommittee, Sigurd Olson of the National Parks Association was asked if he believed that preservation constituted the wise use of natural resources. He answered in the affirmative, explaining that there were occasions when a society had to choose between intangible and material values. He then told an anecdote about a Chinese gentleman who was given two pennies by a benefactor. When asked if he planned to use both coins for food, he said no because he had decided to spend one for food and the other for hyacinths to nourish his soul. For Olson, Saylor, and...

  9. eight The Rainbow Connection
    (pp. 142-157)

    A cranky Californian complained to the editor ofNational Parks Magazinethat “those nature lovers who place sentiment above public needs for water, in the case of Rainbow Bridge, should all be submerged in the rising waters of the lake!” The editor replied that the rising waters of Glen Canyon Dam would not “submerge conservationists but rather a cornerstone of national park policy.” This cornerstone, set in place by the National Park Service Act of 1916 and reinforced by provisions of the Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1956, upheld the inviolability of the national park system. Accordingly, any attempt...

  10. nine Passage of the Wilderness Bill
    (pp. 158-179)

    In 1964, a junior high social studies teacher from Aurora, Colorado, appeared before the House Subcommittee on Public Lands in behalf of the Wilderness Bill. He stated that he had been feeling the pressure of having to pass a comprehensive exam for an advanced degree in history, so he and a companion had backpacked in the Maroon Bells Wild Area of Colorado. After an all-day hike through lush meadows and fir forests they reached their destination of Snowmass Lake. “It was late when we reached it,” he said, “and we were hungry. Anything would have tasted good, but it seemed...

  11. ten The Battle to Save Grand Canyon
    (pp. 180-205)

    In Late July 1966, tension tugged at members of the House Interior Committee as they completed deliberations on a proposal to build two hydroelectric dams on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. “You’re being selfish,” John Saylor snapped at Arizona Democrat Morris Udall, a proponent of the dams. “Nobody’s being selfish here,” Udall barked back. Saylor resembled a rugged Westerner, one journalist reported, but he was in fact an Easterner who had become the “tireless, redoubtable” leader of the preservationist forces in the House. Preservationists adamantly opposed both proposed dams. One, at the lower end of the great gorge, would...

  12. eleven Wild and Scenic Rivers
    (pp. 206-221)

    The growing movement to preserve wilderness, including unharnessed rivers, exasperated some Americans. In 1959, a Chicago resident berated the National Parks Association for its hostility toward the proposed Bridge Canyon Dam on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. “The Association seems to take the view that the only good dam is a non-existent one,” he complained. “Why don’t you ever consider the practical aspects of a dam and reservoir: electrical power, water supply, flood control, employment, irrigation? This is a growing nation and we must find room for both progress and wilderness. Certainly no dam is built merely to destroy...

  13. twelve Base Camp
    (pp. 222-236)

    John Saylor’s involvement with national conservation issues, especially the wilderness preservation movement, did not always sit well with Pennsylvanians. Given the state’s economic woes, one vocal couple from the Pittsburgh area, for example, wondered why he devoted so much effort to trying to block the construction of federal dams in the American West. Saylor, they said, was “spending too much time meddling in the affairs of distant parts of our nation and too little time in representing and solving the problems of Pennsylvania.” His supporters defended his actions on economic grounds, pointing out that costly federal power projects competed with...

  14. thirteen Greening America
    (pp. 237-249)

    As the environmental movement began to surge in the late 1960s, so did interest in wilderness, scenic beauty, recreational opportunity, and a contamination-free countryside. Once a pioneer, John Saylor had become a respected and influential old hand in the movement. Like most environmentalists, he stressed quality of life over quantity of goods. Federal resource policy, he insisted, should address posterity, not just prosperity. He equated a green America with a great America and believed that failure to set aside recreation sites and wild and scenic landscapes diminished the nation and deprived future generations of their natural heritage.¹

    Saylor understood that...

  15. fourteen Saving the Redwoods
    (pp. 250-265)

    Led by representatives of the Sierra Club, John Saylor, Morris Udall, and three other members of the House Subcommittee on National Parks in mid-April 1968 tramped along lower Redwood Creek in northern California. Owned by timber companies, this remote area held stands of virgin redwood trees being considered for inclusion in a proposed national park. Only five years earlier, a survey team from the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society had discovered old-growth redwoods, the tallest trees in the world, along a bend in the creek. Saylor’s field-inspection party visited the Tall Trees and another cluster of virgin...

  16. fifteen Congressman for Conservation
    (pp. 266-284)

    Nationally syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick expressed disappointment with conservatives for failing to take an active interest in environmental issues. Conservatives, he wrote in 1969, were growing in number, but they would never prevail politically until they shook their “image as the negative party.” Instead of just criticizing, he asserted, they should take the lead in resolving the nation’s problems.“One of the most serious problems in American society goes to the quality of life in the world around us,” he continued. Rivers and lakes were polluted, cities were shrouded in smog, pesticides had invaded the food chain, and majestic landscapes had...

  17. sixteen Alaska
    (pp. 285-306)

    Throughout his life, John Saylor had an abiding interest in Alaska. As a youngster, he was captivated by his father’s Alaskan hunting experiences. He thrilled to descriptions of Alaska’s majestic landscapes, abundant outdoor opportunities, and romantic frontier heritage. As a member of Congress during the 1950s, he eagerly supported statehood for Alaska. Like many Americans, he regarded Alaska as the last frontier—a vast, distant, rugged wilderness. Some of that unspoiled, resource-rich land should be made available for individuals and corporations to exploit economically; other expanses of natural grandeur should be set aside to provide inspiration, beauty, respite, and recreation...

  18. seventeen Trail’s End
    (pp. 307-320)

    Preparatory to the 1972 congressional election, a popular outdoors magazine endeavored to “Rate the Candidates” for its readership. With assistance from national environmental leaders, Michael Frome, the conservation editor ofField and Stream,evaluated the conservation performance of each legislator in the Ninety-second Congress. Senators and representatives were rated principally on their records—whether they had voted “correctly” or “incorrectly” on several key issues. House members, for example, were evaluated on a dozen issues, including SST funding (correct vote—nay), the Timber Supply Bill (correct vote—nay), and the Saylor-Udall amendment to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (correct vote—...