Preservation versus Conservation

Hetchy Hetchy Valley today
Hetchy Hetchy Valley (1906)

Conservationists and Preservationists are often looked at as the same thing, they are environmentalists who wish to save the ecology of the world we live on. This is untrue. Conservation focuses on the use and proper management of resources, while preservationist ideas include avoiding  affecting the land completely. Early preservationists like John Muir believed this so important, that it was important to push American Indians of this land in order to preserve it. Conservationists such as Gifford Pinchot learned forestry skills in Europe and believed resources such as lumber were important. In order to maintain our ecology, however, we must watch how much we deforest and properly replant in order to not destroy the environmental systems. Theodore Roosevelt would be considered a conservationist based on his political actions. These ideas may not seem very different, but there was an extreme fighting of ideology in 1906 over building a water dam in Yosemite national park.

In 1906 San Francisco suffered through a very powerful earthquake that was followed by many fires. The city was flattened, but the inhabitants of the city set off rebuilding less than 24 hours after the quake had stopped and the fires were under control. In this stage of rebuilding, there was a desire for upgrading the cities water system, it had previously been taking water from streams, rivers, and lakes nearby, but the population of the city had become too great that they needed a larger water source. The city hired a handful of engineers to go out plot locations inside the Sierra Nevada mountains where river ways traveled west. The engineers picked out 10 locations and labeled them between 1 and 10 to signify the best possible location to the worst. Number 1 on that list was Hetch Hetchy Valley. 

Hetch Hetchy Valley was one of the sibling valleys that made up Yosemite National Park the other one being Tuolumne River, which today is the main attraction at Yosemite National Park. Hearing of this news John Muir was horrified and went to Congress with the intention of protecting Yosemite. He gave a famous speech, however, his old conservationist friends Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot disagreed with Muir stating that the needs of the many in San Francisco were too important to ignore. This drove the conservationists and the estimated preservationist apart and this instance is a strong representation of the differences these two sides had at the time and persist to this day. This situation helped distinguish the difference between Conservationists and Preservationists. Preservationists put the world before themselves, while Conservationists attempt to take from that world and emphasis minimizing damage. 

Before Hetch Hetchy, Preservation and Conservation weren’t considered very different because we were in a time of repair. To exemplify, there was no debate between conserving the buffalo population and preserving it because they were endangered and conservation of the species could not be reached if they were not preserved from men like Grinnell. Unlike in the early 1900s when Buffalo were a protected species, today Buffalo can be hunted and their population is watched and maintained.