Thomas G. Smith
Utah Historical Quarterly (Volume 59, Number 3, Summer 1991)
In the growing field of environmental history few topics have drawn as much attention as the establishment of national parks. Scenic preservationists have often quarreled bitterly with commercial interests over the protection of pristine wildlands. The effort to create Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah proved no exception to that traditional clash of interests. U. S. Senator Frank E. “Ted” Moss of Utah, who introduced Canyonlands legislation in 1961, attempted to strike a balance between preservation and resource development by creating a park that permitted limited commercial use. That proposal, however, provoked four years of discord and nearly jeopardized the establishment of the park. . . .
Remote, arid, and uninhabited, the canyon country surrounding the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers in southeastern Utah is a land of rugged grandeur. It is characterized by buttes, pinnacles, arches, multicolored sandstone cliffs, serpentine gorges, and sweeping vistas. Besides this imposing scenery, pictographs and petroglyphs give archaeological testimony to the ancient Anasazi civilization.
Efforts to protect the canyon country date back to the New Deal. In 1936 Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes proposed setting aside nearly 7,000 square miles of land as the Escalante National Monument, but opposition from state commercial interests and the coming of World War II doomed the Escalante project. . . .
Bates Wilson, superintendent of Arches National Monument, frequently explored the nearby canyon region and pushed for national protection. Kent Frost, who ran a jeep tour business out of Monticello, urged his guests to write their congressmen recommending park status for the area. He credited one of his clients, Frank Masland, Jr., with having done more to create Canyonlands National Park than any other individual. Masland chaired the National Parks Advisory Board, an influential volunteer body that recommended areas for park status to the National Park Service (NPS). . . .
In 1959 C. J. “Chet” Olsen, Fabian’s successor, recommended the acquisition of federal lands in the Needles district in order to create a state park that would permit the multiple uses of hunting, grazing, and mineral development. Worried that the areas would be withdrawn by the National Park Service and closed to commercial development, Olsen asked U. S. Senator Wallace F. Bennett of Utah to push for state stewardship over the area. Agreeing that multiple use was “essential to the welfare of the people of Utah and the West,” Bennett promised to use his influence to block the establishment of a single-purpose national park. . . .
An outdoorsman, [Secretary of the Interior Stewart] Udall took a keen interest in preserving open space, protecting the wilderness, and enlarging the national park system. . . .
Early in 1961 Udall announced that two areas in southern Utah were being considered for national park status: Rainbow Bridge National Monument on the Arizona border and the “still untouched” canyon country near the junction of the Green and Colorado rivers. . . .
More than thirty people joined Udall for the five-day inspection tour during the first week of July. . . . A flotilla of thirteen motorboats carried Udall’s party down the Colorado. They spent three days on the Colorado and Green Rivers and then, joined by Governor Clyde, they toured the landscape by foot, jeep, and helicopter. “I do not believe there was a person on the trip who was not impressed by the grandeur of the country, by its loneliness, its beauty and its form,” Masland wrote, adding, “With complete unanimity all agreed that as a National Park it would rank second to none.”. . . . Udall declared his intent to establish a new national park in the canyon country.
Utahns greeted the announcement with only modest enthusiasm. The Salt Lake Tribune, the state’s largest newspaper, considered the park plan “exciting and forward looking,” but it was unwilling to forego resource development. Governor Clyde acknowledged the scenic splendor of the Canyonlands area but objected to its projected size of 1,000 to 1,200 square miles. And, like Senator Bennett, he raised the issue of commercial use. Utah, he warned, could not “afford to consent to locking up vast areas containing valuable natural resources.”
Not surprisingly, the Canyonlands proposal alarmed mining and petroleum interests. R. Lavaun Cox, executive director of the Utah Petroleum Council, expressed his concern to Clyde. Since outright opposition would be unpopular, the two men decided to support a multiple-purpose park of limited size. Still, Cox fretted over Udall’s commitment to a large park. . . . Clyde acted quickly to mobilize opposition to Udall’s large park scheme. In late July he invited 200 Utah civic leaders to hear his views on the Canyonlands proposal. “I am not against parks,” he informed his audience, but parks must be small so as not to hinder resource development. The governor then appointed a committee to make recommendations on the park proposal.
Senator Bennett shared Clyde’s hostility to the park plan. . . . He criticized Udall for attempting to lock up millions of acres in national parks. That “colossal empire” would permit only one use: viewing the scenery. “All commercial use and business activity would be forever banned and nearly all of Southern Utah’s growth would be forever stunted,” Bennett said. He sought to undercut Udall’s “grandiose pie-in-the-sky scheme” by introducing legislation calling for the creation of a 75,000-acre multi-use national park in the Needles region. That measure was not given serious consideration. . . .
Udall considered the possibility of having the president declare the canyon country a national monument. The Antiquities Act of 1906 permitted the president to preserve historic and scientific landmarks on federal lands by proclaiming them national monuments. . . . Because many members of Congress considered such executive action a usurpation of legislative authority, Udall did not wish to offend Congress and thereby jeopardize other New Frontier environmental measures. In addition, a national park had more tourist appeal than a national monument and would be regarded politically as a major conservation achievement for the Kennedy administration.
Pushing for legislation, however, posed a dilemma—namely, Canyonlands would have to adhere to standards defined in the National Park Act of 1916. As interpreted by Congress and the NPS, that meant no hunting, grazing, lumbering, or mineral development. In the past . . . preservationists were able to obtain national park status only by showing that the proposed scenic wonder lacked economic worth except as a tourist attraction.
Canyonlands enthusiasts could not dismiss the mineral potential of southeastern Utah. . . .
The National Parks Advisory Board faced “a precedent establishing decision.” Frank Masland, the chairman, preferred a park where a visitor could gaze upon nothing “except the work of the Master Architect.” Yet, in defending that principle, the board might be gambling with the heritage of future generations. He recommended the establishment of a park with “hostile uses” that could be defined, regulated, and outlived. Udall and Moss agreed with the board’s recommendation. Udall asked the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah to prepare a study of the impact of a national park on the economy of southeastern Utah. . . .
In early August 1961 Moss introduced legislation to establish Canyonlands National Park. . . . The Moss bill called for a park of 300,000 acres, about half the size of Udall’s original proposal. It would protect the three major scenic areas—Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. Ninety percent of the land was federally owned. The remainder, held by the state of Utah, would be obtained by purchase or through an exchange of public domain outside the proposed park boundaries. The bill included multiple-use provisions that permitted grazing and mining but not hunting. . . .
Initially, the Canyonlands bill received a warm reception. Pleased by the generally favorable public response, Moss chortled to Udall: “I think we have Clyde and Bennett on the run. . . .” Actually, the two Republicans were preparing a major offensive. Joined by sportsmen, they assailed the vast size of the park, the lack of connecting roads, and the ban on hunting.
In mid-August Governor Clyde’s Canyonlands study group suggested an alternative to the Moss bill. It proposed a “string of-pearls” plan that would create several noncontiguous small parks without multiple use. These pure parks would be surrounded by a large buffer area open to unrestricted commercial use and hunting. . . .
During the remaining months of the year the Canyonlands controversy intensified. . . . Utahns urged the protagonists to work out their differences. . . . Concerned by the strength of the opposition, Udall worked to build “a conservation backfire” in Utah. He asked the prominent literary figure, Wallace Stegner, to try to organize Utah conservationists behind the Canyonlands proposal. As he saw it, the Mormon church posed the greatest difficulty in securing park legislation. The church leadership, because of its wealth and conservatism, was user-oriented in terms of the public domain. Moreover, it controlled one of the state’s largest newspapers, the Deseret News. “Since the hierarchy is generally on the Clyde-Bennett side,” Stegner said, “and since it controls the media of communication, and since it absolutely controls Brigham Young University, largely controls Utah State University, and considerably dominates the University of Utah, the organization of any opposition opinion will be difficult and slow.” Stegner suggested forming a conservation council to mobilize public opinion behind Canyonlands. The council was not very effective. Fortunately for park proponents, Stegner had exaggerated the church’s resistance to the creation of a park.
While Stegner worked to rally conservationists in Utah, Udall and Moss decided to adjust the boundaries of the Canyonlands preserve. They enlarged the size of the park to 832,000 acres, mainly by adding land in the Maze region west of the Green River. . . .
Clyde was not persuaded. The park, he argued, should be downsized to no more than 50,000 acres. He was also disturbed by Udall’s evasive stand on multiple use. All in all, the governor believed that Udall had violated his pledge to guarantee multiple use and to shrink the size of the park. . . .
The dissent from Utah prompted Udall to arrange a “strategy conference” with Moss, Peterson, and King. At that meeting the Democrats agreed to revise the Canyonlands bill to meet some of the objections raised against it. Informing President Kennedy of his meeting with the Utah Democrats, Udall pointed out that the Canyonlands “are equal to the most superb of our scenic places” and it “would be a major conservation accomplishment if this legislation were enacted.” But if Clyde and Bennett managed to kill the bill “for parochial special interest reasons,” he argued, then the president might wish to consider proclaiming it a national monument.
Moss’s revised bill, introduced on February 7, 1962, sought to compromise the differences between “scenery purists ” and “resource hogs.” To placate environmentalists Moss made mining, grazing, oil drilling, and other uses secondary in importance to scenery. Commercial uses could be undertaken only with the approval of the Secretary of the Interior and with the understanding that they would not seriously mar the landscape. To win over mining groups Moss permitted the continued location and filing of mineral claims after the bill’s enactment. He sought to soothe sportsmen by adopting a program developed at Grand Teton National Park that permitted hunting under certain conditions. . . .
On the very day that Moss introduced his revised Canyonlands bill, Bennett delivered a scathing attack on Udall. . . . The park would lock up mineral resources of vast economic potential. Had Canyonlands been created a decade earlier Utah would have missed out on the economic benefits of the uranium boom. The park would deny Utahns the pleasure of hunting and the profits of water power development. In short, Bennett asserted, Utah residents were being “sold a bill of goods” by a “huckstering” Secretary of the Interior. . . .
For the most part Utahns remained noncommittal in the park dispute. The Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune urged the adversaries to put aside partisanship and with “open minds and cooperative spirits” produce a compromise settlement in the best interests of the state and nation. Residents of San Juan and Grand counties, where the park would be located, offered similar counsel. . . .
On March 19, ten days before the commencement of Senate hearings on the Canyonlands bill, Governor Clyde released the report of his special study commission. Not surprisingly, the commission opposed locking up 382,000 acres of rich mineral resources in the canyon country. It recommended the creation of a “hybrid” reserve. Approximately 102,000 acres would be zoned as a single-purpose national park. That pure park, made accessible by federally built roads, would be surrounded by a 208,000-acre national recreation area open to mining, oil drilling, grazing, and hunting. Both areas would be administered by the NPS. . . . Senator Bennett hailed the report . . . Udall privately described the commission’s report as “an anti-park study thinly disguised.” Canyonlands had consumed more of his attention than any other park proposal. . . .
Udall counterattacked by releasing the University of Utah study of the economic ramifications of a new national park in the canyon country. The detailed report stressed the tourist potential. In its first twenty-five years, the study predicted, Canyonlands would generate $220 million in expenditures from tourists and the Interior department. To be sure, the extractive industries would also produce wealth, but mineral resources were exhaustible whereas tourism was not. The study was a ringing economic endorsement of a large national park. . . .[In hearings from the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands] Canyonlands was compared favorably with the Grand Canyon. Proponents defended the size of the park as the absolute minimum necessary to protect its many scenic landmarks. It took up less than 1 percent of all land in Utah and was only 15 percent the size of Yellowstone and 39 percent the size of Grand Canyon. The proposed park contained no private land to be purchased, and the 26,000 acres of state land would be exchanged for public land of equal value. In short, the cost to taxpayers would be inconsequential. . . .
Park proponents simultaneously downplayed the commercial value of the park lands: It was too dry to be farmed. It had no trees to lure loggers. The Federal Power Commission had no plans to erect dams in the area. And its mineral potential was suspect. True, there were potash, oil, and uranium developments on the outskirts, but no known discoveries inside the proposed park. The remoteness of the region militated against exploration. A shortage of water and grass made it inhospitable to livestock and game. . . .
Despite their zeal for commercial development, Clyde and Bennett saved their severest criticism for the multiple-use provisions of the bill. . . . . In brief, the bill gave too much discretionary power to the Secretary of the Interior.
To the delight of Clyde and Bennett, conservation groups also raised objections to the Moss bill. Permitting grazing, hunting, and mining, they argued, would contradict national park values and set an intolerable precedent.
Proponents argued that the primary purpose of the bill was to create a park of grand size in order to protect scenery and to lure tourists. . . .
Strong support for the park . . . left Moss ebullient. The hearings clearly demonstrated, he wrote to a friend, “that Bennett and Clyde are on the wrong side of this one.” Flushed with confidence and enthusiasm, he suggested to Udall that they should seek the “orderly development” of other natural wonders that would “make Southern Utah the tourist mecca” that was “its manifest destiny.” For Moss, that meant enlarging and conveying national park status on Arches, Capitol Reef, and Natural Bridges National Monuments. Udall advised caution, warning that efforts to implement that plan might “seriously impair” Canyonlands legislation.
In late August 1962 the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands approved the Moss bill by a vote of 9 to 2. Unfortunately for park proponents, the subcommittee action occurred too late in the session to permit the full Senate to act. Nor had the House considered the measure.
Udall asked the NPS to make a film on the Canyonlands. The Sculptured Earth, produced by Charles Eggert, was the product of that request.
Udall scheduled the premiere for Salt Lake City in late October. His request to show the 45-minute color film at the University of Utah was denied. A. Ray Olpin, president of the university, and Governor Clyde refused to permit the use of Kingsbury Hall because it was an election year and the film might be considered political. After all, in Utah, Canyonlands was one of the most controversial issues in the congressional races, with Democratic candidates supporting and Republicans opposing the Moss bill.
Udall was stunned by the decision. His staff, however, helped him laugh off the incident with the following spoof:
The picture they banned in Utah!
Eartha and the sculptor
(Formerly the Sculptured Earth)
What was the mile-high secret they shared?
Frank! Revealing! Stark!
The story all Washington is whispering!
What was the governor’s strange practice of multiple use.?
They dared to make it!
No one under 18 admitted!
With Udall there to deliver the introduction, the film was shown before a packed house at the Hotel Utah. The response was overwhelmingly favorable. One influential member of the audience, President David O. McKay of the Mormon church, remarked privately that “Bennett was on the wrong side of the road this time.”
Though well received, the film hardly ended the controversy. In late October, Udall and Bennett engaged in a verbal brawl over park legislation. . . . [According to Bennett,] Udall’s repeated trips to Utah for political purposes had wasted at least $200,000 in taxpayer’s money. . . .
As the year drew to a close the prospects did not look promising for Canyonlands legislation. The Salt Lake Tribune gave its editorial support to the Bennett small park bill. All three of Utah’s Democratic congressional candidates who had backed the Moss bill lost to Republicans in the fall election. . . .
Realizing that the Canyonlands proposal was in trouble, Moss again revised it to meet some of the criticism brought out in the committee hearings. Introduced on January 14, 1963, the amended measure reduced the size of the park from 330,000 to 258,000 acres. The cuts were made primarily in the Maze, because lands there would be naturally protected by their inaccessibility, and in the southern portion of the park, because lands there were prized for grazing and hunting. . . .
Moss also made the multiple-use provisions more palatable. . . . The revised bill prohibited hunting. He liberalized the section on grazing. Permits held at the time of the bill’s enactment could be extended for the lifetime of the holder. If the original lessee had died, the immediate heirs would have lifetime grazing privileges. But if the permit was transferred, grazing rights would end after twenty-five years. Existing oil, gas, and mineral claims could be worked indefinitely. Prospecting, however, would be phased out after twenty-five years. Any minerals found during the phase-out period could be extracted until they were exhausted. . . .
The participants agreed to take a “bipartisan cooperative approach” to the Canyonlands issue. The Republicans agreed to support the concept of a sizable park with limited multiple use. In return, they wanted further modifications in the bill.
Moss agreed to delete thousands of acres of known mineral lands from the northeastern corner of the park, but to compensate for that loss he would expand the park boundaries in the south. He would make it clear that commercial interests had a right to use park access roads. He also agreed to consult with his colleagues on the redrawing of park boundaries.
Confident of success, Moss rushed back to Washington to put the agreement into effect. He added two amendments. The first adjusted the park boundaries by removing 18,000 acres of mineral land in the north and adding 19,500 acres of scenic land in the south. The second added clarifying language relating to park access roads. Moss informed Clyde of the changes over the telephone. The governor expressed disappointment that more mineral lands had not been withdrawn but gave his tentative approval. . . .
The Canyonlands compromise collapsed on the eve of the Senate hearings. Upset that he had not been consulted in the preparation of the amendments, Bennett withdrew his support. He criticized Moss for not excluding more mineral lands. He doubted that the amendment granting developers access to producing wells and mines went far enough. He rebuked Moss for not inviting state officials and Republican congressmen from Utah to join with NPS personnel in drawing the park boundaries. . . .
Chaired by Moss, the hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands proceeded as scheduled on April 25. Witnesses on both sides of the issue reiterated familiar arguments. Expressing regret over the collapse of the Canyonlands compromise, Bennett, Burton, and Lloyd asked for more time in order to “continue our search for a united front on the bill.” Moss was reluctant to grant the request. Three years of deliberations had already occurred and it was time to “get down to cases.” He also raised the specter of vandalism: Indian ruins and artifacts were being defaced. Natural wonders, too, were threatened. One formation, the Goblet of Venus, had been destroyed when vandals hooked a chain around its fragile stem and pulled it over with a jeep. The area needed protection, he pleaded, “before it is too late.” Moss, frustrated by the “tactics of delay” but hoping for an accord, agreed to keep the record open until May 15. . . .
Bennett prepared several amendments to reduce the park’s size, permit hunting, and guarantee commercial access to natural resources. The Senate subcommittee rejected them all. Undaunted, Bennett persuaded Burton to prepare a House bill based on these amendments. Introduced in early June, the Burton bill withdrew 960 acres in the north and 19,500 acres in the south, thus reducing the size of the park to 238,000 acres.
Already under fire from a variety of sources, the Moss bill was further threatened by an unexpected cause in the summer of 1963. Moss learned that the Defense Department was about to begin a classified project calling for 84 Athena missiles to be fired over the canyon country from a launch site near Green River, Utah. The impact area for the first stage of the booster rocket included parts of the proposed park. Irate, Moss asked the Federal Aviation Administration to deny the Defense Department the use of the air space. He argued that utilization “of the airspace over the proposed park would be wholly inconsistent with its best use as a scenic and spectacular national park. For reasons of safety, it would be impossible to combine the proposed use of airspace over the park with normal operation of a national park. Visitors would be discouraged from visiting the area, and the whole reason for the establishment of the park would be thwarted.”
Eventually, Moss and Udall reached an accord with the Defense Department. The interests of national security, they admitted, must temporarily prevail over the protection of scenery. The missile firings would continue until the park bill passed. . . .
In late July 1963 the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs unanimously endorsed the Moss bill and forwarded it to the floor for action. Bennett . . . then gave his support, and the Canyonlands measure passed by a unanimous vote on August 2.
Wayne Aspinall, Chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, was in no hurry. . . “A national park is supposed to be pretty much a single use area and mining is not permitted. The Senate bill would permit mining and mineral development. If we are going to have this kind of operation, then it should be a recreation area and not a national park area.” The House adjourned in December without acting on the bill. . . .
The House subcommittee struck multiple use when it reported the bill to the Committee on Interior Affairs. When the full committee received the bill, it added several amendments and reported it to the House for floor action. The first amendment slightly reduced the size of the park by removing 960 acres of mineral lands in the northeastern corner of the park. It rejected all of the other provisions of the Burton bill. A second amendment called for the prompt phasing out of grazing by refusing to grant permit renewals. A third scratched all provisions that allowed the production and exploration of minerals. A fourth omitted a provision permitting the commercial use of access roads. And a fifth did away with the Interior secretary’s timetable for the exchange of state and federal lands. On April 19, 1964, the House unanimously approved the amended Moss bill which, in effect, created a single-purpose park. . . .
Moss fought to retain multiple use, but the House conferees, including Burton, would not budge. Their lone concessions related to grazing and the time period allowed for the exchange of state and federal lands. They gave the Secretary of the Interior 120 days to make the land exchange. As for grazing, they permitted the renewal of leases for a period not to exceed ten years. After a four-year battle, the Moss bill was passed on September 3, 1964. Two weeks later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law. Canyonlands became the first national park since the creation of Virgin Islands National Park in 1957. . . .
Most of the credit for the creation of Canyonlands must go to Moss. Colleagues praised his patience, persistence, and vision. He also proved willing to compromise to obtain his objective. Nothing in his career, he later noted, was “more satisfying” than being known as “the father of Canyonlands.” Udall, too, contributed significantly to the establishment of the park. He worked harder for Canyonlands than for any other park, monument, seashore, or recreation area. He drew national attention to the area and helped spark park legislation with his visit to Utah in the summer of 1961. . . . Canyonlands remains one of the major monuments of the 1960s conservation movement.