Salvaging salmon: Shasta Dam and the conservation movement
The story of the salmon runs of Shasta Dam offers a microcosm for the conservation movement as a whole in the 1930's and 40's, a period that is not yet well studied in US environmental history. It is a time when conservationism was largely a focus of well-off and well-educated people, without much broad public discourse. Nonetheless, important work was being done that helped set the stage for the modern environmental movement. The Central Valley Project in California and its impact on salmon helped show the value of ecology, which would become a rallying cry for the environmental movement in the second half of the 20th century. The conservation movement in the first half of the 20th century is often seen through the lens of two major dam projects in the American West: Hetch Hetchy and Echo Park. In 1913 Congress, after much controversy, authorized the flooding of Hetch Hetchy Valley within Yosemite National Park to build a reservoir to supply water to San Francisco, but in 1956, after a hard fight with the Sierra Club, Congress decided not to build Echo Park Dam in Dinosaur National Monument. Constructed between 1938 and 1945, Shasta dam came into existence between these two watershed events. Shasta dam was not built in a National Park or Monument so it was less controversial than either Hetch Hetchy or Echo Park. Still it was a major dam, with huge environmental impacts. So understanding how Shasta Dam and the Salmon Salvage program were approved and functioned provides us a glimpse of the American conservation movement in transition and helps us to understand what happened to the US environmental movement between Hetch Hetchy and Echo Park.