Devils Postpile: A century of conservation

By Byng Hunt

Anyone taking in the impressive vistas of the Grand Canyon, or awed by the towering majesty of the Statue of Liberty, can attest to the natural and historic value before them. Ever wonder what our country would be like if these icons had not been preserved for public enjoyment and the benefit of future generations? Fortunately, the power of the Antiquities Act to designate these lands as National Monuments has protected these jewels for posterity.

More than one hundred years ago, Forest Service Engineer Walter Huber rejected a proposal to destroy the Devils Postpile formation in the Sierra Nevada, calling it a “wanton destruction of scenery”. In 1911, using his authority under the Antiquities Act, Republican president William Howard Taft created the Devils Postpile National Monument, protecting Devils Postpile and Rainbow falls for the enjoyment of future generations.

In July of 2011, thanks to the foresight of Mr. Huber and President Taft, Americans will celebrate the centennial anniversary of this unique monument. With the stroke of a pen, President Taft saved Devils Postpile and its surrounding scenic treasures from encroaching development. Taft knew that the Postpile area was critical for recreation, economic vitality and biological study. Tourists continue to marvel at this geological wonder, a unique wall of basalt columns, and enjoy the outstanding recreational opportunities in and around the area.

Rainbow Falls, at one hundred and one feet, is the highest waterfall on the middle fork of the San Joaquin River. It is appropriately named for the amazing rainbows created as the water plummets onto the rocks below, emitting an eternal mist that glows in the sun. Devils Postpile is surrounded by both Ansel Adams and John Muir Wildernesses and is a popular starting point for backcountry trips. The Postpile is the seed that flourished to preserve this vast wilderness area.

The Antiquities Act which President Taft used to protect this irreplaceable land has been a beneficial bipartisan tool for preserving many of America’s natural and historic treasures. It has been used by fifteen presidents from both political parties and it has protected and conserved many of America’s national “favorites” such as the Aztec Ruins in New Mexico and Craters of the Moon in Idaho.

With the centennial anniversary of Devils Postpile upon us, we should recognize the continuing needs of preservation and conservation of these special places. We must prevent the “wanton destruction of scenery” that Huber warned against one hundred years ago and is still a threat today.

Will the Antiquities Act and other tools be used again to protect and sustain other public treasures in the Eastern Sierra? “Wild by nature” defines our land ethic and our local economics and should be our ongoing focus.

Happy Birthday Devils Postpile National Monument!

Byng Hunt is the Mono County Supervisor for District 5 – Mammoth Lakes.