by Eric Barker
Floyd Harvey of Lewiston, a pioneer river outfitter in Hells Canyon and early opponent of building dams in the canyon died today.
In the early 1970s, Harvey was able to get national environmental groups involved in the fight to keep High Mountain Sheep Dam and other dams out of the canyon. He also befriended and took celebrities such as Aurther Godfrey, Burl Ives and Sec. of Interior Walley Hickel on tours of the canyon and convinced them to lend support to the effort.
"This valley wouldn't be what it is if it wasn't for guys like Floyd," said John A.K. Barker of Lewiston and another opponent of daming the Snake River in Hells Canyon.
The following is a story I wrote in 2001 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. Harvey is predominantly featured in the story.
Byline: Eric Barker
HELLS CANYON -- Twenty-five years ago conservationists pulled off a feat that a decade before was unthinkable.
They stopped the damming of the Snake River in Hells Canyon and helped create a National Recreation Area.
They were helped significantly by the Supreme Court of the United States and later by senators from opposite sides of the canyon.
At the time it was a forgone conclusion that a dam would be built in the canyon. It was just a matter of deciding whether it would be a private or public venture and just where the dam would be located.
That argument made its way to the land's highest court, but the justices handed down a surprise decision. They ruled the Federal Power Commission, which had licensed a private company to build the High Mountain Sheep Dam, should give greater consideration to not building the dam at all.
Floyd Harvey of Lewiston had been running an outfitting business in the canyon and specialized in taking people up the river by jet boat for sight-seeing and camping excursions. The dam, located between the mouths of the Salmon and Imnaha rivers about 47 miles from Lewiston, would have covered his camp at Willow Creek with 70 feet of water.
"All of a sudden High Mountain Sheep Dam was licensed and that would have put me out of business," he said.
But Harvey, 75, figured there might be money to be made running supplies to the dam builders.
He asked them for a job but was turned down. That was all it took for him to decide dams had no place in the canyon, North America's deepest gorge when the 9,000 foot high peaks of the Seven Devils mountain range on its eastern rim are considered.
"When I found out I couldn't get a job, something from God came down and tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'We don't want High Mountain Sheep Dam.' I wrote them and said they would never build a dam there. I'm sure they threw the letter away."
But Harvey had more letters in him and began a one-man crusade to stop the dam and have the canyon preserved. It was an upstream battle against a strong current of local support, he says.
"At that time I couldn't find anybody in Lewiston or Clarkston to back me. Nobody wanted to fight. It was a foregone conclusion. I was fighting a losing battle until I got hold of the Sierra Club."
In 1967, Harvey contacted Brock Evans, a young lawyer at Seattle who had just become the Northwest director of the Sierra Club, and found a sympathetic ear.
At the time Harvey contacted him, Evans said Idaho was virtually unknown to the conservationists on the West Coast and the idea of stopping the dam was thought impossible.
"It was one of those things I refer to in all these years since then as an utterly hopeless lost cause turned into a stunning victory."
Despite the long odds in Hells Canyon, Evans joined Harvey's fight.
"I knew enough law to know this was a hopeless cause," he said. "Dams were as holy as logging."
But that is when the Supreme Court did him and Harvey a favor. The justices were hearing a case to decide if a dam would be built by the private Pacific Northwest Power Company or the Washington Public Power Supply System.
The Federal Power Commission had given the private company the go-ahead to build High Mountain Sheep Dam but the Washington Public Power Supply System had sued on the grounds that the commission should favor public ventures over private.
The court said the commission should take a new look at the case and consider that the best choice might be to not build a dam in Hells Canyon.
Evans jumped in as an intervenor and was able to round up some river enthusiasts from Pocatello to serve as plaintiffs. His tactic was to make a case for wild rivers and to delay the process until a political solution could be pursued.
"I always knew we had to save it politically, that we couldn't save it legally," he said from his Washington, D.C., office where he serves as the executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition.
After the Supreme Court decision, Sens. Frank Church and Len Jordan, both of Idaho, struck a compromise regarding the Snake River, according to Mike Wetherell, Church's legislative assistant at the time and now an attorney and city council member at Boise.
"Church would not move to include the Snake River in the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and Len Jordan wouldn't push to get any more dams."
The Idaho senators pushed a bill to place a 10-year moratorium on dams in the canyon. As public attitudes about the environment changed, support grew over the next several years for preserving the area and the river as free flowing. "People started to think more about the natural environment," said Wetherell.
Evans looked for a local politician who might help them introduce a bill he had written to preserve the area. They found Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., who carried their bill to protect the canyon as what they called a "national river."
Packwood had never been to Hells Canyon but was eager to help. He was raised in Oregon and went to law school in New York City and had just been elected to the Senate. He was aware of the vast contrast between the landscape and development in the East and West.
"I saw what the East had failed to save," he said. "I didn't want that to happen in Oregon."
The conservationists organized a float trip through Hells Canyon that Packwood joined. His experience on that trip made him more determined to stop the dams and save the canyon.
"You cannot do that trip without just being overwhelmingly impressed -- awed," he said.
But his was an uphill battle as well. Slowly he built a cadre of co-sponsors and battled to get a committee hearing on the bill.
"We kind of thought time was on our side," he said. "Eventually, when it came around, most of the people were for it, but it was lonely at the start."
Wetherell remembers Packwood's bill as an unwelcome development that almost upset the delicate balance Church, Jordan and others had built that was keeping the river dam-free for the moment.
"Packwood got involved and Packwood almost blew the whole thing apart. It was the case of a new senator trying to satisfy one of his constituents without knowing what was going on."
By 1972 Jordan had retired and James McClure, took his place in the Senate. McClure was familiar with the area since his childhood.
"I knew the area well. I spent my summers in Council at my granddad's place. That was my backdoor, my playground."
Church, a Democrat, and McClure, a Republican, both supported doing something to protect the area and, according the Wetherell, the senators from opposing parties carried a lot of political weight when they agreed.
They worked with Packwood on a bill that would eventually form the recreation area as it is today.
The act, designating a 71-mile stretch of the Snake River through Hells Canyon and 652,488 acres in Idaho and Oregon as a National Recreation Area, was approved Dec. 31, 1975. The area was officially dedicated in a ceremony at Hatpoint Overlook July 31, 1976.
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