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Finding the River: An Environmental History of the Elwha Paperback – December 1, 2011
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Employing sound historical analysis and scientific evidence, he makes a valuable contribution to the literature on river development by directing attention to smaller dams that have cumulatively had major ecological effects. At the same time, he highlights the diversity, fluidity, and continued vitality of the modern environmental movement. -Andrew Fisher, Environmental History
Crane's research is impressive, and his narrative prose . . . drives home a conservation message with extraordinary force. Crane discusses the Elwha Dam as part of a larger story of industrialization and de-industrialization of rivers across America and plumbs the literature on the romantic, conservation, and environmental movements to understand reasons for its removal. The scope of the book . . . is impressive. In this sense, Finding the River will remain the exemplar in what is sure to become a growing commentary on dam-removal all across America. -Richard Judd, Oregon Historical Quarterly
Crane sets out to explore the Elwha and the evolving environmental attitudes that have shaped it. This open-ended approach makes the book a remarkably smooth and fluid read, with a narrative that runs easily from the ice age to the present day. This style does demand a little more attention from an academic reader, though, as Crane braids his findings and arguments seamlessly into the Elwha story.-Peter Brewitt, Journal of Environmental Studies
About the Author
Jeff Crane is an associate dean at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. He coedited Natural Protest: Essays on the History of American Environmentalism and is also the author of The Environment in American History: Nature and the Formation of the United States
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The Elwha River is located in the northern reaches of Washington State's Olympic Peninsula and flows through Olympic National Park before emptying into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It was the location of two treaty-defying dam projects which transcended decades, were an engineering blunder, and ultimately failed to deliver on their promises to the public and politicians who lobbied for them. After much debate, the decision was made, with federal support, to deconstruct the two technologically obsolete dams. If this were the intended scope of the book, it would be complete and resolved in its mission. However, Crane endeavored to incorporate the more abstract and sometimes scientific themes of environmental history which lead to noticeable imbalances within the book.
To write a complete environmental history of any area, one must provide meaningful ecological and geological insights throughout the text. Crane reserves the first 8-10 pages for such a history covering the 3+ million year story before throwing in Natives and never mentioning the environment again in a meaningful and exploratory way. Of course it is not necessary to include a detailed biotic and geologic record of the Elwha region; however, by treating such a record as a mandatory introduction for an environmental history book and nothing more, he has separated the natural history from the human history. This does not at all maintain his claim that the Elwha can reveal to the readers "the role of nature in their lives." In fact it achieves the contrary.
Crane proceeds to provide excellent insights on the Klallam people who were the last Elwha residents before the white settlers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Crane draws from intriguing primary sources as reported from early explorers as well as a variety of secondary documents to illustrate an organized portrait of pre-contact Puget Sound riparian lifestyle. Crane employs meticulous citation when describing the lifestyle and practices of the Klallam people, but when he concludes the topic he insists that the Klallam people probably valued the river "for its beauty and clean water" and insists that the Klallam worldview was one where "nature was not commodified...While it is anachronistic to portray Indian peoples environmentalists in modern terms (there are many examples of Indian peoples damaging ecosystems and certain species like beaver during the beaver fur trade), in the case of the Klallam, we see a system of use and respect that worked..." Crane offers no citation or example to reinforce this grass roots idea. Instead he moves on to commit one of his most significant blunders in the book.
In order to reinforce his idea of the ecologically mindful Indian, Crane draws from Joseph Taylor's book, Making Salmon. Crane accurately notes Taylor's effort to explain the massive salmon harvest carried out by the Pacific Northwest Indians. These harvests were extensive and supported a large native population. According to Crane, Taylor explained that through ceremonial practices Indians self-regulated themselves into being unconsciously ecologically minded, and therefore they never depleted the salmon runs to their current pathetic state. However, Taylor's intentions behind Making Salmon were more concerned with the causes of the decline and the futile efforts of fish culturists to offset the drooping salmon run statistics. Taylor concludes that natives of the Pacific Northwest harvested an enormous amount salmon (perhaps as much as peek industrial harvests) and that no such ecologically minded constraints existed. Taylor uses a library of statistics to prove that salmon declines are due to, in sum, habitat loss.
In his introduction, Crane promised meaningful environmental philosophy on the subject of the Elwha but ultimately handles the topic by a few John Muir and William Cronon quotes and a few distant associations to the Hetch-Hetchy controversy of the early twentieth century.
However, as mention above, Crane has produced an excellent, and I mean excellent, hundred year account of the Elwha controversy placed in a political, social, and economical background. This was the book's strength, and if the reader is searching that sort of insight, then I highly recommend Finding the River. I would furthermore recommend that the reader skip the introduction and chapter 1 in order to not set up false hope in the promises and assertions posited in the early pages of the book.