Historian preserves Senator Smoot’s conservation efforts
Utah History Lecture: ‘Senator Reed Smoot and the Designations of Utah National Parks’
4 p.m. on Friday, April 26
Park City Library, 1255 Park Ave.
Free, RSVP recommended
Most economic historians recognize Utah Senator Reed Smoot for working with Oregon Representative Willis C. Hawley in sponsoring the Tariff Act of 1930, which they say raised tariffs on more than 20,000 imported goods and reduced American imports and exports and worsened the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, the act, which is also known as the Smoot-Hawley Act, has a tendency to overshadow Smoot’s other work – the protection of public lands and establishing the National Parks Service, said Richard Lambert, vice chairman of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation.
Lambert wants to shed a little light on Smoot’s conservation work through this month’s Utah History Lecture, which will be held from 4-5 p.m. on Friday, April 26, at the Park City Library’s Community Room, 1255 Park Ave.
The lecture, which is sponsored by Rebecca Marriott Champion, is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are requested. To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lambert, a retired Assistant United States Attorney for the district of Utah and first cousin “several times removed” of Reed Smoot, will talk about the pioneer’s views of conservation in the time of Brigham Young before delving into Smoot’s life.
“Pioneering effort is often times viewed as exploitative, and that there was a common view that land was unlimited and resources were just for using,” Lambert said. “In Utah, however, Brigham Young and the other pioneers viewed the land differently. They felt they had a stewardship responsibility.”
Young, who was the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time, concerned himself with safeguarding of the Salt Lake Valley’s resources.
“He particularly protected City Creek, which was a main source of culinary water for the early settlers,” Lambert said.
When he addresses the role of Smoot, Lambert will first talk about the conservation ethos the future senator was raised in.
“Reed was born in Salt Lake City in 1862, not long after the pioneers had settled the valley in 1847, and his civic-minded father, Abraham Owen Smoot, was the mayor of Salt Lake City,” Lambert said. “Reed’s mentor was Karl G. Maeser, who, along with Brigham Young, founded the Brigham Young Academy.”
In 1872, when Smoot was 10, his polygamous father and part of his family moved to Provo, where the elder Smoot served as mayor.
Eight years later, Reed, who was just out of school, worked for and became the superintendent and manager of the Provo Cooperative Institution, which was like Zion Corporate Mercantile Institute, known as ZCMI, but in Provo, according to Lambert.
“He also became superintendent of the Provo Woolen Mills, and was involved in Provo Mental Institute,” he said.
In 1902, Smoot was elected to the United States Senate.
“Unfortunately, for the next four years, his membership of the Senate was challenged by individuals who believed that his coming from a polygamous family nullified his ability to serve,” Lambert said. “Although it was clear he, himself, was not a polygamist, he was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the 12 Apostles. And he spent much of his time in hearings defending himself from being expelled from the Senate.”
Still, Smoot served in the Senate until 1933.
During that time, he acted on his passions of conservation and worked with conserving national forests and monuments, according to Lambert.
In 1817, Smoot and Representative William Kent of California sponsored the bills in Congress which resulted in establishment of the National Park Service.
“Reed also oversaw the establishment of Zion and Bryce National Parks, Cedar Breaks National Monument and the establishment and expansion of Mt. McKinley, which is now Denali National Park, in Alaska, and Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas,” Lambert said. “He was also, in part, a colleague of John Muir and the Sierra Club, and fought against the flooding of the Hetch Hetchy Valley to create a reservoir in Yosemite National Park.”
Reed and Muir lost that fight, Lambert said.
“Although the reservoir provides water to San Francisco, Reed felt there were better ways of doing that,” he said.
Lambert will also talk about Smoot’s philosophy of public land usage.
“Though he wasn’t an absolutist in that there should be no private use of public lands, he felt the public use should be well regulated,” Lambert said. “He felt the federal government should oversee the private use of these lands through leases, and the royalties in significant measure of these leases should come back to the states to help with roads and upkeep of these lands.”
Smoot also felt forests, parks and monuments should be set aside for their beauty and enjoyment of the public, Lambert said.
“It’s interesting to think in this time when people are taking sides over Bears Ears that you would probably find Reed on the side of the expansion and preservation of this area,” he said. “I’m not an expert, by any means of current issues, but when you look back and see Reed lining up with the Sierra Club and with John Muir, it would be a good, educated guess where he would have sided.”
Lambert will also discuss Smoot’s other Senate responsibilities such as being chairman of the Senate’s Finance Committee from 1923 to 1933, and chairing the Public Lands Committee throughout his tenure.
“He had chosen to work with the Finance Committee because this is the pursestrings of the government,” Lambert said. “He used that influence to forward his commitment to the preservation of public lands. We have him to thank for the enjoyment we have of the forests and parks in Utah and throughout the United States.”
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