From natural sights to the great landscape - A brief history of protecting natural sites and monuments in the Hautes-Alpes
Cascades and erratic blocks
In the Hautes-Alpes, all rankings under the 1906 Natural Sites and Monuments Act were taken between 1911 and 1914. The waterfalls of Casset and Combe Froide (La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar) are the first "natural monuments" to benefit from it, on January 19, 1911. Eleven sites are classified over this short period, including seven erratic blocks, mainly in the vicinity of the Bayard pass, and three waterfalls (the Oules du Diable, also in Valgaudemar, adding to the first two). The early days of the site policy in the Hautes-Alpes are a reflection of the policy implemented at the national level, which consists in giving priority to the protection of specific sites, usually natural attractions, which are directly threatened. The classification of boulders is thus motivated by the fear of their exploitation as building materials, while the classification of waterfalls aims to prevent their industrial use for hydroelectric production.
Protection of large mountain areas
Notable exception, the eleventh site classified at this time is of particularly important size: it is the massif of Pelvoux, classified by order of the Minister of Public Instruction and Fine Arts on April 11, 1911. With an area close to 10,000 hectares, it then constitutes, by far, and for a long time, the largest listed site in France. Here again, the protection is motivated by the concern to preserve the torrents descending from the massif of a hydroelectric exploitation.
The 1930 law reactivated the protection policy in the department. In 1937, no fewer than six sites were classified, including the Casse Déserte (Arvieux), the petrifying fountain of Reotier or the surroundings of the Galibier pass. The 1939 classification of the Bear Fountain in the Boscodon Forest (Crots) remains to this day one of the few protections for sites based on the legendary criterion.
Emblematic sites of the Hautes-Alpes
If the beginning of the war causes a slowdown in site protection, the years 1941 to 1944 are marked by an acceleration of the registration policy, notably around the hamlets, lakes, cottages or churches of the Clarée, waterfalls to the Grave, but also large emblematic sites of the department such as the gorges du Guil, the Meije, Mont-Dauphin or the surroundings of the Vars pass. On October 8, 1946, nineteen decrees proceeded to the inscription of the whole Valgaudemar upstream of Villar-Loubière.
After the war, the new protections became more distant. In 1969, the entire site of Serre-Ponçon was listed, straddling the Alpes de Haute-Provence and the Hautes-Alpes, followed in 1973 by the Ville-Haute de Briançon and its fortifications. The 1990s were marked by the classification of the Emparis plateau, the Clarée plateau and the extension of the Pelvoux site.