Carlson: Over the Horizon

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Cece Andrus’ uncanny ability to look over the horizon is one of the hallmarks that make him such a unique political figure. A reminder of this occurred recently in a reflection piece on a Fairbanks trial by Alaskan writer Craig Medred.

A cantankerous, iconoclastic “outback” figure was on trial for not following the regulations within the boundaries of one of the National Parks created by landmark Andrus led “set aside” legislation that doubled the size of the National Park system when signed by President Carter in December of 1980.

Trial testimony revealed a classic over-reaction by the Park Service as a SWAT-team descended to arrest and haul the guy off to jail. The image of NPS police holding a shotgun to his head said it all.

Medred was one of a contingent of national and Alaskan reporters taking part in a tour put together at the behest of the then Interior Secretary during the summer of 1979 to showcase the many “crown jewels” in Alaska being proposed for permanent protection. The ten-day tour was designed to educate a national audience to what was at stake for all Americans in perpetuity in these unique public lands.

The tour was successful with hundreds of news stories and tv clips appearing in major cities across the nation. Alaska’s senior senator, crusty Ted Stevens of course charged Andrus with lobbying with public funds but there was little he could do but fume.

During the tour time was scheduled for reporters to hike and fish as well as watch birds or, at a distance, Alaskan caribou and grizzly. On such a break the Secretary and Medred wandered off to do a little fly fishing.

Medred recalled that while casting Andrus opined one of the reservations he had about creating new additions to the nation’s various protection systems was turning over the most scenic tracts to management by the National Park Service. Andrus opined it would be better for all if the lands were declared part of the wilderness system managed by the Forest Service.

His concern was legitimate and prescient as anyone visiting Alaska today knows. The National Park Service, much as Andrus feared, has ham-handedly lost the respect of Alaskans living adjacent to the vast, protected tracts. The parks are viewed as play grounds for the rich from the lower 48 who trek to Alaska during the two months of the year when the weather is nice, there’s almost 20 hours of daylight, and they can ride tour busses or, fully clad in recent purchases from an Orvis Fly Shop, descend upon streams to flail away.

So how did Andrus come to know that this was something to be worried about?

Experience, pure and simple. While governor in his first two terms he dealt with representatives of that Interior agency who were casting covetous eyes on the Sawtooths, the White Clouds and Hells Canyon. All these areas were then being managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Familiarizing himself with what one could and could not do in a national park, Andrus concluded their management scheme would be too restrictive for those who love to hunt and fish in Idaho’s backcountry.

He intuitively understood a National Park designation could also quickly lead to an area being “loved to death” by an influx of folks who trek to the national parks precisely because of their notoriety.

Thus, he settled on the “national recreation area” designation which would keep the Forest Service as the lead land manager, much to the consternation of the late Paul Fritz who then managed the only piece of NPS turf in Idaho, Craters of the Moon National Monument.

For years Andrus watched as Forest Service personnel did a better job of integrating themselves into their communities and working in a truly neighborly way.

Several times during his four terms as Governor he would disappear into remote parts of Idaho’s backcountry with just the supervisors of Idaho’s national forests and their bosses from Ogden or Missoula for four day horse-packing trips. He never took staff, nor did they.

It’s amazing how seemingly insoluble challenges give way to possible solutions when sitting around a campfire in some remote corner of the proposed Mallard-Larkins wilderness area, for example.

The key Andrus would say today reflects what he has always practiced—-understand the public office is a public trust, know a public servant is just that, that the public is the boss, listen because there is a collective wisdom to the public sense of propriety, use common sense, keep working to figure out the greatest good for the greatest number.

If he were still Secretary of the Interior there’d be a few NPS personnel being sent to charm school to learn that a little bit of honey goes much further than a lot of vinegar.

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