"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Unreported Alaska land stories

carlson CHRIS


On June 28th former four-term Idaho governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus will make a presentation in Vail, Colorado to the top donors to the The Carter Center on the how of achieving President Carter’s greatest legacy, the setting aside of 103 million acres of virgin Alaska lands into the four major preservation systems—national parks, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges and new wild and scenic rivers.

With passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Areas (ANILCA) legislation on December 1st followed by an immediate signing into law by President Carter on December 2nd, 1980, Carter surpassed President Theodore Roosevelt as the greatest friend of conservation in the history of the White House.

As many Idahoans know, the key to the success was the then Interior Secretary convincing President Carter to use his powers under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to declare much of Alaska to be National Monuments in 1978. The President followed the advice which overnight literally forced opponents led by the Alaska Congressional delegation to stop opposing legislation and instead start supporting legislation to undo the much more restrictive national monument designation. The same tactic now appears necessary if the pristine alpine areas of the Boulder/White Clouds are to receive appropriate protection.

In helping to prepare his presentation I was reminded of two colorful stories that have gone largely unreported.

1) Gotcha. In the summer of 1978, Andrus put together and personally led 30 members of the nation’s media on a ten-day, once in a lifetime tour of many of the proposed set asides. It led to numerous supportive stories in media across the nation.

Alaska’s senior senator, Ted Stevens, was furious. He accused Andrus of lobbying with public money, something the Senator himself had been accused of years before when at the Interior department he had openly used public resources to campaign for Alaskan statehood.

Even though a Republican in the minority at that time, Majority Leader Robert Byrd let Stevens act as the de facto chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee. Thus, in the fall, Stevens commanded Andrus to appear before the committee to defend the public affairs budget and the public costs of the tour.

Andrus easily brushed aside Stevens charge, explaining that it was a legitimate educational endaevor, not an advocacy tour (wink, wink!).

Towards the noon hour Stevens held up a copy of the just published book on Alaska by John McPhee, Coming Into the Country. Stevens extolled the book as the story of the Alaskan frontier and the people who carved a living out of daily combat with the Alaskan wilds.

He finished his harangue by suggesting Andrus could benefit from reading the book. Having bitten his tongue and bided his time, Andrus responded, “Senator, not only have I read the book but if you can end this hearing on time, I’ll be able to keep my luncheon date today with Mr. McPhee.’ Stevens was virtually speechless for a minute, then smiled and said “Oh Mr. Secretary, I wouldn’t want you to be late.” He knew he’d been had and banged the gavel to end the hearing.

2) Bi-partisan Cooperation. On that media tour, early one August morning a single engine Cessna 170 with pontoons landed on Lake Iliamna, taxied up to the Lodge dock where a solitary figure was waiting. Secretary Andrus jumped in the plane, piloted by a former bush pilot and guide who happened to be the current Alaskan governor, Jay Hammond.

Off the two of them flew for a day of putting down at several of Hammond’s favorite fly fishing spots. At various times during the day they would stop fishing, sit down and spread maps of Alaska over logs and basically would agree on various boundaries of the various proposed set asides.

Andrus tells a wonderful story about how along about mid-day Hammond turned to him and said, “Well its time to hit a gas station.” He put down on some isolated lake in the middle of nowhere, taxied the plane up to spit of land, killed the engine and said to Cece, ”I know I stashed a couple of five gallon fuel cans around here a few weeks back.” Off Hammond went into the brush and soon emerged with two five gallon cans and strained the fuel into the wing tanks. Then they resumed fishing and more discussions on d-2 boundaries.

No aides, no staff, no flunkies. Just two superb politicians who knew they had a job to do and had to cooperate to get it done in the best interests of Alaskans as well as all Americans.

Today’s politicians could learn a lot from those two fine public servants.

Share on Facebook