When they carve the equivalent of Mount Rushmore for politicians who stuck their necks out for hunting, fishing, wildlife and conservation, Cecil Andrus deserves to be among the faces in the small crowd along with Teddy Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.
Andrus, 84, living in Boise, was Idaho’s governor in 1971-77 and 1987-95.
He took a break from the Gem State in 1977-81 to serve as Interior secretary in the Carter Administration, where he orchestrated what, by some measures, is the greatest piece of conservation legislation in history.
Alaska’s world-famous wildlife, salmon runs and expansive unblemished ecosystems are taken for granted by many sportsmen and adventurers. It’s easy to forget how ripe for development Alaska was in the 70s, with the deals revolving around the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, approved by Congress and signed by President Carter in 1980, provided protection in one way or another for about 157 million acres, including national parks, refuges, forests and monuments as well as wild and scenic rivers, recreation and conservation areas.
The act nearly doubled the sizes of the national park and wildlife refuge systems and tripled the size of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
The story – which is much broader than the vote and the stroke of a pen – is told with insider’s detail by North Idaho resident Chris Carlson in his recently published book, Eye on the Caribou (Ridenbaugh Press; $16.95). It’s his third book involving Andrus.
Carlson, 64, lives near the lower Coeur d’Alene River in Medimont where he writes essays on politics. He was press secretary for Gov. Andrus and flew with the governor to Plains, Georgia, in 1976 to interview with president-elect Carter for the Interior position. Carlson later followed Andrus to Washington, D.C., as assistant Interior secretary for public affairs.
The movement to protect Alaska’s fragile wildlife ecosystems dates back to the Roosevelt period in the early 1900s. The effort picked up in 1968 with the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, followed by the 1971 passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to resolve issues with aboriginal land claims and release land for economic development throughout the state.
Even as the governor of the great outdoor state of Idaho, Andrus was a fan of the hunting and fishing resources in Alaska. He tuned in from afar to the political jousting over the lands identified in Section 17(d)(2) of the native claims act.
Those lands included 80 million acres to be considered for congressional designation as national parks, refuges, forests or wild and scenic rivers.
“Andrus always had the ability to look over the horizon,” Carlson said in a recent interview. “He had good instincts for what would happen.”
Alaska Sens. Mike Gravel and Ted Stevens also had instincts for finding ways to redirect the protected lands to the hands of industry and development, he said.
Andrus worked to let the public know what was at stake. In 1978, he put together a tour of the 17(d)(2) lands and garnered extensive major media coverage of threatened Alaska wildlife.
“Andrus was back from Alaska for only two weeks before he and Carter and their wives met in Idaho for four days of fly fishing and floating down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River,” Carlson said.
“They sat around a campfire each night, talked some about the fishing and then a lot about strategy.”
“Carter agreed to Andrus’s suggestion that if Gravel and Stevens gummed up the works for a lands bill, Carter would use his authority under the Antiquities Act to declare study lands as national monuments. Andrus let them know he had a hammer if the Alaska delegation didn’t play ball.”
Stevens went along with a negotiated compromise, but Gravel took a hard line that blocked legislation. That forced Carter and Andrus, in October 1978, to declare 56 million acres of candidate areas as national monuments.
“The conservation community wanted more than 100 million acres, but the coalition backed Andrus and Carter,” Carlson said. “Nevertheless, even the scaled down protections caused a furor of protest in Alaska.”
In the wake of Carter’s proclamations, most opponents recognized the need to work toward passage of an acceptable bill for the remaining lands, rather than no bill at all.
The conservationists had to recognize that the landscape in the House of Representatives was shifting right, and President Ronald Reagan and Interior Secretary James Watt would soon be taking the helm in the executive branch.
“Andrus had to take a stand even within the Carter administration, facing heavy push back from top officials including Energy Secretary James Schlesinger,” Carlson said.
“Carter supported Andrus every time. The bottom line: they got the bill.
Stevens was a tough negotiator. He stripped additional protection for the Tsongas National Forest and got guarantees for a high cut of timber. Andrus told the conservation community to take what they could get and work in future years to correct what was wrong with the 1980 bill.”
Carlson’s book is a fascinating read because of the historic nature of the legislation, details on the players and the colorful inside stories.
For example, in 1979, Andrus and Carlson flew to Anchorage and stayed at a lodge ostensibly for salmon fishing. Carlson had been a correspondent for the Anchorage Daily News and knew the players and background of Alaska issues.
Early the next morning, a fishing guide landed his pontoon plane and picked up Andrus. “The fishing guide was Gov. Jay Hammond,” Carlson said. “The two of them flew off and put down at Hammond’s fishing hole. They spread out maps and reached agreements on boundaries of d2 lands.
“Hammond was a conservationist at heart but he had a hard right-wing to satisfy. They didn’t publicize the meeting, but they both had appreciation for the outdoors.”
Andrus stands above all the proceedings as a conservation hero.
“The credit is due for putting together the strategy for the Alaska lands legislation of 1980 and executing it to perfection,” Carlson said. “Andrus held all the players accountable.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.