R.I.P. Cecil Andrus: “In Alaska, we have a chance to do it right the first time”

Cecil Andrus. Photo credit Wikimedia Commons.

From the Associated Press via The Los Angeles times:

Former Interior Secretary Cecil V. Andrus, who engineered the conservation of millions of acres of Alaska land during the Carter administration, has died. He was 85. Andrus died late Wednesday of complications from lung cancer, daughter Tracy Andrus said.

A onetime lumberjack, Andrus resigned midway through his second term as Idaho governor in 1977 to become President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of the Interior, serving until Carter’s term ended in 1981. He then was elected governor two more times, becoming the first four-term governor in Idaho history. He was also the last Democrat to hold the office in red-state Idaho.

Carter declared permanent national monuments on 56 million acres in Alaska in 1978. Despite criticism from many Alaskans, Andrus ordered protection of an additional 52 million acres of public lands in the state the same year.

The threat of additional federal protections by executive fiat forced Alaskan lawmakers to compromise on the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, signed by Carter just a month before he left office. The law set aside an area the size of California as national parks, national forests and refuge areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“In the Lower 48, we have to fight to save some single remnant of an area that’s already been ruined,” Andrus later said. “In Alaska, we have a chance to do it right the first time.”

Andrus’ conservation efforts earned him the praise of environmental groups but the rancor of many Alaskans who depended on resources extracted from public lands for their livelihoods. A popular bumper sticker on Alaskan pickup trucks proclaimed, “Lock up Andrus, not Alaska.”

In a 2003 speech, Andrus criticized the much-debated proposal to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “It is a place that is so fragile it takes 100 square miles for a grizzly bear to forage,” he said. “It takes 50 years for a tree to grow.”

Historian T.H. Watkins once wrote that only three Interior secretaries — Harold Ickes, Andrus and Stuart Udall — understood the importance of wilderness preservation “to the spiritual and ecological well-being of the nation.”

Caribou on the Colville River. North Slope. Photo credit Wikimedia Commons.

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