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Cecil Andrus Interview

Cecil AndrusCecil Andrus was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1970, when he took a position against mining in the White Clouds. It was one of the issues that pitted him against then Republican governor Don Samuelson. Andrus went on to win and served four terms as governor. He also served as Interior Secretary under President Jimmy Carter. Producer Greg Hahn conducted this interview in the summer of 2012.

How did you get involved in the White Clouds issue?
In spite of what people say, I'm a lumberjack and a political accident. I ended up in the state senate at age 29. Ten years later I ended up being governor of the state of Idaho. I've been involved in the environmental conservation movements all of my adult life. Of course, probably without question Castle Peak was a big, big political issue that helped catapult me — a Democrat — into the governor's chair, a Democrat there for the first time in 24 years. Then once we were there we handled the national recreation area in the Sawtooths. We handled the Hells Canyon NRA; we handled the wild and scenic rivers; we did away with the access to Castle Peak to protect that. The list goes on and on.

Ernie Day's aerial photo of Castle Peak influenced public opinion.And then I was fortunate enough to be requested, selected, directed, however you want to say it, by President-elect Jimmy Carter to be his Secretary of the Department of the Interior, where once again I had the opportunity to help with the wilderness area which we now call The Frank. It was in the old declaration after the act of 1964 where we made the decisions as to what should be wilderness. However, it took from 1973-4 to 1980 and the lame duck session to get it passed through the Congress; and that's the River of No Return wilderness area which we now call The Frank Church River of No Return wilderness. So that was another of my babies.

"What they wanted to do was a crime. And I said No, we're not going to let that happen, and we didn't. And that issue alone probably accounted for the margin of victory that I had in 1970, which was about 10 or 11,000 votes."The biggie, of course, was the Alaska Lands issue and with the passage of that again, in the lame duck session of 1980, we more than doubled the total acreage of national parks, refuges. We created, for the first time, park preserves which allowed for hunting by the subsistence hunters in land that was managed by the Park Service.

I've been fortunate to have a lot of help by a lot of people to bring about success in these areas. No one person does it by themselves. There are many beautiful areas in the world, but not all of them have the protection that we have now in some of these. You and I will be dead and gone, but future generations will come here and see the Sawtooths with snow on it, the beautiful lakes that we have here. Future generations are entitled to benefit as we have. The good Lord didn't put us here to change what we have. We were put here to enjoy it, but to also make certain that we didn't alter it or destroy it.

How did Castle Peak resonate so much with you? After all, you weren't known as a big environmentalist back then.
Wait a minute, you are totally crazy that just because I worked as a lumberjack doesn't mean that I didn't appreciate or enjoy the outdoors. I hunted, I fished, I recreated, I camped. Not every lumberjack goes out and destroys the world, so I was fortunate enough to work in an area and with people who championed the protection of areas. You take Potlatch forest back in those days, when I started. When they would take a public timber sale, they would just denude the ground, but they protected their own deeded property in a different manner. So those things took place; but no, I don't admit to being a crazy wild eyed lumberjack. I was a productive, constructive lumberjack working to support my family, but I cared about the environment.

"One of the few times we differed with some of our other conservation friends; we said NRA is the way to go. Was that right? Was that wrong? I don't know, but that's the way it went."Now Castle Peak, Ernie Day brought that issue to me with his camera. He had photos of Castle Peak; he had photos of Railroad Ridge the way they had destroyed it and he said, Cece, you've got to come look at it. I did. You climb up to Castle Peak, go down the other side to Frog Lake, look across the Railroad Ridge and see the destruction that had taken place; and what they wanted to do was a crime. And I said No, we're not going to let that happen, and we didn't. And that issue alone probably accounted for the margin of victory that I had in 1970, which was about 10 or 11,000 votes.

It's interesting that, after all those years of seeking protection for the Sawtooths, that this was the issue that pushed it across the finish line.
People were concerned. They were talking about it 50 years prior to that, but it was coming to a head. The passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 is what created the activity and the interest. You look at additional Park Service, you look at NRAs, you look at those areas that should have some level of protection. Not all of them qualified, and they fell through the screening process. But I think that it was probably Boyd Norton and some of his friends from the Idaho Falls area that struck the match to get the discussion going in 1972, but then I found out that the Park Service was already out here looking at the area.

I met with Senator Frank Church quite a few times, and we decided, hey, if you make this beautiful valley a park, it will attract so many people that they'll tromp over one another. It can't stand that much pressure. Also, you couldn't allow hunting and fishing, which was a big thing here. One of the few times we differed with some of our other conservation friends; we said NRA is the way to go. Was that right? Was that wrong? I don't know, but that's the way it went. But today it is protected, and you have the Forest Service managing it instead of the Park Service. It probably isn't that much difference in what it ended up.

Newly elected Gov. Cecil Andrus with U.S. Senator Frank Church. [Credit: Boise State University]A very important part of it that we haven't talked about is the Boulder White Clouds. And the reason that we should move to get the Boulder White Clouds into wilderness protection is every day you wait, every season that goes by, some of the very reasons that it qualifies for wilderness are being destroyed by off-road vehicles, or indiscriminate activities with powered equipment; and it destroys what really makes it possible to fit into a wilderness situation. So it's very important that that take place now. The time is now.

You brought up the idea of using the Antiquities Act to save the Boulder White Clouds?
I talked to Ken Salazar. You have to understand that former Secretaries and Secretaries have kind of an understanding that you have confidential discussions, and you don't violate them. I talked to him personally about it, I hand carried a letter to him with my thoughts on that subject matter. I also put one inside the White House. I did not have the opportunity to talk to the President, but I talked to a person who was very, very close to the President and gave him a copy of the letter and said this is what should be done.

It hasn't happened, and Ken's comment — I'd like to think that Salazar was caught off guard by the press — they said, well, are you considering Antiquities Act designation of the area? And he said, not at this time because there has not been a great push by the public requesting it. There never is, until after you do it, and then you get the benefits of it.