Letters From the West

Andrus 1989 speech marked the beginning of collaborative era in Idaho

Cecil Andrus, elected Governor four times (1970, 1974, 1986 and 1990) and served four years as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter, and responsible for protecting 103 million acres in Alaska.

Cecil Andrus, elected Idaho governor four times and served four years as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter, where he was responsible for protecting 103 million acres in Alaska.

Sometimes moments come together that mark the advances we’ve made in government, in attitudes and in our advancement as a state and a people.

Often they take place in government, such as when Idaho Gov. Phil Batt signed legislation to provide workman’s compensation for Idaho farm workers after his hard fought effort. Sometimes they come in courageous acts like when Wassmuth organized a rally in Couer d’Alene to denounce Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler in 1986 after a pipe bomb attack on him in his home.

Some are elections, such as Cecil Andrus’ election in 1970 when he made protecting the White Cloud Mountains from mining the central issue. Others come in the beginning of institutions that we later see made change happen.

Andrus came to speak to a new organization the Idaho Environmental Forum. August 21, 1989 at the gleaming Boise Cascade building. The members were environmental professionals, lawyers, engineers, hydrologists, foresters, biologists, activists and lobbyists from all sides of the political and resource spectrum.

His talk to that group was an enduring moment that will be celebrated Tuesday when he returns to address the 200th meeting of the Idaho Environmental Forum. Tickets are going fast for the 11:30 a.m. at the Crystal Ballroom at the Hoff Building. You can register at www.idahoenvironmentalforum.org.

Some of the people there in 1989 had marched beside Andrus down Capitol Boulevard on the first Earth Day April 22, 1970. Others had worked in the same woods he bulldozed roads through as a logger for timber companies.

Idaho and the Pacific Northwest was in the middle of what we now call the timber wars, when crafty environmental lawyers and activists were using the laws passed when they were in college to stop clearcutting, protect wildlife habitat and water quality. They also were putting many timber workers out of work and helping to turn Idaho into a one party state.

But as Andrus addressed these still young professionals, he was encouraging a breed among them who were seeking a new path forward. He had just negotiated a year before an anti-degradation water quality rule sitting at the table with the timber industry the agriculture industry and environmentalists.

When the talks got tough Andrus told both sides that if they didn’t compromise he was going to take the other side’s position. He looked them in the eye and they knew he meant it.

He called this new approach common sense. Today we call it collaboration.

“I see you people, those who have come of age in this new environment, as playing a real role in fostering more of that sense of compromise and cooperation,” Andrus told the members of this new loose-knit organization.

We have passed the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The environmental movement is now mainstream, even in Idaho.

Idaho companies like Idaho Power and J.R. Simplot now tout sustainability as a goal and a policy. Their professionals regularly collaborate with the environmentalists they often join for lunch at the environmental forum.

Andrus says he’s retired at 81 but you still see him walking briskly through downtown Boise with a briefcase. That’s when he isn’t hunting for pheasants with a dog or hiking in the foothills with a grandchild.

Many of his words in that speech ring true today not only in Idaho but around the world.

“The task confronting America today is to have a nation–and a planet–that is environmentally clean and safe for future generations, but is at the same time able to support a society that is economically strong and able to compete in the international marketplace,” Andrus said in 1989.

“I have a favorite saying that I think sums it up,” he added. “First you must make a living, but then it must be a living that is worthwhile”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West