Thursday, August 20, 2009

Senator Stevens and Wilderness Recreation

Ted Stevens served as Alaska’s senator for over 40 years. While in Congress, he always held tightly to positions placing Alaska’s interests highest, which meant that he sometimes had views at odds with National-level conservationists.

In many ways it’s sad that he was the highest ranking Republican in the time of Bush and Cheney, as Stevens was tainted by those imposters. I don’t know enough to review the truly pivotal roles he played in passing the biggest AK legislation in our lives, like Statehood, ANWR, TAPAA, ANSCA, ANILCA, Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act, each on the short list of the most significant intersections of economic development and conservation in Alaska.

But I really admired him. He was the only Republican I ever voted for (other than Sarah in the Republican primary for Governor), and I voted for him every time I could. He was, and likely remains, a man of principle, rather than of partisanship. He refused to vote in favor of impeaching Clinton during the Lewinsky affair, for instance. He always flew coach, unlike his counterpart Murkowski, who as Governor, went around the Legislature to get himself a private jet.

Stevens is a short man of great stature in my humble, if liberal opinion.

In 1979 I visited his office in DC. I was 19 years old and ANILCA was soon to pass and I wanted to be sure that mountain climbers would have air access to newly formed National Parks and Wilderness Areas. He assured me they would.

In 1984, The US Fish and Wildlife Service threatened to halt the third Wilderness Classic across the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge because the Service claimed the race inconsistent with the goals of the Refuge. Stevens stepped in, wrote a letter and the race went on. It has continued ever since.

And most importantly (to me), Senator Ted Stevens answered my simple question written him on the back of a pre-paid postcard I found on a flight to Seattle: “Are mountain bikes allowed in ANILCA Wilderness Areas?”

There were three postcards there. They were meant for another issue, roadlessness in the Tongass National Forest, but I re-appropriated them on a whim. Stuck in the seat pocket, pre-addressed and pre-stamped, they were ready to help find the answer to a question I'd had for nearly 10 years. I wrote the same question on all three, one of to each of Alaska’s delegation: Young, Murkowski, and Stevens.

Only Stevens responded and here’s what he said (CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO READ THEM):

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