What legislative achievement are you most proud of? Is there one piece of legislation that stands out in your mind?
Well, I reckon, you’re right. There were so many of them I wouldn’t want to put a priority on any of them. If I were putting a priority on them, I would put the priority on the people side of it, the National Park Foundation, which today is a major source of funding for national parks and for program innovation, and the Volunteers in Parks, without which the park system couldn’t operate today. And, of course, the Alaska bill that preserved eighty million acres from state and Native selection in Alaska.
If you had to prioritize them, Alaska would be my most significant achievement, for the simple reason that it was achieved despite significant opposition. A similar provision failed in the House despite the support by the most powerful members in the Congress, Morris Udall and John Saylor. The House disapproved it. So the only reason that I got directly involved in it was when John Saylor called me after that fateful [House] meeting to say we’d lost it and if we were to save Alaska we had to do it in the Senate. That’s when I went to see Senator [Henry M. “Scoop”] Jackson, who said he had given the responsibility for Alaska to Senator [Alan Harvey] Bible and that if I was to get what I wanted in Alaska, which he agreed … was desirable, I’d have to convince Bible.
So I went to see Senator Bible and he said, “I’ve never been to Alaska, and I’m going to be guided by what the two [Alaskan] senators want.” Well, of course, I knew that Ted Stevens and [Senator Mike] Gravel didn’t have any mind for what I wanted. And I said [to Bible], “Senator, you’ve just got to go.” He said, “I’m not going, because I agreed with my former law partner, Bob McDonald, and my dearest friend Dr. Fred Anderson, that we are going to take our wives on a quiet vacation for the first time since I’ve been in the Senate.” I said, “Senator, if you’d just take them to Alaska I will guarantee you a vacation like none of you have ever had.” And he said, “Well, you know I’m not for that, but I’ll think about it and I’ll talk with them.” So, of course, I was on pins and needles for two weeks until he finally called and said, “Well, I talked with Dr. Anderson and Bob McDonald and we’ll go to Alaska.”
I took those six people to Alaska. Of course, the great bounty of that [vacation] was that when Anderson and McDonald saw it [the state], they wanted even more of Alaska than I did. Coming back from Alaska, Bible had invited Mrs. Hartzog and me to go and visit with him and Lucille Bible, his wife, at their cabin on Lake Tahoe at the end of the trip. So we went to Tahoe and spent, I reckon, the better part of three days there with them. During that time [in Alaska] he had not said one word to me about whether he was going to support any program that I had in mind for Alaska or not. I mean you knew as much about what he was going to do as I did.
We got up the first morning after we had gotten in there late in the evening, and after breakfast he and I went out to the front yard and sat down looking over the lake and he said to me, “Well, why don’t you go ahead and draft for me what you would like to have in Alaska.” And that’s how we got the Alaska Reservation legislation.
I had recommended seventy-six million acres, and he upped it to eighty million, because while it was Alaska, neither the Forest Service nor the Fish and Wildlife Service had done anything to try to get the Senate to reserve any land for them. So toward the end of our trip to Alaska, I said to him, “You know, Mr. Chairman, while we are here I think it would be useful if you have had the opportunity of visiting with the local Fish and Wildlife and Forest Service people.” “Well,” he said, “that’s not a bad idea. How would we do that?” And I said, “Well, I can call the regional directors and arrange for them to meet us in Anchorage and get a little coffee and let you have an opportunity to chat with them.” He said, “Why don’t we do that?”
We were staying at the Captain Cook Hotel when we returned to Anchorage, and that incidentally was a hotel developed and owned by Walter Hickel, who later became secretary of the interior. So I called the Forest Service regional director and the Fish and wildlife people and invited them to come down and have coffee with Senator Bible and talk about their needs and their visions. It was on the basis of that [meeting] that he added four million acres to what I had proposed.
Then, of course, when the bill passed, the administration took control of it and this is now the Republican Nixon administration. Rogers Morton is secretary and Nat Reed is the assistant secretary, and Nat Reed makes quite a record down in Florida about what he did in connection with the Alaska lands. My view is what he did in connection with the Alaska lands is he reduced considerably the amount of acreage that was supposed to have been in the National Park System, to leave it in the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service. As I pointed out in my book and as I’ve said and say again, the reason they did that is because those two areas are accessible to the users. I mean the “rape and run” crowd, that’s where they operate, in Fish and Wildlife areas and the national forests. They don’t operate in national parks. If they had put the Arctic [National] Wildlife Refuge lands in the national park, which we proposed, they would not be talking this nonsense about drilling in it today. But they went and added it to the existing national wildlife refuge there.
People have asked me why I did it that way. Well, I did it that way because I thought that was the logical way to do it, to give the Congress an opportunity to decide individually what they wanted done, because there had been a lot of controversy when the Kennedy administration came in between the House committee and the Kennedy administration over the exercise of the presidential and secretarial authority to establish areas without consultation of the Congress, national monuments and historic sites. Finally [Congressman] Wayne Aspinall forced the administration to agree to insert in all of those orders that no money would be provided to them until legislation authorizing them had been approved. Well, I didn’t want that kind of fiasco in Alaska. So I still think I was right in just simply reserving it, preserving the Congress’s opportunity to do what they wanted to. In doing that I ran the risk of that administration reducing the park system, which is what the Nixon crowd wanted to do all along.
Where were some other pockets of support in Congress? Do any of the other senators or representatives stand out in your mind?
Oh my goodness, yes. We had them. I can’t recall all of them. It would be an injustice for me to start naming them, because I will omit somebody, because, you know, I’m eighty-five years old, and I told you my caveat is that recollection is a damn poor witness to truth.
Well then, let me ask you this. We talked in our previous session about the phenomenal expansion of the National Park System during your tenure. You’ve just described Alaska, which was a huge addition, but what about national recreation areas? Those marked another expansion of the system. What were the challenges that you faced in accommodating and managing that expansion?
Well, of course, my theory, and I think my analysis of the record pretty much does support me until the Vietnam War caught up with it. When Vietnam caught up with it, as you recall, I closed the parks two days a week, because they were not properly funded by the administration and the Congress. But until that episode, the appropriations and the personnel grew in relationship to the additions to the system. I always argued that the additions finance themselves and in many ways enhanced the base, because they brought into our orbit a new group of congressmen and senators from the urban areas of America where we were not previously represented. That was an important part of the expansion, to make the park system relevant to an evolving urban society, because I still contend that wilderness will never be preserved by the people who manage it. Wilderness will be preserved by the people who elect representatives to the Congress.
It occurred to me that in managing this expansion, at least for a period, you benefited from having the appropriations keep pace. But there’s a connection, too, I would suspect, to your management policies. By having those new management policies in place the Park Service was better able to handle this expansion.
Absolutely. And we made provision for it in our management policies. That’s why we categorized the areas of the system into recreation, natural, and historical, so that we could accommodate a variety of uses. In other words, I agree with those management policies the way they’d been written. I see nothing objectionable as applied to Lake Mead [National Recreation Area]. But it’s only when back in 1978 in the Carter administration they tried to take Lake Mead and make it Yellowstone [National Park]. I was very concerned about that and expressed my concern then, that some administration at some point in time would take the whole thing and turn it upside down and make Yellowstone [a recreation area like] Lake Mead.