22 March 2010

Stewart L. Udall, fmr. AZ Congressman and Secretary of the Interior, requiescat

A son of the American west and the father of what I would call the third American conservation movement, former Arizona Congressman and Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall passed away at his home in New Mexico this weekend at the age of 90. A formal obituary for Mr. Udall was published today in the New York Times. One of the '''oodles of Udalls' in politics,'' Mr. Udall is survived by six children, eight grandchildren and numerous family relations, including two standing Senators: son Tom Udall of New Mexico, and nephew Mark Udall of Colorado. As President Obama related in a statement on Saturday evening, Mr. Udall ''inspired countless Americans who will continue his fight for clean air, clean water and to maintain our many natural treasures.''

An Arizona native, Mr. Udall attended the University of Arizona (UA) before serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, after which he returned to the UA to complete an advanced degree in law in 1948. After local activity in public service to education in the Tucson area, Mr. Udall was elected to three successive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives over 1955 - 1961. His time as a Congressman, in which seat he was succeeded by his brother Morris K. Udall (also a UA alum, d. 1998), was followed immediately by his nomination to the post of Secretary of the Interior by President Kennedy, in whose presidential campaign he also served, in January 1961. He served in that post until the end of President Johnson's administration in January 1969.

During his eight-year tenure in the Department of the Interior, Mr. Udall saw to the conservation and designation of nearly four million acres of lands throughout the U.S. including four new national parks, six national monuments, nine national recreation areas, 20 historic sites, and 50 national wildlife refuges. Mr. Udall also led new efforts at the DOI to preserve national seashores, of which he designated eight during his time as Secretary. A later director of the National Park Service, Mr. Roger Kennedy, once noted that Secretary Udall ''escaped the notion that all public land was essentially a cropping opportunity, the idea that if you cannot raise timber on it or take a deer off it, it wasn’t valuable.'' Conservation for the sake of preservation fought the perceived national attitude toward ecology that he once characterized as a ''myth of superabundance.'' During Secretary Udall's watch and in concert with President Johnson's progressive ''Great Society'' agenda, numerous laws for the preservation of environmental quality were enacted: the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. Many of these efforts ultimately led to the introduction and passage of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 and the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Mr. Udall was a friend of naturalist and poet Robert Frost, whom he invited to speak at the inauguration of President Kennedy. He was a patron of historian, environmentalist and author Wallace Stegner, whom he invited to join the DOI as writer-in-residence; it might be said that Stegner's friendship with Secretary Udall and his service in the 1960's on the board of directors of the Sierra Club provided significant influence while writing Angle of Repose, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972. He was an ardent supporter of Rachel Carson, whose 1962 book Silent Spring focused public attention on the environment and ushered in America's ''Green Revolution'' over the next decade. Mr. Udall published his own treatise on the imminent peril to America's natural resources in his 1964 book The Quiet Crisis.

Following his time as Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Udall continued to practice law and to write on issues at the intersection of society, the environment, and natural resource conservation. He espoused the cause of workers and citizens exposed to uranium, radiation and other products of Cold War nuclear arms manufacturing and testing procedures in the western U.S. He argued on their behalf in Federal District Court and, eventually, worked again with his contemporaries in Congress to pass the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990. Remaining true to Mr. Udall's legacy as Secretary of the Interior, the academic Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy was founded in 1987 at the University of Arizona to address (1) environmental policy, primarily in the southwestern U.S. and in the border region with Mexico, (2) the immigration policies of the U.S., and (3) Native Nations policies in the U.S. The work of the Udall Center is supported in part by the Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, an executive agency of the U.S. government with a Board of Trustees appointed by the President. The Foundation also supports the UA-affiliated Native Nations Institute and the independent U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution.

Mr. Udall leaves behind his dedication and commitment to ecological preservation and environmental stewardship, which seems at an ebb tide (relatively speaking) as we approach the 40th commemoration of Earth Day. Another contemporary of Mr. Udall, the eminent historian Dr. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., published in 1968 a short book of extraordinary insight titled The Cycles of American History in which he deconstructed the chronicles of our young country to demonstrate that national politics and related economic and foreign policies seem to run in cycles of 70 years or so in duration. I see similar characteristics in the American approach to our environment, though we seem to be on a slight upward spiral rather than in a flat cycle per se. The 1760-1780 period saw the rapid westward expansion in territory of the American colonies, primarily into the wilderness and Native regions of the Ohio River basin including the Tennessee River valley. This was, however, not so much a conservation movement as a strategy to stabilize and facilitate the expansion of the nascent republic. The 1830's brought Emerson's Nature and Thoreau's Walden, and through the 1840's Americans developed government agencies and functions in science and conservation that were eventually consolidated in the Department of the Interior, formally established in 1849. This would comprise the first American conservation movement, in my opinion. The period 1900-1920 saw the rise of John Muir's wilderness philosophy, Gifford Pinchot's conservation ethic, and their direct influence on President Theodore Roosevelt in the establishment of the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service, an obvious second American conservation movement in the cycle. The third conservation movement, which I recognize alongside the culmination of America's ''Green Revolution'' in agriculture, was presaged by Aldo Leopold's ecological and land ethic and covered the 1960's and 1970's with its peak demonstrated by the first Earth Day celebration on 22 April 1970. One might say that Rachel Carson and Stewart L. Udall brought this third movement to birth in our history, solidifying its cyclical hold on the nation and moving us forward in recognition of our environment as our partner, not our property.

We sit now in the ebb of this revolutionary cycle, as Mr. Udall recognized from apparent and widespread shifts in political motivation well before his passing. However, we can always hold on to Mr. Udall's philosophies and hope for the next round, a true ''Blue Revolution'' in the roles of science for water resources management in America and around the world.

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