Cecil D. Andrus, a former logger and self-described “political accident” who served a record four terms as governor of Idaho, and who as President Jimmy Carter’s interior secretary spearheaded conservation efforts including the protection of millions of acres of Alaska wilderness, died Aug. 24 in Boise. He was 85.
The cause was complications from lung cancer, his daughter, Tracy Andrus, said in a statement.
Andrus was a rare Democrat in politically conservative Idaho, though he thumbed his nose at nearly all labels aside from the designation Westerner.
He fished for steelhead and salmon, helped teach Carter how to cast with a fly rod, and hunted elk and deer while distancing himself from the gun lobby — once dismissing members of the National Rifle Association as “the gun nuts of the world” for their opposition to a ban on armor-piercing bullets.
When Carter was elected president in 1976, the former Georgia governor said he considered only one candidate for interior secretary.
Andrus, midway through his second term as governor, took the job and set about reforming a department long known as a pro-business force in the West, where it managed vast tracts of land, including more than 60 percent of the state of Idaho.
“The domination of the department by mining, oil, timber, grazing and other interests is over,” Andrus once told the New York Times.
Initially, few believed him. “Prior to Andrus’ arrival,” one California conservation official told Newsweek in 1977, “if you cut somebody in the oil companies, somebody at the Interior Department bled. It was impossible to distinguish the regulators from the regulatees.”
Yet within 100 days, Andrus established himself as a conservationist in the mold of former interior secretaries Harold L. Ickes and Stewart Udall. While he made some concessions to business interests, he won new restrictions on strip-mining, hard-rock mining and offshore drilling. He also established moratoriums on logging near Redwood National Park in California and on leases for oil- and gas-drilling in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
To the dismay of some Western politicians, he led a Carter administration effort to halt 30 major water-development projects. “We are coming to the end of the dam-building era in America,” he said.
Congress disagreed — the Times reported that at a House Interior Committee hearing in 1977, Andrus was called “presumptuous,” “arrogant” and “vindictive” — and about half of the projects were eventually funded.
Andrus was more successful in the long battle to preserve Alaskan lands, which pitted him against that state’s pro-development senators, as well as Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger.
While opponents sought to open portions of the state’s wilderness to oil and gas exploration, Andrus said he aimed to balance business interests and the preservation of a natural treasure.
“People look at Alaska the way they used to look at the American West,” he told Newsweek in 1978. “They thought the land was unlimited. They were wrong about the West. And they’re wrong about Alaska.”
When the legislation appeared to languish in the Senate, Andrus issued a three-year moratorium on commercial development, covering about 100 million acres of Alaskan land. On his counsel, Carter also designated 56 million acres of the land as national monuments — more than doubling the size of the national park system.
The final bill, signed into law two years later, went even further. More than 100 million acres were set aside as protected land, creating national parks such as Wrangell-St. Elias, the country’s largest. The law also opened the way to oil exploration and development in what he said were 254 million acres in other parts of the state.
“Cece loved the outdoors and was a genuine conservationist,” Carter said in a statement on Andrus’ death, using his former secretary’s nickname. “Americans are better off because of his service, and I am better because of his friendship.”
Cecil Dale Andrus was born in Hood River, an Oregon port town at the junction of the Hood and the Columbia Rivers, on Aug. 25, 1931. His father was a sawmill operator.
Andrus studied engineering at what is now Oregon State University before joining the Navy. He married Carol May in 1949. Six years later the couple moved to Orofino, Idaho, where Andrus began working in the lumber business.
In addition to his wife, survivors include three daughters; a brother; a sister; three grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
In 1961, at 29, Andrus unseated a Republican to become the youngest state senator in Idaho history. He was elected governor in 1970, beating Don Samuelson, a Republican, by 10,000 votes after opposing mining efforts east of Boise. He was re-elected four years later in a landslide, taking more than 70 percent of the vote after campaigning on a record of tax reductions and increased education funding.
Surprising some of his conservationist supporters, he worked as a spokesman for the aluminum industry before running for a third term in 1986, beating Lt. Gov. David H. Leroy by 3,500 votes.
Andrus was thrust back into the national spotlight when he successfully opposed federal efforts to store nuclear waste in Idaho, and when he vetoed a 1990 bill that would have given Idaho some of the toughest abortion restrictions of any state.
After declining to seek a fifth term in 1994, he founded the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University and served as its chair until his death.
Washington politics, he said, held little interest for him after four years at the Interior Department. “The reason so many people live on the East Coast is that they don’t know any better,” he told Newsweek in 1983. “I prefer the Western way of life where people treat you the same way to your face that they do behind your back.”