Stewart L. Udall R.I.P.

Written by  //  March 21, 2010  //  Environment & Energy, Politics, U.S.  //  Comments Off on Stewart L. Udall R.I.P.

Stewart L. Udall, Conservationist in Kennedy and Johnson Cabinets, Dies at 90

Stewart L. Udall, an ardent conservationist and a son of the West, who as interior secretary in the 1960s presided over vast increases in national park holdings and the public domain, died Saturday at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. The last surviving member of the original Kennedy cabinet, he was 90.

Mr. Udall had been in failing health after a fall last week, according to a son, Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.

Though he was a liberal Democrat from the increasingly conservative and Republican West, Stewart Udall said in a 2003 public television interview that he found in Washington “a big tent on the environment.”

The result was the addition of vast tracts to the nation’s land holdings and — through his strong ties with lawmakers, conservationists, writers and others — work that led to landmark statutes on air, water and land conservation.

President Obama said in a statement Saturday night that Mr. Udall “left an indelible mark on this nation and inspired countless Americans who will continue his fight for clean air, clean water and to maintain our many natural treasures.”

Few corners of the nation escaped Mr. Udall’s touch. As interior secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he presided over the acquisition of 3.85 million acres of new holdings, including 4 national parks — Canyonlands in Utah, Redwood in California, North Cascades in Washington State and Guadalupe Mountains in Texas — 6 national monuments, 9 national recreation areas, 20 historic sites, 50 wildlife refuges and 8 national seashores. He also had an interest in preserving historic sites, and helped saved Carnegie Hall from destruction.

“Republicans and Democrats, we all worked together,” Mr. Udall said in a television interview with Bill Moyers. But by the time of that interview, Mr. Udall added that Washington had been overtaken by money and that people seeking public office fought for contributions from business interests that viewed environmental protection as a detriment to profit at best.

In his years in Washington, he won high regard from many quarters for his efforts to preserve the American landscape and to educate his fellow Americans on the value of natural beauty, points he made in his 1963 book “The Quiet Crisis.” The book, whose aim, he wrote at the time, was to “outline the land and people story of our continent,” sold widely.

It was Mr. Udall who suggested that John. F. Kennedy invite Robert Frost to recite a poem at Mr. Kennedy’s inauguration. Mr. Udall accompanied Mr. Frost to the Soviet Union in 1962, a trip meant to foster better ties with Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev.

Mr. Udall also held evenings at the Interior Department with the poet Carl Sandburg and the actor Hal Holbrook. In addition, he invited the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner to be the department’s writer in residence. It was Mr. Stegner’s presence that prompted Mr. Udall to write “The Quiet Crisis.”

Mr. Udall was also an early supporter of Rachel Carson, the biologist whose book “Silent Spring” brought attention to the environmental hazards of pesticide use.

Mr. Udall stepped onto the national stage in 1954, when he was elected to Congress from Arizona. In the presidential election of 1960, he urged his fellow Arizona Democrats to support Kennedy at county and state conventions. When Kennedy won the White House, he nominated Mr. Udall as interior secretary

After Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Mr. Udall was kept on by Lyndon B. Johnson.

“I think probably part of that was Lady Bird,” Mr. Udall said, referring to Mr. Johnson’s wife, with whom he collaborated on beautifying the nation’s capital and similar projects. “She treasured me, and we were wonderful friends,” he added.

Roger G. Kennedy, who was director of the National Park Service in the 1990s, said Mr. 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.” On the other hand, Mr. Kennedy said, Mr. Udall understood that public lands like parks enhanced the economic value of privately held land nearby.

This lesson was sometimes communicated with difficulty. For example, in the 1960s, when the Kennedy administration, with Mr. Udall in the lead, began efforts to establish the nation’s first national seashores, people in regions including Cape Cod in Massachusetts, Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, and Point Reyes in California objected that taking coastal land out of private hands would ruinously inhibit economic development.

Instead, the parks have been beacons for lucrative tourism.

On this and other fronts Mr. Udall pushed with a formidable combination of political acumen and political allies — including his younger brother Morris K. Udall, who succeeded him in Congress and in 1976 ran for president in a campaign that his older brother managed. Many of the significant environmental and land-protection statutes that became law in the 1970s and ’80s, including the Endangered Species Act, bore their stamp and influence.

“That was a wonderful time, and it carried through into the Nixon administration, into the Ford administration, into the Carter administration,” Stewart Udall said. “It lasted for 20 years. I don’t remember a big fight between the Republicans and Democrats in the Nixon administration or President Gerald Ford and so on. There was a consensus that the country needed more conservation projects of the kind that we were proposing.”

Stewart Lee Udall was born on Jan. 31, 1920, in St. Johns, Ariz., a small community in Apache County in the northeast, into a family with strong ties to the Mormon Church. His mother, Louise Lee Udall, was a granddaughter of John Doyle Lee, who was executed in 1877 for his involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah, in which a wagon train of California-bound migrants were killed in 1857.

Mr. Udall served as a Mormon missionary in Pennsylvania and New York. During World War II, he was a gunner in the 15th Army Air Forces, serving in Europe.

He received bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Arizona. After graduating from law school in 1948, he started his own law practice in Tucson, where he and Morris later became partners.

After leaving Washington, he taught at Yale, practiced law and wrote several books, including “The Myths of August,” an account of the effects of uranium mining and nuclear weapons work in the Western desert.

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