A wall decoration in ex-President Jimmy Carter’s office at his Plains, Georgia, home is a wooden model of a 12-pound rainbow trout, a replica in size of a fish caught on Alaska’s Copper River by our 39th president.
Carter unhooked the actual fish and placed it back in the river. An avid angler, Carter has long practiced catch-and-release, even when he hooked a grayling deep in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The outdoorsman president also loved canoeing. After leaving the White House, he used an annual turkey shoot to ask his Secret Service detail to keep distance and give him privacy.
The tales came out this week as Carter was honored by the Alaska Wilderness League with its annual Marddy Murie Lifetime Achievement Award, named for a conservationist who explored and fought to preserve the Arctic Refuge and lived to the ripe old age of 101. Jimmy Carter recently celebrated his 99th birthday.
As president, Carter fought for the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and signed ANILCA into law just before leaving office. The legislation, ferociously fought over in Congress, protects 103 million acres or just over a quarter of America’s 49th state. As a result, the country’s national park system was doubled in size. ANILCA tripled the size of Denali National Park, created five new national parks, and upgraded Glacier Bay and Katmai National Monuments into parks.
“He said this was his single domestic greatest achievement as president,” Josh Carter, grandson of the president, told a ceremony held in the University of Washington’s Burke Museum. The legislation was a compromise that left open the possibility for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Carter has fought drilling and praised President Biden’s 2021 decision to suspend oil and gas leasing in the Refuge.
The Alaska Wilderness League (AWL) was established in 1993, in recent years fighting to stop a huge copper-and-gold mine proposed between two salmon spawning rivers off Bristol Bay. It has also campaigned to protect old growth forests in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest.
The AWL also gave this year’s Adam Kolton Alaska Storytelling Grant to filmmaker Bjorn Olson, who is is currently chronicling impacts of climate change on remote Little Diomede Island in Alaska’s Bering Strait. (Big Diomede Island, 2½ miles across the strait, is in Russia.)
Kolton served as executive director of the Wilderness League and spent years as chief strategist in environmentalists’ battle to keep Big Oil out of the Arctic Refuge. He lobbied for conservation from halls of Congress to son Sam’s second grade class. “He brought in a jar of oil to show us what he was talking about,” Sam Kolton remembered. Adam Kolton died of cancer two years ago.
The AWL’s annual ceremony in Seattle shows our shifting attitudes toward Alaska. Seattle leaders used to be gung-ho in the developer camp. Our chamber of commerce and Seattle Port Commission nabobs lobbied in tandem with the timber, mining, and oil industries. They fought the Alaska Lands Act, even the compromise crafted by Sen. Henry Jackson, D-Wash.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster proved to be a watershed moment. Nowadays, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has led Senate opposition to drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Cantwell was first to suggest using provisions of the Clean Water Act to block the Bristol Bay mine, a strategy lately deployed by the Biden Administration.
Waterfront protest erupted when Shell Oil picked Seattle as base of operations for exploratory drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, an effort which the oil giant later abandoned. A division of Mountaineers Books, Braided River, has turned out a succession of exhibit format books celebrating wild, threatened places in Alaska.