homepage logo

Jimmy Carter speaks at symposium

By Staff | Jan 21, 2011

(Chronicle photos by Tricia Fulks) Former President Jimmy Carter speaks at the National Conservation Training Center’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Symposium Tuesday. The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the protected land, which was established in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower and then expanded by Carter in 1980.

Former President Jimmy Carter spoke to a packed house Tuesday at the National Conservation Training Center’s symposium to celebrate 50 years of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The three-day event kicked off Tuesday at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s NCTC near Shepherdstown, welcoming historians, conservationists and activists from around the nation to speak on the protected area in the arctic.

According to information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, then-President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Public Land Order in 1960, establishing the Arctic National Wildlife Range. But it was President Carter who, on Dec. 2, 1980, penned the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. Carter said this act more than doubled the range to 19 million acres, deemed the area a refuge and designated 8 million acres as wilderness. It also protected millions more acres of land and rivers across Alaska.

“That was a wonderful achievement,” Carter said. “I probably spent more time when I was president studying the map of Alaska … than I did any other thing, place in the world.”

He said 44 million acres were given to Native Americans for their use, while another 100 billion acres were given to the state.

Douglas Brinkley, historian and author, signs books for symposium participants Tuesday at the National Conservation Training Center.

Two of the issues facing the refuge area now are oil and gas drilling.

Sarah James, who spoke during Wednesday’s session, is a spokesperson for the Gwich’in Nation and steering committee in northeast Alaska and the northern Yukon Territory in Canada. As a Native American, James would like to protect the area – what her nation calls “a sacred place where life begins” – from big oil because caribous have calves and raise them on the refuge.

She believes alternative energy is the direction the United States needs to pursue.

“We have to do it together,” she said, “to protect this place, because there’s a huge opportunity out there.”

Thomas Strickland, assistant secretary of the interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, introduced Carter on Tuesday, mentioning his achievements in conservation – such as establishing the Department of Energy, filing an energy policy and establishing fuel economy standards for automobiles, among other things.

Strickland also spoke of Carter’s pioneering nature, like when he put solar panels on the White House.

“It was a seemingly radical act then, and a subsequent president took it off, but they’re back on,” he said, garnering applause from the audience.

“It’s astonishing what you have done, Mr. President, on so many fronts.”

Of course, Carter isn’t the only president to help pave the way in conservation.

Historian and author Douglas Brinkley, who spoke early in the day Tuesday, said that if it weren’t for Theodore Roosevelt, conservation wouldn’t be where it is today.

“He’s the lynchpin to it all,” Brinkley said.

And NCTC Director Jay Slack agrees that Carter has followed in Roosevelt’s footsteps. Slack noted that Carter was in Sudan talking with government officials Monday and traveled to Washington, D.C., Wednesday to discuss Chinese-American diplomatic relations with the Obama administration.

“He managed to squeeze in a visit to Shepherdstown because (the refuge) was so near and dear to his heart,” Slack said. “He came because he’s passionate and he cares about it.”

Slack believes that individuals can do things in their everyday lives to help conservation efforts.

“We each have to do our parts,” he said. “We’re sort of all in this together.”

Brinkley, who just released the second in a series of conservation books, said the future of the refuge requires activists to keep fighting uphill. He said corporations will want to drill; but conservationists just have to say no.

“It’s a nonstop battle to keep people out,” Brinkley said. “It takes a daily vigilance to keep these places protected.”

People like Strickland and Carter and individuals who attended the symposium plan to continue to work on safeguarding the refuge.

“On this administration’s watch,” Strickland said, “there will be no oil and gas development on the wildlife refuge.”

Carter concluded his speech by saying, “The arctic refuge was a little part of our planet left alone. I hope it can stay that way.”