Eye on the Caribou


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Eye on the Caribou: Inside the Alaska Lands Bill. By Chris Carlson. 2015. 222 pages. ISBN-13 978-0945648284. Price $16.95

Told from the perspective of one who was on the inside, here’s the story of how an immense collection of eco-systems in Alaska were saved and preserved. It was an effort spanning 80 years, from the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt and culminating with President Jimmy Carter signing into law the greatest piece of conservation legislation in history. It is also the story of many outcomes, some of them unexpected. It is a story of grit, greed, political double-crosses and shrewd strategy that achieved what many thought unobtainable.

sample chapter


“I’ve been reading the book again and enjoying in immensely! (Again). It is such a good book; perhaps THE single book to read, if a person really wants to grasp the WHOLE context, the whole political and personality setting behind this most amazing piece of legislation.
“It is not too much to say that ANILCA was — by far — the finest and most significant victory ever won by a (united) American Environmental movement. As time passes and we witness ever more far righties assaulting everything we love and cherish, I marvel that there even WERE such times as then!
“One of the many things about the  book that I like so much is that Carlson featured ALL the players, in one way or another. Very few books on these subjects by “environmentalists” ever have that. Because they didn’t really know ALL the players.
“Not in the depth and detail as Carlson characterized so well.
“I could go on, but you get my drift. There is so much to say; and the more I think about the true inner meaning of the book — and its likely place in any history of these sweeping events, the more thoughts come to me.
“Indeed, just reading it again, I feel again the deep disappointments of those last months, after we had come so far and won so much… then the Reagan election, letting Stevens say take it or else…
“And Carlson’s description of that Sierra Club banquet in San Francisco 1979 — I was there, standing ovation time, a most heady moment with our hero and Champion, Cece Andrus.**
“I also like the way Carlson began the book with those river trips, the Middle Fork of the Salmon in Idaho and Alaska’s Coleen River.. Carlson draws in all kinds of people. I just felt the intensity and passions of those times all over again.”
Brock Adams of the Sierra Club

“I appreciate your perspective on this important portion of Alaska’s history. As someone who was involved in the process and politics that resulted in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, your book provides an important record of the events that led to its creation.”
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan

“Eye on the Caribou” is an outstanding historical review of the Alaska Lands Bill and all the people involved in its creation and then its passage. The author gives me more credit than I perhaps deserve but he also does a remarkable job of remembering and noting the contributions of the thousand fathers and mothers. He properly notes the ultimate credit deservedly goes to President Carter.”
Governor Cecil D. Andrus (44th Secretary of the Interior)

“The release of Chris Carlson’s book on the 1980 Alaska Lands Bill-arguably the most significant domestic-policy achievement of the Carter Administration-is especially timely given news of the former President’s illness, of President Obama’s Alaskan visit (which included the renaming of the mountain now known as Denali, and the abandonment by Shell of its Arctic oil-drilling operations. Carlson, then Assistant Secretary of Interior for Public Affairs to U.S. Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, was eyewitness to the behind-the-scenes political sausage-making that brought the Lands Bill to fruition by way of an unusual application of the existing Antiquities Act and skillful congressional deal-making. By way of disclosure, I know the author and have reviewed two previous volumes by him that relate to Andrus and the politics of Idaho and the nation. I have, in all cases, purchased my copies of his books. Like those previous books, this one is filled with firsthand observations, anecdotes and revelations about the strategies, actions and thought-processes that get things done at the Federal and state levels of government. While the book could benefit from tighter editing and more precise wordsmithing, its strength as a memoir is actually enhanced by the author’s avoidance of word-mincing.
The author’s focus on the unintended consequences of Big Legislation like the Lands Bill provides insight into the often overlooked (or trampled-upon) details and concerns that lead to post-passage administrative and judicial nightmares. “Eye on the Caribou” will be of special value to readers with interest in the legislative process.”
S.O. Higgins

“In terms of land and wildlife conservation, it gets no bigger—anywhere on earth—than the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act signed by President Jimmy Carter. At his side every step of the way was Cecil Andrus—the architect, the Capitol Hill advocate, and the spokesman who, like so many of us, was fired by the understanding that here we could, for once, do conservation on a vast, ecosystem-wide basis, and do it right the first time. Chris Carlson was there every step of the way and provides in this book the rich detail only an insider can provide.”
Doug Scott, Lobbying Director, Alaska Coalition – 1976-1980

“I just finished reading the “Eye on the Caribou” which I think is a magnificent testimony to your understanding of Alaska and its’ politics. In reading your book I thought this service you performed, working for Cecil Andrus and then writing his biography and the “Eye on the Caribou,” were what God wanted you do. Not everybody has such an opportunity, and you made the most of it. If Cecil had picked some other guy to be his press secretary, the chances are that guy would never have written such a fine book about this magnificent legislative feat. When I saw the article that you wrote in Sam’s weekly I knew you were destined for something but I had no idea what it would be. So that’s why I say I didn’t know that you were destined to be a key figure in the success of the largest conservation legislation since the Louisiana purchase!”
A. Robert Smith, retired Northwest region newspaper correspondent

“No other conservation measure can match the Alaska Lands bill for sheer size and importance. Chris Carlson was there, side by side, with Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus helping to manage the prolonged effort to protect Alaska’s wild and untouched spaces. Oil, mining and other business interests resisted aggressively, but in the end the collaborative effort by President Carter, Andrus, the ad hoc Alaska team assembled by Andrus and key environmental leaders prevailed. “Eye on the Caribou” is a must read for political leaders, environmentalists and community organizers who seek to protect open spaces. It is a lesson about the need for endurance, compromise and collaboration. All in all, a great reflection about Alaska and politics.”
John Hough

A column

Chris Carlson was there when many of the decisions were made that dramatically changes the natural and legal landscape of Alaska. Here’s his August 19, 2015 newspaper column about it:

Former President Jimmy Carter, the best ex-president this country has ever had, is suffering from liver cancer and could be crossing the Jordan River soon. He is now 90 years old and just finished his 25th book. The Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta has become a model for the good works a former president can do both in this country and around the world.

Without question the top achievement legislatively from the four years President Carter held the wheel was passage of the Alaskan lands legislation which overnight doubled the size of the National Park system and the Fish and Wildlife system of bird refuges. Almost 100 million acres, including entire ecosystems received protection.

I have a new book out, Eye on the Caribou, published by Ridenbaugh Press that tells the inside story of the critical role played by former four term Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus in securing the historic legislation while serving as President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of the Interior.

nabesna road NPS pic

I’ve long thought that Governor Andrus has never been given the full credit he deserved for the critical role he played in leading the way to passage of the greatest single piece of conservation legislation in American history, so I set out to make sure the history books properly reflect this excellent piece of his legacy.

This new book joins a well reviewed biography (Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor) on the governor published in 2011, and a book of 13 essays (Medimont Reflections) in 2013 that covered other issues and political figures Governor Andrus and I worked on during my 40 years of public involvement.

Andrus has always been quick to say that “success has a thousand fathers and mothers” and has especially singled out the Alaska Coaliton and the critical role played by Chuck Clusen, Brock Evans and Doug Scott for their contribution to successful passage of the legislation.

Future historians will find some heretofore little known jewels of information in this latest book. For example, during the summer of 1978 when Andrus and President Carter spent four days fly fishing and floating the Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River, they settled on the fall back strategy of President Carter using his authority under the Antiquities Act to make the largest national monuments in history. They guessed correctly this would bring the Alaska delegation back to the bargaining table to undue the more restrictive form of protection monument status requires.

Wrangell mtns NPS pic

Other examples of anecdotes in the book include a heretofore unreported 1979 secret meeting between Alaska Governor Jay Hammond and Secretary Andrus in which the two by themselves spent a day fishing at some of Hammond’s favorite fishing sites in and around Lake Clark and Lake Iliamna. The two would set aside their fishing rods from time to time, get out their maps and pretty much settled on the boundaries of the soon-to-be new additions to the Nationl Park Service and to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s system of bird refuges.

The book also details the massive cross-over vote in 1980 orchestrated by the late Senator Ted Stevens to defeat in the Democratic primary his senatorial colleague, Mike Gravel. Stevens held Gravel directly responsible for the circumstances leading to his wife Ann’s death in a plane crash on December 4th, 1978.

The book also details the adverse impact the legislation had for the owner of a properly proven up mining claim owned by a partnership that included a Spokane exploration geologist, Wallace McGregor.

Even universally acclaimed legislation can still have adverse impacts on some people, and while Mr. McGregor’s dispute with the Park Service over his inholding is complex the fact remains that 40 years have gone by without any compensation to them for a de facto taking.”

The book retails for $16.95 and is now available directly from the publisher, Ridenbaugh.com, or Amazon.com, or directly from the author, or at your nearby Hastings outlet in Idaho and at Aunties in Spokane, as well as The PaperHouse in St. Maries.


Eye on the Caribou



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