Cecil Andrus

Keep Your Eye on the Rabbit

Recorded: February 12, 2013

Cecil Andrus served as the Secretary of Interior during the Carter Administration and as the governor of Idaho for 14 years. Cecil tells us two stories: about how he was able to get two major pieces of legislation passed, the Alaska Lands Act that protected 103 million acres, and the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that protected five important wild rivers in Northern California. Cecil shares a hunting story, one that reveals important life lessons.

Cecil D. Andrus served more years than anyone else as the governor of Idaho during one of the most important eras of environmental protection in the United States.  His storytelling ability and sense of humor often disarmed the opposition and may have contributed to his political longevity.

As the US Secretary of the Interior during the Jimmy Carter administration (the first Idahoan to be appointed to a presidential cabinet position), he was responsible for several major pieces of legislation.  These include the 1980 Alaska Lands Act that protected over one hundred million acres; and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which kept several rivers undammed across the country.  He later listed several Snake River salmon species under the Endangered Species Act, which also led to changes in operations of the dams that prevented the salmon from returning to their home rivers to spawn.

Governor Andrus, who served 14 years, was also was responsible for setting aside land in Idaho, which became the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area.  As part of protecting wilderness, he set a national precedent by creating buffer zones around important streams in Idaho.

Cecil Andrus was born in 1931, served in the Korean War, and with his wife of over 60 years, Carol May Andrus, raised his children in Boise, Idaho.  He is the founder and chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University.


Cecil Andrus:   I’m a lumberjack and a political accident. I’ve served 14 years in the governor’s office here in Idaho. We accomplished a great deal in the environmental area, Huey, when it came to wild and scenic rivers and wilderness areas and the protecting the beauty of the state, at the same time creating jobs for our people.  So yes, I’ve been fortunate, but keep in mind, I’ve had a lot of help.  Nobody does these things by themselves.

Huey Johnson:   Well, tell me about what the Carter administration accomplished in environmental things.

Cecil Andrus:   The most important one was the Alaska Lands Bill.  The Alaskan Lands Bill, it took us almost a full four years to get it passed.  It was signed in December during the lame duck session.  Some of my environmental friends said, “Oh no, leave it alone.  We’ll get a better deal out of Reagan.” And I said “Like hell you will, we’re going to finish this right now.”  It protected 103 million acres of lands on shore; we more than doubled the national park acreage in America in that one single act.

[Radio comments]

Cecil Andrus: It was one of the few places where we had the opportunity to do it right the first time.  The crown jewels were protected and they’re still protected.  Now, I was hung in effigy, my life was threatened and everything else by some boomer’s in Alaska who thought that we were tearing up the state. But 25 years later the people are saying, “Boy, am I glad that we did it right.”


Cecil Andrus:   There was a proposal to divert the water south for irrigation purposes and M [municipal] and I [industrial] water in Southern California, and under the Wild and Scenic River Act, we designated five of those rivers to be wild and scenic, and then the water quality and quantity had to be protected.  James Watt, before he was my successor, had a think tank in Denver and they filed suit and said, that that wasn’t right.  Well, after Ronald Reagan was elected, the personnel office of the White House sent out a notice to all of the cabinet secretaries that we were to send in our resignations. They wanted to get all of their paperwork in order to transfer it over to the next administration.  I said, “No way am I going to resign.  Unless I am fired, I’m going to stay here and work and be the Secretary of Interior until Ronald Reagan raises his right hand and takes the oath of office.

We won the, in Federal Court on the five rivers.  They appealed to the 9th Circuit, the lot of them. And the last day, the day before Ronald Reagan was sworn in, we had a black tie going away dinner at the White House for President Carter and Rosalyn and all of we department heads and everything.  Secret Service came up and whispered in my ear and said, “Mr. Secretary, you’ve got an emergency phone call.”  And I immediately thought “oh my goodness, what happened to one of my children?” you know.  I dashed out to the phone and I knew, it was my office at Interior saying that the 9th Circuit — now keep in mind, three hours difference, it was 4:30 in San Francisco, it was 7:30 back in Washington D.C. And they said the 9th Circuit has just ruled in our favor on the five Northern California rivers and we have to make those designations now.”  At 11:30 that night we signed those papers, and if you’ll go to the files you’ll see when the designations were completed. I not only signed them, I dated and gave the time written on there.

And so once again, James Watt became the Secretary of Interior; he tried to undo the five-river designation as wild and scenic and he said, “He couldn’t make that designation because he was no longer Secretary, he had resigned his post.”  And I said “Like hell I did!”  I did not end my tenure as Secretary until noon the next day when Ronald Reagan was sworn in.  And once again, the court found in my favor.  I was Secretary, I had the power to do it and I did it.


Cecil Andrus:  I’d killed this big bull elk and my partner and I were getting ready to – we skinned it and quartered it and put it in meat sacks and getting ready to load it on the pack mule. She went ballistic with the smell of that blood.  A horse will buck around and if you get kicked, you’re in the way.   A mule will strike at a target and she just reared back and with her left front foot struck me right here, came down, broke all the bones around my left eye — the orbital bones — took my nose and pushed it over underneath my ear, and then with the hind foot she struck my partner.  Good gosh, boy, we were in a mess. It takes too long to tell you the whole story but we got out and luckily — took me 30 minutes. My partner was goofy, you know, suffered from concussion, didn’t know who he was, where he was.  We went to the tent, which is about a 30-minute walk. I was leading him and the mule, and our other animals were trailing along following us.  We got down to the tent, I gave them each a bucket of water, tethered them to a tree and my partner would look at me and say, he’d say, “What happened?”

And I said, “Look at me!”  And I was governor at the time so the news broadcast: “Governor injured in a hunting accident.”  Well, most people are thinking I’m shot, you know.  They fixed my nose and sewed up my head and realigned my nose and it tilted a little bit to the right, but I said “you know if my nose is a little to the right in Idaho, it won’t hurt me at all politically.”


Huey Johnson:   Something that I admire greatly about you is your ability to make decisions.  You’re very comfortable looking at a tough decision and you’re very diplomatic, but you make them.  Where did you learn to do that?

Cecil Andrus:   I think my dad probably taught me that when I was a kid, that if you’re going to do something, do it, but do it right.  Make sure in your own mind that you’re right, and then do it, and don’t be looking over your shoulder.  He had a phrase that he taught me also when we were hunting.  He said, “Make sure,” he said, “Boy, you’ve got to keep your eye on the rabbit.”  And I thought, “now what does he mean?”  He means that you have to focus on the target, of what you’re doing, whether you’re using a firearm to shoot something or whether you’re focusing on a problem that has to be resolved. Don’t be distracted by other things, keep your eye on the rabbit.