Rocky Barker: 1989 Andrus speech heralded an environmental milestone

The four-time Idaho governor will ccelebrate a group that pioneered a collaborative approach.

May 21, 2013 

Sometimes we know we are witnessing important moments that mark the advances in government, in attitudes, in improving our state.

Other times, the significance can only be gauged in retrospect.

The obvious moments can take place in government, such as when Idaho Gov. Phil Batt fought for passage, then signed, legislation to provide workman's compensation for Idaho farm workers.

They can be courageous acts, like when Bill Wassmuth organized a rally in Coeur d'Alene to denounce Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler in 1986 after a pipe bomb attack on him in his home.

Some are elections, such as Cecil Andrus' election in 1970 when he made protecting the White Cloud Mountains from mining the central issue in his campaign for governor.

Sometimes, we create institutions, only later to see them make change happen.

Andrus came to speak to a new organization on Aug. 21, 1989, at the gleaming Boise Cascade building. The Idaho Environmental Forum members were environmental professionals, lawyers, engineers, hydrologists, foresters, biologists, activists and lobbyists from all shades of the political and resource spectrum.

His talk to that group was an enduring moment that will be celebrated Tuesday, when he returns to address the 200th meeting of the Idaho Environmental Forum at the Crystal Ballroom at the Hoff Building. They may still have space for walk-ins, but registration is closed.

Some of the people there in 1989 had marched beside Andrus down Capitol Boulevard on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Others had marked trees for harvest in the same woods Andrus bulldozed roads through as a logger for timber companies.

Idaho and the Pacific Northwest were in the middle of what we now call the timber wars, when crafty environmental lawyers and activists were using the laws passed when they were in college to stop clearcutting and protect wildlife habitat and water quality. They also were putting many timber workers out of work and helping turn Idaho into a one-party state.

As Andrus addressed these still-young professionals, he was encouraging a breed among them who were seeking a new path forward. Sitting at the table with the timber and agriculture interests and environmentalists, he had negotiated a year before an anti-degradation water quality rule.

When the talks got tough, Andrus told both sides that if they didn't compromise he was going to take the other side's position. He looked them in the eye, and they knew he meant it.

He called this new approach common sense. Today we call it collaboration.

"I see you people, those who have come of age in this new environment, as playing a real role in fostering more of that sense of compromise and cooperation," Andrus told the members of this new, loose-knit organization.

We have passed the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. The environmental movement is now mainstream, even in Idaho.

Idaho companies like Idaho Power and J.R. Simplot now tout sustainability as a goal and a policy. Their professionals regularly collaborate with the environmentalists they join for lunch at environmental forums.

Republican leaders like House Speaker Scott Bedke are regular speakers to the group.

Andrus says he's retired at 81, but you still see him walking briskly through Downtown Boise with a briefcase. That's when he isn't hunting with a dog for pheasants or hiking in the Foothills with a grandchild.

Many of his words in that speech ring true today, not just in Idaho but around the world.

"The task confronting America today is to have a nation - and a planet - that is environmentally clean and safe for future generations, but is at the same time able to support a society that is economically strong and able to compete in the international marketplace," Andrus said in 1989.

"I have a favorite saying that I think sums it up," he added. "First you must make a living, but then it must be a living that is worthwhile"

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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