Mark Udall, son of Alaska conservation icon, carries legacy

Congressman treads new paths as GOP rules the landscape

Posted: Monday, June 12, 2006

DENVER - Rep. Mark Udall was at his home in the foothills northwest of Denver when fellow Democrats used the threat of a filibuster to beat back an attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

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But the Colorado congressman watched December's drama on C-SPAN. He had to rely - again - on the Senate to preserve the refuge, one of the biggest legacies of his father, the late Rep. Morris K. "Mo" Udall, D-Ariz.

The elder Udall was behind the Alaska lands act of 1980, which doubled the size of the national park system, tripled the size of the national wilderness system and expanded ANWR to 18 million acres. He headed the House Interior Committee for 14 years - a panel now known as the Resources Committee and chaired by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., who said there is "no logical reason" to oppose developing the Alaska refuge.

For Mark Udall, the national debate over domestic energy resources is personal. He said an environmental ethic is "encoded in my DNA," shaped by the love of the open, rugged country of the West that inspired both his father and his uncle, Stewart Udall, a former Democratic congressman from Arizona and interior secretary in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.

But the political landscape is much different from the one the elder Udalls traveled.

Republicans control both Congress and the White House. To the younger Udall, partisanship has taken precedence over searching for common ground, and updating environmental laws has become confused with gutting them.

The 55-year-old congressman draws hope from the same sources tapped by his father and uncle: the diverse Western population. He points to growing alliances among ranchers, environ- mentalists and hunters, the kinds of networks that supported the elder Udalls' wilderness, water and conservation proposals.

"Westerners don't buy this false choice between jobs and environmental preservation," Udall said.

Patricia Limerick, a history professor and chairwoman of the University of Colorado's Center of the American West, says the four-term congressman has shown the pragmatism and flexibility of his uncle and father, who promoted environmental causes while still responding to their constituents.

"I think Mark, like his father and his uncle, has a very sensible streak of saying, 'This is what we can do. These are areas where we can make progress,"' Limerick said.

Stewart Udall, now 86, said he worked with both parties and the president to build support for the Wilderness and the Wild and Scenic Rivers acts, and the addition of several national parks and monuments.

"The programs we were pushing through then had incredible, widespread support," Stewart Udall said in a telephone interview from his Santa Fe, N.M., home.

The environmentalism his clan continues to champion comes naturally, Mark Udall said. His Mormon forebears moved to Utah and Arizona, where they had to adapt in a dry climate to survive as farmers.

His mother, Patricia Emery Udall, was an avid outdoorswoman who took her children to spend a summer in an isolated Inuit village in Alaska and on trips to remote sites across the West.

After leaving as director of the Colorado Outward Bound school, Mark Udall earned a reputation in the state Legislature as someone willing to reach across the aisle. As a congressman, he teamed up with former Colorado House Speaker Lola Spradley, a Republican, on a 2004 initiative that made Colorado the first to require utilities to get a set amount of electricity from renewable energy sources.

"Mark is a collaborator and that's the way you get things done," Spradley said.

His collaboration with Colorado mountain communities upset about the growing stands of beetle-infested trees has put him at odds with some of his usual allies: environmentalists.

Udall is sponsoring a bill that, among other things, would streamline environmental reviews of logging bug-killed trees that are considered a danger for fueling wildfires. Conservationists fear the legislation will allow logging companies to get around environmental laws.

"In this particular situation, Udall didn't respond well to the concerns of the environmental community," said Ryan Bidwell of the conservation group Colorado Wild.

Environmentalists seem puzzled Udall would sponsor such legislation. After all, he earned a 100 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters last year. He has sponsored wilderness bills and is co-chairman of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus.

Steve Smith of the Wilderness Society office in Denver doesn't like parts of Udall's bill, but chalks it up to the congressman trying to balance different concerns.

"You want a person like this to be perfect and always do what we want," Smith said. "He is working to bring a lot of different people together."

Udall's congressional seat is considered safe. He faces no primary challenger in a district anchored by liberal-leaning Boulder and reliably Democratic. He would face a much tougher fight if he runs for the Senate in 2008, as he said he planned when he dropped plans to run for governor. GOP Sen. Wayne Allard is expected to seek a third term.

For now, Udall is focusing on his work in the House. He and a cousin, Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., are both members of the Resources Committee. They contend major changes to laws on the environment and public lands get rammed through with little or no debate or are hastily inserted into bigger bills to try to sneak them past the committee.

"Bills are brought up on very short notice with very little thought being given. I call it the rocket docket," said Tom Udall, a son of the former interior secretary.

Brian Kennedy, a spokesman for the House Resources Committee, disputed the Udalls' characterization. He said extensive hearings have been held in and outside Congress on bills before the committee.

"This committee has passed 200 bills since Representative Pombo was named chairman. Only two passed on a strictly party-line vote," Kennedy said.

Udall, though, pointed to the outcry caused by proposed revisions of an 1872 mining law tucked into a big budget bill late last year.

Proponents said the revisions were a much-needed update of the law governing mining on federal land and would have given rural communities an economic boost. Opponents said the changes would have opened tens of millions of acres in the West to development.

The House yanked the mining provision after protests from Western lawmakers from both parties, governors, environmentalists, hunters and anglers. Udall said the broadbased opposition shows that Westerners realize their fortunes lie in the snow-capped peaks, elk and deer herds and towering red rock formations that bring people to the region.

"It's much smarter to hold onto those assets. These are one-tme assets," Udall said. "You don't sell the Notre Dame Cathedral. It belongs to all of us."



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