Sen. Ted Stevens loved to rail against the extreme environmentalist.
The closer the issue got to oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge, the more vociferous his anti-environment rant got. While I experienced this side of "Uncle Ted," I also knew how the depth of his character and love for Alaska led him to be one of Alaska's most influential conservationists.
For starters, the United Nations would not have imposed a ban on the high-seas driftnets without his ardent leadership. World-wide during the late 1980s, pelagic drift nets, up to 30 miles in length, were estimated to have annually killed as many as one million dolphins, porpoises, and other cetaceans, along with millions of seabirds, tens of thousands of seals, thousands of sea turtles and untold millions of non-target fish. Fortified by his concern for Alaska's fisheries, Stevens not only embraced the cause, but headlined a rally in Washington, D.C. with environmental groups and fishermen. The impact on his Congressional colleagues was immediate.
Once fired up, Senator Stevens took this issue all the way to the United Nations where it passed on the back of his tenacity. To those less familiar with the harm these "curtains of death" were imposing on the world's oceans let me say Stevens' accomplishment on this marine conservation effort alone puts him the league of Jacques Cousteau.
The next time I saw his green side emerge was in the battle of the Tongass Timber Reform Act. Representing United Fishermen of Alaska, I was advocating 100-foot no-cut buffer zones along salmon streams. Inserting this amendment was not easy, particularly when Sen. Frank Murkowski, who sat on the key committee, opposed it. Stevens, not wanting to cross his colleague, encouraged us to find a compromise suitable to Murkowski, but insisted it had to be based on science. Once it became clear Murkowski's amendment did not hold up to the science provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service, Stevens stepped in and delivered his crucial support for buffers along fish streams in the Tongass. By doing so, he set the standard for the strongest stream protection in the nation.
As duly noted, Stevens was instrumental in securing the 200-mile limit and establishing a new regime for the management of the nation's fisheries, which in turn ushered in industry stability, fishing rights and community quota programs; the economic impact of which defines fishing communities from Petersburg to Kotzebue. Equally impressive are the conservation contributions these same acts provided, including provisions to minimize wasteful fishing, protect marine habitat, prevent overfishing, and consider the needs of coastal communities. Stevens made sure these conservation outcomes were not only possible but strong. It is through these monumental fisheries statutes Stevens' contribution to the management and conservation of Alaska's fisheries will span generations.
Although I sometimes felt the brunt of his "anti-environment" rhetoric, I always kept the measure of the man in mind, a measure large enough to make him one of Alaska's premier conservationists.
Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 18 years engagement in fisheries and coastal policy. The last four years, she's been involved with climate and energy policy.
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