Outdoors visionary eyes future

first_imgSANTA FE, N.M. – The wooden chair at the head of Stewart Udall’s dining room table is turned to face large glass doors and an unfolding view of the foothills stretching to the west. Udall spends his evenings here in his Santa Fe home watching the sun set over northern New Mexico. The former interior secretary and icon of the modern conservation movement, who turned 86 on Jan. 31, has lost most of his eyesight but still devotes his days to quietly soaking in his beloved Southwest and writing on big issues of the day. He keeps a low profile and his public appearances are rare, but Udall is far from forgotten. He’s been getting lots of recognition these days, in an Interior Department museum exhibit, in newspaper articles and as the new namesake of the Center for Museum Resources in Santa Fe. As interior secretary under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Udall made a lasting mark on the Southwest and on public lands around the country. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE‘Mame,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ composer Jerry Herman dies at 88 He helped shepherd the Wilderness Act and a national trails bill to passage and oversaw the creation of 10 national parks and monuments, several national seashores, 20 historic sites and dozens of wildlife refuges. His work in government and his seminal book, “The Quiet Crisis,” had a profound effect on the nation in the 1960s. “Stewart Udall, more than any other single person, was responsible for reviving the national commitment to conservation and environmental preservation,” said Bruce Babbitt, who calls Udall one of his heroes and followed in his footsteps as interior secretary under President Clinton. Charles J. Brown, president of the national group Citizens for Global Solutions, calls Udall “one of the great environmental visionaries in American history.” “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that Stewart belongs in a very select company of great environmental leaders like Audubon and Thoreau and Muir and his good friend Rachel Carson, Americans who changed the way we think about the natural world,” Brown said. Udall’s mind still is hard at work, crafting articles and speeches about global warming, the energy crisis and other critical issues. “I’m trying to live not a normal life because my vision is affecting me, but to keep my mind working and keep my imagination flourishing and producing new ideas,” Udall said in his deep, gravely voice. He’s tried his hand at a screenplay and received four pages of script notes from good friend Robert Redford. “He’s an intellectual,” said Udall’s son, Tom, the congressman from New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District. “He studies issues in a great deal of depth, but when he conveys the issues to the public, he does it in a very powerful way.” Udall’s recent labor is an article focusing on energy issues. The U.S. has shifted away from the low-energy lifestyle Udall grew up with and now is using 25 percent of the world’s petroleum, he said. “That’s going to change our way of life,” he said. “We’ve already seen it, haven’t we, this big jump in prices? What if it goes up to $5 a gallon? What’s that going to do to our mobility, our culture, our lifestyle?” Udall apologizes for dropping names when he tells stories, but he can’t help it. He’s dined with Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev, strolled with poet Robert Frost, been knighted by King Juan Carlos of Spain and, of course, worked closely with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Despite the big names and major accomplishments that pepper his career, Udall remains modest. He calls the late Sen. Clinton Anderson of New Mexico his mentor and gives him most of the credit for the passage of the Wilderness Act. He points with pride to the creation of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has used money from offshore oil royalties for conservation projects ranging from small-town park projects to the purchase of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. F. Ross Peterson, president of Deep Springs College in California, is writing a biography of Udall and calls him “a senior statesman who deserves to be heard.” Tom Udall said his father had a modest upbringing. “He grew up on a farm in a very hardscrabble small community right on the Arizona-New Mexico border.” Udall served as an Air Force gunner in Italy during World War II, played basketball for the University of Arizona and spent two years as a Mormon missionary in the eastern U.S. He was elected to Congress from Arizona, helped Kennedy win the presidency and then became interior secretary. Once out of office, Udall returned to work as a lawyer and won compensation for Navajo uranium workers for health problems related to the Cold War-era mining in the Southwest. He and his late wife, Lee, raised six children. Udall now spends a lot of time with his eight grandchildren, Tom Udall said. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. 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