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(For the week of September 6, 2010)
Remembering a Great Sportsman
by James L. Cummins
Sportsmen lost a great friend on August 9, 2010 when former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska died in a plane crash in a remote corner of Alaska. He and a group of friends were flying to the Nushgak River to fish for silver salmon. Four other passengers perished along with the former Senator. The tragic accident was declared to have been caused by Alaska’s treacherous weather.
Stevens always loved Alaska fishing and on numerous occasions his dear friend Thad Cochran joined him. Toward the end of his 40-year-long Senate career, he wrestled a monster king salmon out of the Kenai River and mounted the trophy in his Washington, DC office. Many a meeting about appropriations or public lands policy would be interrupted by the tale of catching the big one which hung there on the wall.
He was a strong supporter of hunting. During the late 1970s, the Carter Administration had closed millions of acres of Alaska public lands to hunting. All of the wonderful opportunities for hunting brown bear, caribou, Dall sheep, moose and mountain goats were cut off by the stroke of a pen. Stevens fought to reopen many of these lands and was successful in 1980.
Like his friend Thad, Stevens was a long-time member of the powerful Appropriations Committee which writes the government funding bills. He served as Chairman from 1997-2001 and 2003-05. He was always interested in Interior programs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where his daughter, Beth, now serves. He was a long-time defender of access to public lands and the protection of duck hunting and conservation programs, something we in Mississippi also cherish.
Years later, he played a key behind-the-scenes role in the enactment of the 1997 Refuge Improvement Act, something I played a major role in as well. This important law makes hunting and fishing “priority public uses” of the Refuge system (and cut off endless anti-hunter lawsuits seeking to terminate hunting on these public lands). The bill passed the House but Senate approval was up in the air until Stevens broke the road block.
One of his legacies is the Magnuson Stevens Act that sets ocean fishing policy. This Act makes conservation of our precious fishery resources the law of the land. He was always committed to assuring that our great fisheries would be managed scientifically for the benefit of anglers and commercial interests alike.
Stevens was very popular. Alaskans loved Ted Stevens as much as Mississippians love Thad Cochran. And that is a lot!
Like Senator Stevens, I hope I live to be 86 years old and have led a life as full as he did. And if I crash into a mountain in Alaska with my waders on, fly rod in hand, at age 86, so be it. There are worse things.