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Tribute To Alaska’S Celia Hunter

Sen. Mark Udall

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Mr. Speaker, earlier this month news came of the death of one of the pioneers of the conservation movement in Alaska, Celia Hunter.

A founder of the Alaska Conservation Society--Alaska's first statewide organization of its kind--Celia Hunter was involved in many debates over the future of Alaska, including the ``Project Chariot'' plan to use nuclear explosives to dig a new deep-water port and the proposed Rampart Dam on the Yukon.

And in the late 1970's, she was among the many people from across the country whose strong support made possible the enactment of the Alaska National Interests Land Conservation Act, introduced in the House of Representatives by my father, Mo Udall of Arizona.

Now Congress has again been debating the proper balance between development and conservation in Alaska, and again Celia Hunter was active and involved in that debate right up to the day of her death. As she explained earlier this year, it remained her view that ``If we lose wild spaces, we could be a much poorer nation . . . the whole concept of natural areas, with intact ecosystems is vital to life . . . we need places of the world that are still natural.''

Mr. Speaker, in the words of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Celia Hunter's death was a ``great loss for Alaska,'' and it leaves the whole country poorer. She earned our thanks and remembrance. She will be greatly missed.

For the benefit of our colleagues, I am attaching a brief outline of her life as well as a newspaper editorial.

Many are called, but few choose to hear and give of themselves completely. Celia Hunter heard the call of the wilderness at an early age and answered it with her adventuresome spirit, loving heart, and thoughtful mind. Born on January 13, 1919 in Arlington, Washington, Celia grew up during the Depression in a logging community. After high school graduation, she worked as a clerk for Weyerhauser Timber Company for $50 a month, enough to buy a car. Each day when Celia drove to work, she passed by Everett Airport and saw an opportunity. An admirer of Amelia Earhart, she decided to learn to fly. One week after her 21th birthday she took off on her first flight and was immediately hooked. ``The viewpoint from on high is so different, and so much more comprehensive . . . just that whole feeling of being aloft. It gives you a feeling that birds must have. In fact, I think, if I wanted to be reincarnated, I'd like to be a bird of some sort.'' Celia had discovered her first wilderness. Her love of flying led her to train with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, and she became skilled at flying a number of aircraft, including large aircraft such as the P-47 that zoomed up to 300 mph. Celia ferried aircraft across the country for the Air Force during WWII and dreamed of flying to Alaska one day to see the vast wilderness that other pilots had described. In December 1946, she and pilot friend Ginny Hill were hired to fly two Stinson airplanes from Seattle to Fairbanks. They arrived in a snowstorm at Weeks Field in Fairbanks on January 1, 1947, nearly a month-long trip with all the weather delays. They decided to stay and work in the tourism industry, ferrying visitors to a travel lodge in Kotzebue during the summer. This experience inspired Celia, Ginny Hill Wood, and Woody Wood to build Camp Denali, a wilderness camp just outside the original boundary of McKinley National Park. There visitors could see Denali and enjoy hiking and wildlife-viewing in a magnificent setting. In 1960, Celia and Ginny help found Alaska's first statewide environmental organization, the Alaska Conservation Society. This small group of pioneering conservationists was inspired by Olaus and Margaret Murie to work for the establishment of the Arctic National Wildlife Range and to protect the special and unspoiled lands of Alaska. Working together, Celia and Ginny have tackled all of Alaska's major environmental issues. They fought against Project Chariot and the Rampart Dam project, became loving stewards and advocates for Denali National Park, and worked to create and pass the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the greatest lands conservation act in world history. In the late '70s, Celia's leadership moved to the national level when she served as Executive Director for the Wilderness Society. She also began writing memorable environmental columns for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Fearless and outspoken, Celia carefully studied a diversity of issues and wrote articulate and compelling columns for more than 20 years. Dedicated to the conservation movement, she also helped found the Alaska Conservation Foundation in 1980. Through the years, Celia not only devoted her energy to environmental causes, she also loved people and the web of connections between them. She had the natural ability to inspire and nurture countless individuals by listening to their ideas and dreams and sharing her views. Her glacial- blue eyes could look into one's soul and bring out the best of a person's spirit including a good laugh. Celia leaves a tremendous legacy of conservation accomplishments. Her vibrant spirit will live on in the wilderness she loved, in the lives of those she inspired, and in the legislation that holds her tireless effort to protect what she truly loved. The earth and all its a living things are grateful. Alaska will forever remember Celia.