The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service´s National Conservation Training Center held a three–day symposium in mid–January to honor the 50th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Former President Jimmy Carter—who signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) into law in December 1980—spoke at the symposium. Here, based on a transcript provided by NCTC, are excerpts from Carter’s speech.

On his commitment to Alaska wilderness:

ANILCA—which created the 19.6–million–acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and designated 8 million of those acres as wilderness—“was enormously complicated. I probably spent more time when I was President studying the map of Alaska and its most minute detail than I did any other thing or place in the world.”

On how ANILCA was initially received in Alaska:

“This was a very unpopular thing that we did. As a matter of fact, I was burned in effigy in Fairbanks. I went up there later on the way to a funeral in Japan, and the Secret Service advised me not to go because of the large number of anti–Carter demonstrators that would be there because ANILCA had passed.”

On how public sentiment has changed:

“Since then [1980], Alaska’s population has increased 70 percent, and I checked on it 15 years after ANILCA was passed. Park visits were up, at that time, 350 percent; I don’t know how much now. Tourism had tripled, exceeding in value Alaska timber or fisheries … Many of the communities whose chambers of commerce had condemned me, now are calling [for] some of the parks to be expanded further. So, it’s changed completely, but decisions about Alaska lands are not over.”

On visiting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge:

“I was lucky enough to have a contract with a television network, and they wanted to take me and Rosalynn up … We spent 10 days [at Arctic Refuge] … I was also able to get in front, with my wife, of the Porcupine herd which is, as you know, 120,000 caribou. And we got right in front of them, and they would come toward us, and when they saw us, they would divide, and we just sat there for an hour while thousands of caribou went by.”

On giving wilderness status to more Alaska lands:

“I think perhaps as much as 100 million acres might qualify. We need to keep roads out of [Denali] Tundra National Forest; we need to consider BLM land for wilderness status; and we need to define very narrowly the substance activities that would be permitted to Native Alaskans and Indians … In closing, I want to quote Mardi Murie’s husband, Olaus, who said the Arctic Refuge was 'a little portion of our planet left alone.' A little portion of our planet left alone. I hope it can stay this way.”