John A. Carver Jr., University of Denver Sturm College of Law professor emeritus, spoke recently at DU about the evolution of U.S. public land law as well as his own career where he held several key natural resources-related federal positions.
Prof. Carver is particularly well positioned to address these issues since he has served in the federal legislative, executive, and administrative (which he refers to as the "4th branch of government") branches. From 1957-1961 he was administrative assistant to former Idaho Senator Frank Church. From 1961-1965 he was Assistant Secretary of the Interior where he was responsible for, among other things, the National Park Service. From 1965-1966 he served as Undersecretary of the Interior. In late 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to a seat on the Federal Power Commission, where he served until he took up his teaching responsibilities at the College of Law in 1972.
Prof. Carver began by noting the tension that often may exist between creating a "desirable environmental situation" and "the exploitation of natural resources." He also pointed out the dual-sovereignty nature of the U.S. federal system where the federal government has some responsibilities and jurisdiction while state governments have other responsibilities and jurisdiction.
Looking back, he pointed to the significant influence that former President Theodore Roosevelt had on the way nature was considered. "Teddy Roosevelt believed strongly in the importance of the natural environment," Prof. Carver said. From the "Progressive Movement" under Roosevelt, the U.S. then entered an era where conservation began to be the key element. Conservation "morphed into" a movement that included providing recreational opportunities on public land, he said. During this period, the federal government built roads and infrastructure so Americans could actually visit their national parks, something that had not been easy in earlier years.
In the 1950s what is now known as the "environmental movement" began to take shape as a result of the prominent intellectuals thinking, writing, and speaking about the importance of the environment. During this early period, the concept of "planning" was paramount in the minds of many, he said. This took on even more importance in late 1969 when President Richard M. Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act. Thus was set the foundation for how society and the government look at environmental and natural resources issues, he explained.
Prof. Carver, it should be noted, has been an active and energetic member of the College of Law environmental and natural resources teaching team for many years. Despite the fact that he officially retired in 1988, he has until very recently continued to teach and even today he speaks to classes about the evolution of American law. His life and career have been featured in a seven-part "oral history" that can be accessed by clicking here. He also recently wrote about his long friendship with former U.S. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall, under whom he served from 1961-1966. Please click here to see that remembrance.