- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

When Rep. Bruce F. Vento died last month, environmentalists lost a key ally, and they fretted about who in the House would carry on his legacy of conservation.
The answer may come from the same family that produced Mr. Vento's environmental mentor.
A generation ago, when Mr. Vento was a freshman Democrat from Minnesota, he followed the lead of Rep. Morris K. "Mo" Udall, chairman of the House Interior Committee. Mr. Vento went on to become a leader in his own right, shepherding hundreds of environmental protection measures through the House.
Now that Mr. Vento is gone, some in the environmental community are looking to Mr. Udall's son and nephew, both of whom have strong environmentalist backgrounds and won second terms this month, to carry on Mr. Vento's work.
"There is a generational connection from Mo to the next generation of Udalls, and in a way Bruce is kind of the link between the two," Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said.
Mo Udall, an Arizona Democrat who served from 1961-91 and ran unsuccessfully for president in 1976, was a forceful voice on environmental issues, helping to protect millions of acres of wilderness from development. He died in 1998.
"He was the one House member who Bruce has consistently quoted," said Larry Romans, Mr. Vento's longtime chief of staff. "He was someone that Bruce loved and respected. He felt very good when Mo's son and nephew were elected and went out of his way to work with them on the Resources Committee because he felt they would carry on the tradition."
Mr. Udall's son Mark, Colorado Democrat, and nephew Tom, New Mexico Democrat, served with Mr. Vento on the Resources Committee's subcommittee on national parks and public lands. Tom Udall is the son of Stewart Udall, who was a congressman before he became President Kennedy's interior secretary in 1961.
"The Udall cousins are the ones that we'll be looking to," said Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society. "Neither has the experience or the time in Congress that Bruce had, but both are extraordinary leaders, and, in the short time they've been in Congress, they've demonstrated a real interest in conservation."
David Conrad, a water resources specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, said that, while the Udalls "have run on their family's heritage of dedication to the nation's public land," it will be a while before either matches Mr. Vento's level of activity.
The Udall cousins agreed it will take time for them to have the same kind of influence as Mr. Vento.
"In my office, I have a pair of size-15 Nikes that belonged to my dad," said Mark Udall, 50, who wears size 11. "It's probably impossible to fill my father's shoes, and the same thing applies to Bruce. I'm a junior member of the House, so it will take a number of us to pick up and shoulder the load that Bruce was carrying."
Mark Udall said Mr. Vento taught him "to stand your ground, to disagree on the issues without being disagreeable."
"Bruce got very passionate, but it never became personal. He also marshaled his facts very well," Mark Udall said.
Mr. Vento's environmental priorities included money for national parks, banning oil drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and preserving tropical rain forests. He also took an interest in homeless issues.
It isn't just the family tradition that makes the Udalls good candidates to carry on Mr. Vento's work, Mr. Babbitt said. Both also share Mr. Vento's personal connection to the environment Mr. Vento was a science teacher who spent lots of time in parks.
Mark Udall directed the Colorado Outward Bound School before being elected to Congress, while Tom Udall worked on several environmental organizations in New Mexico.
Since they've joined Congress, Mark Udall has focused on growth and urban sprawl, wilderness protection and reducing the threat of forest fires. Tom Udall worked to win passage this year for the Conservation and Restoration Act and funding for preserving the 95,000-acre Baca Ranch, and has opposed the Snake River dams in the Northwest.
Tom Udall, 52, recalled working with Mr. Vento on the Conservation and Restoration Act, which sets aside federal money to buy public lands to create new urban parks, protect wildlife and restore eroded beaches.
"It's probably the last big national piece of legislation that he really put his heart into," Tom Udall said. "In that process, I saw how good he was at defusing conflicts and helping people reach consensus."

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