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I was one of the founders of that notable organization, which was born of an interesting little twist to Alaska history.

Hank Rosenthal was delivered to Alaska in 1969 by the icebreaking tanker Manhattan, which came to Prudhoe Bay via the Northwest Passage in a highly publicized experiment. Hank was the public relations manager for the tanker project, working for Humble Oil, which later became Exxon. I was Alaska PR manager for ARCO.

Hank stayed to handle Alaska PR for Humble/Exxon, which was half-owner on much of the key acreage held by ARCO on the North Slope. He became my hunting and fishing partner for many years.

In the early 1970s we were both recruited by Anchorage lawyer and sportsman Jack Hendrickson to become members of Ducks Unlimited. Jack was a fine guy (now deceased, as is Hank) and Hank and I both signed on enthusiastically. Jack was delighted because he wanted the oil industry involved in DU.

Then the national Ducks Unlimited organization came out against construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which was then awaiting approval from Congress. Hank and I both told Jack that we would have to drop out of DU.

Jack was an enthusiastic supporter of the pipeline project, as were most Alaskans. He said “Phooey on them” – or words to that effect – “we’ll start our own group.” Thus was born the Alaska Waterfowl Association.

Jack became president and recruited all of his buddies in Ducks Unlimited. Most quit DU to join AWA but many retained membership in both organizations – as many do now. At that time, most of the land around Cook Inlet was in undesignated status. As such, it was vulnerable to development of all kinds. Much of it needed to be protected.

Our mission, as Jack defined it, would be to set aside as waterfowl refuge every bit of available marshland and duck habitat around Cook Inlet. “Every place a duck can land,” as Jack put it.

The oil companies had no problem with our proposed waterfowl refuge designations since careful oil exploration and development would be allowed. Hank and I recruited our companies; Dave Harbour and the late Mark Singletary were the ARCO guys in charge of government relations – and they were an easy sell.

Hank had charge of government relations for Exxon, so he recruited all the other industry lobbyists every time we had a waterfowl refuge designation up for consideration. Most of them seemed to feel that if ARCO and Exxon endorsed the refuges, they were probably a good idea.

Legislators saw such proposals as an easy way to vote for truth, beauty, justice and the American way of life, so the AWA proposals generally went flying through.

After the dust settled in the 1980s, Jack told me that the Alaska Waterfowl Association had won refuge status for more than 200,000 acres of marshland around Cook Inlet.

Though Jack and Hank are now gone, their sons continue the waterfowl hunting heritage, as do mine – as well as my grandsons and a granddaughter with a great love for the outdoors. I still stomp around the marshes as best I can and very much enjoy just being out there.

I consider myself a conservationist. If that doesn’t scare the greenies, I don’t know what will.

Tom Brennan

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