Conservation: Apprentice Noah

The U.S. Secretary of the Interior these days is a kind of super-Noah, charged with rescuing a nearly lost legion of imperiled animal species. Almost 55,000 people—Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts—are also his special wards. He has the duty and considerable power to salvage the vitiated environment: polluted air, desecrated lands and impure water. Yet, when Richard Nixon appointed him to the office, Walter Hickel seemed to many critics to be more of an anti-Noah.

As Governor of Alaska, Hickel had been closely identified with the oil interests. Prior to his extended and embarrassing...

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