Chuck Herbert began and ended his career as a miner, but in between he had a major role in shaping the new state of Alaska as a top aide to Gov. Bill Egan.
Herbert arrived in Alaska in 1926 as a 16-year-old. After graduating with a mining engineering degree from the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1934, Herbert went to work for Ernest Patty, his former professor, at dredging operations along the upper Yukon River. After a brief stint in the Territorial Legislature and service as a Navy Seabee in World War II, Herbert mined for placer gold in the Fortymile and Livengood regions. He also helped discover the massive but still-undeveloped Bornite copper deposit in Northwest Alaska.
Egan, a Democrat who led the Alaska Constitutional Convention at the university in 1955-1956, was elected Alaska’s first state governor. Herbert, also a Democrat, served as Egan’s deputy natural resources commissioner. In the early 1960s, Herbert helped convince Egan to claim the oil-rich area around Prudhoe Bay as part of the new state’s land entitlement.
When Egan regained the governor’s office in 1970, Herbert became his natural resources commissioner for the four-year term.
Then he went mining again with companies exploring across Alaska. Herbert also lobbied Congress to minimize the impacts on mining of the vast federal parks and refuges eventually created in the 1980 Alaska lands act. He was a longtime board member of the Resource Development Council of Alaska, and served as president in 1981-1982.
Herbert died in 2003. The Voice of the Times, a conservative opinion page within the more liberal Anchorage Daily News, lamented that too few Alaskans knew who Herbert was by then.
“Slight of stature, quick with the smile, he was a giant of a man in Alaska's mining circles and a true treasure when it came to developing the riches of this state,” the Times said.
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