Through his leadership, mentorship and compassion, Bart Koehler has devoted a significant part of his life to protecting Alaska’s wildlands, primarily in the Tongass National Forest. Thanks to his tireless efforts, more than 1.4 million acres of prime Alaska wildlands remain protected. ~Nominator
Bart Koehler grew up in the Adirondacks of Upstate New York before moving West to attend the University of Wyoming and finding his calling as a grassroots advocate for wilderness protection. He has played leading roles in team efforts in Alaska, and across the Lower 48, to help garner permanent safeguards for more than 10 million acres of America’s public lands.
Bart was first inspired by Alaska conservation icons Mardy Murie and Celia Hunter when working for The Wilderness Society in Wyoming in the early 1970’s. He learned how to be an effective conservation leader from these legends. In 1975, Mardy sent him off to do battle in Washington, D.C. with a note of encouragement calling him her “Young Sir Gallahad with a pure heart” that he still carries with him. In 1977, Celia assigned him to help mobilize citizens across the West to advocate for passage of the Alaska Lands Act (ANILCA).
These connections to Alaska, and particularly the Tongass National Forest, would deepen when he moved here in 1984 to lead the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. This was the start of a 32-year relationship with the organization as both its Director (twice) and Board member during some of the Tongass’ most politically tumultuous times. Over these years, Bart worked to build a powerful grassroots movement throughout the region focused on achieving passage of the Tongass Timber Reform Act of 1990, which protected over 1.4 million acres of Southeast Alaska’s most productive fish and wildlife habitat. (Bart received Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Olaus Murie Award in 1990 for these efforts.) When the Tongass came under attack five years later in Congress, Bart led the movement to defend those protections, which ultimately shut down both enormous pulp mills. These actions brought a sea change in Tongass management, opening the door to a brighter future for the region. In the end, Bart says this award truly belongs to “all of the salt-of-the-earth citizens who spoke out for saving the wild heart of the Tongass—the true unsung heroes of this saga.”
While for more than four decades Bart has worked for wild places across America, Alaska is where his team efforts surmounted the greatest challenges. Even after all of these gains, he knows there is much work to do to advance protections for its public lands. Alaska is where he embraced many of the most defining moments in his life, including finding his true love, Julie. As such, it will always have a special place in his heart.
For over forty years, Jan Wrentmore has quietly put her time, energy, creativity, financial resources and strategic thinking to work successfully defending Alaska’s wildlands and wildlife. ~Nominator
Jan Wrentmore moved to Alaska in the early 1970s, falling immediately in love with its wildness and wildlife. Coming from life in the city, she knew what was at stake, and leapt quickly into conservation issues, founding a group that advocated stronger protections for Glacier Bay and getting involved with the momentous advocacy effort that ultimately led to the protection of close to 80 million acres of public lands in Alaska.
Jan has been involved in myriad local Southeast Alaska initiatives over the years. Among the most notable is her advocacy against a proposed highway connecting Juneau to Skagway, along the shore of Lynn Canal, North America’s steepest fjord and the highlight of any Inside Passage voyage, and through Berners Bay, the biological heart of the largest roadless area in the Tongass National Forest. If constructed, the Juneau Access Road will cause great ecological damage to these priceless areas and hurt the economies, ways of life and character of the local communities. Jan resolutely led the charge which suspended the project in 2000.
Believing this issue would resurface, Jan went on to form the Skagway Marine Access Commission. Under her leadership, the group has thwarted the road’s development two more times. To accomplish this, she took on whatever role necessary—from digging through files in cold basements to traveling to Washington DC and advocating to Congress.
Jan is a successful small business owner who over the past three decades has owned and operated the famous historic Red Onion Saloon as well as numerous tour operations and most recently Burro Creek Wilderness Lodge. She has given generously of her time, skill and resources to advance the causes near to her heart. She is an extraordinary volunteer conservation leader whose incredible persistence and ability to speak truth to power, has made an enduring mark on the character and beauty of Southeast Alaska, inspiring and encouraging many others along the way.
Brad Meiklejohn has been instrumental in protecting over 300,000 acres of key lands throughout Alaska in his professional career. He has utilized public awareness actions, built diverse partnerships and collaborated with land owners, managers and non-governmental organizations in these highly successful efforts. ~Nominator
For the past 20 years, Brad Meiklejohn has served as Alaska State Director for Conservation Acquisition at The Conservation Fund. In this time, he has been influential in working with valued partners to protect critical habitat throughout Bristol Bay, Kodiak, the Arctic and in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. These efforts have included acquiring over 300 acres blocking public access to the Rabbit Lake area of Chugach State Park, making possible the upcoming removal of an obsolete and salmon-blocking dam on the Eklutna River and protecting 14,000 acres of islands in Lake Iliamna that serve as critical habitat for a globally rare population of freshwater seals.
In his free time, Brad has also served in key volunteer leadership positions, including currently as the President of the American Packrafting Association, with over 1,200 members in 30 countries. He considers himself a conservationist, birder and wilderness explorer, having completed packraft expeditions on six continents. He is a past board member of both The Murie Center and the Alaska Avalanche School.
Brad is considered among his colleagues to be a determined and skilled leader who knows when to work quietly behind the scenes and when to bring public awareness to a conservation issue. He continues to demonstrate an exceptional ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, who might not typically work together, on complex land and resource issues and in the face of great obstacles. These qualities have served him—and all of us who care about conservation of Alaska’s wild lands and waters—well.
Victoria Morozova is a special asset to the young conservation community—a leader among leaders from across the state. She recognizes the importance of building a movement by bringing people together and creating bonds that help keep the community inspired and motivated to work together. ~Nominator
What inspired Victoria “Vika” Morozova to get involved in conservation causes was a teacher who brought her school together to build a garden—a small project that she recalls had meaningful impact on everyone involved. Her teacher was a role model and mentor, just like Vika is today, a privilege she takes very seriously.
As a member of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA), Vika has been a constant presence in the group for the past five years having served as a youth trainer and Youth Summit Coordinator for the annual Civics and Conservation Summit; she also coordinated the Anchorage Chapter. Not only has she been a mentor to many AYEA leaders as they began their journeys in the movement, but to staff as well, passing on important institutional knowledge that she accumulated over the years.
During one Civics and Conservation Summit Vika demonstrated true leadership ability. When the teens chose a climate change campaign to pursue for the year, she helped motivate the group to collect nearly 1,500 signatures on a petition. In addition to her work with AYEA, Vika has also been an Assistant Environmental Education Instructor with Trailside Discovery Camp. There too, she demonstrated her ability to lead, and dedication to helping children connect with nature.
Vika leads from behind the scenes, empowering other youth to hone their own skills. She is committed to continuing to educate and encourage others to speak from their hearts to inspire change. She is a force in building the leaders of tomorrow and has a long career ahead of her in pursuing her passion for bringing people together to achieve positive conservation impact.
Esau Sinnok is working tirelessly for Shishmaref, taking the seemingly impossible challenge of saving his community, around the globe. He is strong despite adversity and brave in the face of the overwhelming possibility that his home will disappear. ~Nominator
Esau Sinnok proudly hails from Shishmaref, an island in Northwest Alaska. He knows first-hand the impact that our rapidly changing climate is having on his community and their ways of life—as the ocean rises they are losing upwards of four meters of shoreline a year.
While it would be easy to become hopeless in the face of such a daunting challenge, Esau has stepped up to help his village any way he can. Last Fall, he joined Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) and immediately stood out for his extraordinary ability to communicate his love for his culture, people and home through song, dance and storytelling.
Esau seizes every opportunity he can to encourage climate action at all levels. Incredibly, in the last year alone, he advocated to Alaska State legislators and the Lieutenant Governor and in Washington D.C. He attended COP 21 in Paris where he brought Shishmaref into the spotlight through interviews with CNN and other national media outlets. He became an Arctic Youth Ambassador to the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which provided him the chance to talk with senior officials and diplomats as they determine the Arctic’s future. And all of this while maintaining a strong academic record and starting his first year of college early at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Esau dreams of being Governor someday so he can help lead change—and not just for Shishmaref’s sake, but for all of Alaska’s rural communities and its future generations. In the meantime, he will continue to persuade our leaders that we need to address climate change now to save places like his home.
Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s work has resulted in a more sustainable relationship between humans and our marine environment, formed a lasting base of informed and effective marine conservation advocates throughout Alaska’s coastal communities and been held out as a national model for how to achieve meaningful and long-term conservation success. ~Nominator
Over 20 years ago, coastal Alaskans and small-boat fishermen concerned about the increasing impacts of human activity on Alaska’s rich oceans and fisheries banded together with support from Alaska Conservation Foundation to form Alaska Marine Conservation Council (AMCC or AMC2 to many). These visionaries created an organization that would work directly with, and on behalf of, those whose way of life depends on healthy oceans to protect the integrity of our marine ecosystems.
Since its inception, AMCC has worked with diverse partners to achieve policy solutions that prioritize sustainability, clean fishing practices and community-based fishing opportunities. Major successes spearheaded by AMCC and partners include: protection from bottom trawling for important marine habitats in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, the passage of conservation and community provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Act and steady reductions of bycatch of species like halibut and king salmon.
AMCC has been a leader in advancing community engagement around the emerging threat of ocean acidification in Alaska’s waters. AMCC also played a key role on a decade-long campaign to protect our wild salmon stronghold in Bristol Bay from offshore drilling. In December 2014, a major conservation victory was won when President Obama declared Bristol Bay a “national treasure” and permanently withdrew the region from offshore oil and gas leasing.
In recent years, AMCC has rounded out its policy work with complimentary cutting-edge social science research and market-based initiatives. AMCC’s efforts now include a focus on bolstering young fishermen as the next generation of sustainability-minded industry and community leaders. AMCC also operates an innovative social enterprise through Catch of the Season, a community supported fishery which brings local seafood to hundreds of Alaskans while supporting community fishermen and generating revenue for the organization’s work.
Today, AMCC is effective, focused and pursuing advanced strategies to achieve meaningful change for Alaska’s fisheries, oceans and coastal communities–while never forgetting its roots and the spirit behind its creation.
(Recognition presented posthumously)
Carmen Field was one of the most talented, innovative and dedicated environmental educators in Alaska. Many thousands of students from pre-school youngsters to senior citizens benefitted from participating in environmental education programs with her. Through her inquiry-based techniques and superior ability to communicate, she had an undeniable ability to connect people with nature. ~Nominator
Carmen Field devoted her 30-year career to sharing the wonders of the natural world with students of all ages in the various positions she held. A life-long learner herself, she had a unique and natural ability to translate science in a way that is understandable, relevant and exciting.
Carmen was the first educator for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, pioneering their curriculum and partnership with schools, setting the standard for what was to follow. As the lead educator for the Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, she developed an innovative and popular program called Discovery Labs whereby students and visitors to the Reserve are introduced to the amazing natural world of coastal Alaska through real science and research activities. Since the program began, more than 30,000 visitors have learned about conservation through these fascinating activities—a model now being replicated by some of the other 27 National Estuarine Research Reserves across the nation.
Carmen has been a leading advocate both nationally and locally for getting kids outdoors and reconnected with nature. Among her many efforts, as one of the founders of the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, she was the first to recognize the need to incorporate birding education for young learners into the festival.
Carmen passed away in June 2016 after a courageous battle with cancer. She was a role model, a mentor, an inspiring and beloved educator and a passionate advocate for the environment. She saw something new and exciting with every walk or class she lead. It was this very enthusiasm and positive approach to life that was contagious to her colleagues, students and all who were fortunate enough to have met her.
Long before the genre of “conservation photography” was conceived, Art Wolfe was practicing it. His goal has always been to win support for conservation issues by focusing on what’s beautiful on the Earth. His stunning pictures of Alaska have inspired people around the world to care about and take action to protect this Great Land. ~Nominator
Over the span of his 45-year career, renowned photographer Art Wolfe has worked on every continent and in hundreds of locations, receiving copious national and international accolades along the way. His images have been instrumental in preserving wild lands in Alaska and beyond.
While Art hails from Seattle, he has a profound connection to Alaska going back to the late 1970s. Of all the places he has traveled, he considers Alaska one of his favorites. As television host of Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge and author of five well-known books on Alaska, including Alaska and On Thin Ice, Art has brought special places like Katmai National Park and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge into living rooms around the globe, bringing to life what makes Alaska so extraordinary in this world today.
Art’s photographic mission encompasses art, advocacy, education and journalism and for 40 years, he has generously donated his photography to organizations working to preserve Alaska’s wild lands. His images (including the Snowy Owlets picture on this year’s award invitation) have provided powerful visuals that have been instrumental in ongoing efforts to protect the Arctic Refuge and in the successful effort to establish Canada’s Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, which encompasses the glaciers that flow into Glacier Bay National Park.
Whether leading a group of young conservation photographers to Katmai, winners of the Art Wolfe Next Generation Photographers Grant, or giving his Photography as Art seminar, he has worked for decades to share his appreciation for Alaska and raise awareness about why it is worth protecting.
For almost thirty years, Jane and Robert Thompson of the Inupiaq village of Kaktovik have passionately and unwaveringly spoken out for protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling, influencing more of their own people to speak out, and fostering collaboration with the Gwich’in. ~Nominator
Since the 1980s, the Gwich’in have opposed oil drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while the Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation and the North Slope Borough have supported it. Yet throughout this time, Kaktovik residents Jane Qilaavsuk Thompson and her husband Robert Thompson have been steadfast defenders of the Refuge, emphasizing the cultural importance of the subsistence way of life. This has taken courage and diplomacy, especially in a village where many are closely related. Their leadership has encouraged more Kaktovik residents to speak out against drilling and has fostered collaboration with the Gwich’in in advocating for protection of the Refuge.
Jane, whose first language is Inupiaq, was born in Kaktovik in 1949. She is the daughter of Isaac Qavvik Akootchook and the late Mary Sirraq Akootchook. Her paternal grandparents were Andrew Akootchook and Susie Tigilook. Robert’s mother Hazel was Inupiaq from Wainwright; his father was Val Blackburn from Oregon. Jane and Robert met in Barrow and married in 1970. They have two adult daughters, Sharon and Hazel, several grandchildren and a great granddaughter. Several years ago, Robert started a successful Kaktovik-based eco-tourism business taking people on rafting and polar bear viewing trips.
Jane and Robert are working diligently to pass along their care and concern for their traditional lands and way of life to the next generations, and also to the visitors Robert guides. Thankfully, it is working, because they have become role models for many others who have chosen to follow a similar courageous path.
From hosting the first neighborhood meeting in Beluga in 2006 about the proposed Chuitna Coal Mine to their work lobbying Governor Walker to grant the first ever privately held instream flow water reservation in Alaska, the Heilman’s and Burnett’s have dedicated countless hours to protecting the Chuitna River. ~Nominator
Larry and Judy Heilman and Ron and Bobbi Burnett do not consider themselves traditional conservationists, and none of them thought they would be fighting a coal company into their retirement years. But when they realized a massive coal strip mine was being planned at the headwaters of the Chuitna River (in the Upper Cook Inlet), they began mobilizing their neighbors in Beluga, Tyonek and beyond, to voice their opposition to it, which led to the creation of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition—an all-volunteer run effort.
If developed, the Chuitna Mine would permanently destroy almost 14 miles of important salmon spawning streams to mine 300 million tons of coal over 25 years to ship overseas. If permitted to move forward, this would set a terrible precedent as the first time a company has been allowed to mine directly through salmon habitat in Alaska.
The Heilman’s and Burnett’s have become more knowledgeable about coal permitting and water law than they ever expected, or wanted to be. They have spent countless hours learning all they can, writing op-eds and letters to decision-makers, meeting with elected officials, tabling at events and talking to thousands of Alaskans. As a result, they have helped galvanize strong opposition to this destructive project. In 2015, after seven years of work and despite opposition from powerful industry groups, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition was granted the first-ever instream flow water reservation in Alaska, helping to ensure that there is enough water in Middle Creek (which flows into the Chuitna) to sustain fish spawning and rearing habitat.
And while this isn’t the end of it, were it not for their tenacity, it is very likely that this project would have been permitted years ago. And while the permitting process continues to drag on, with no resolution for close to a decade now, the Heilman’s and Burnett’s are continuing to advocate to protect this important watershed and the ways of life it has provided for them, their families and neighbors and will support for future generations. They recognize the special place that Alaska is and the delicate time we are in now, which is why, as the struggle goes on…so do they.