Meet the 2015 Winners  

Celebrating Alaska’s conservation heroes

Lifetime Achievement

Helen Nienhueser

Helen Nienhueser

Helen Nienhueser

Helen Nienhueser has made a difference in Alaska ever since she arrived, by devoting the past 56 years to protecting, enhancing and promoting Alaska’s natural greatness through writing, activism, volunteerism and land planning. ~ Nominators

Helen Nienhueser grew up in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, graduated from Brown University and moved to Alaska in 1959. She worked for the Girl Scouts, homesteaded in Eagle River, had two children, joined the Mountaineering Club and began working on the acclaimed Alaska hiking guide 55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska (first published in 1972, it is now in its 5th edition).

When conservationists began organizing in Anchorage in the late 60s, Helen became active. In the 1970s, influenced by Paul Erlich’s book The Population Bomb, she led the citizen lobby group that pushed the Alaska Legislature to adopt a groundbreaking abortion law. She joined the committee that established the Alaska Center for the Environment, served on the board for nine years, and was one of five “mothers” who operated ACE during the critical early years leading up to establishment of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

During her 18-year career at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Helen helped develop and implement a planning process for state lands that included more robust public participation. During that time she also served on Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Board, the Anchorage Parks and Recreation Commission and earned an MPA from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.  In the 90s, Helen co-chaired the Midtown Park Steering Committee, which resulted in Cuddy Family Midtown Park, and she chaired the Trails and Recreational Access for Alaska (TRAAK) Board which advised the Alaska Department of Transportation and the State Division of Parks on establishing trails statewide. Over the last 15 years, Helen served another three terms on ACF’s Board and more recently is serving on the Board of Alaska Geographic.

Helen has dedicated her life to protecting Alaska’s natural environment. The theme that runs throughout for Helen is one of citizen engagement. Alaska and Alaskans are better off because of her tireless advocacy.

Celia Hunter Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions

Becky Long

Becky Long

Becky Long

For over 30 years, Becky Long has been a force in encouraging others to become active and stay active. Her volunteer contributions are a major factor in keeping our rivers, forests and wetlands intact in spite of repeated efforts to dam, cut and poison them. ~ Nominator

Prior to moving to Alaska, Becky Long lived in California, Ohio and Oregon where she worked for a variety of social service advocacy organizations. This helped lay the foundation for 30 years of activism to follow, this time to protect water quality, habitat and community health in Alaska.

Becky moved to Talkeetna in 1977 where she has worked in tourism and as a commercial fisherwoman. In the 1980s, she became involved with fighting attempts to dam the wild Susitna River. More than 25 years later she is again fighting against yet another attempt to dam the river as a board member of the Susitna River Coalition. Becky also continues to be a leader in efforts to defend human health and environmental integrity by opposing pesticide spraying by the Alaska Railroad, which runs through the Susitna Valley. Her efforts to keep our forests healthy and intact are never ending. In the 1980s, she worked tirelessly to prevent the State from clearcutting the Susitna Valley forests and is still working at the borough and state levels today to help ensure the agencies’ timber harvest programs are rational and consider the many uses and values of our forests, not just the sale of our trees.

Becky speaks with the knowledge and wisdom of someone who is close to the land. She does careful research, speaks out eloquently at hearings and in written testimony and participates in legal actions when necessary to protect the lands and waters for which she cares so deeply.

Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions

Marilyn Heiman

Marilyn Heiman

Marilyn Heiman

Marilyn Heiman is a tireless and effective advocate for the conservation of Alaska’s wild places and natural resources, providing leadership through her professional career, fostering collaboration among conservation organizations, motivating citizen engagement in conservation issues and mentoring the development of younger conservation-minded professionals. – Nominators

Marilyn Heiman has had a remarkable career. She has worked for conservation organizations including The Pew Charitable Trusts, Alaska Center for the Environment and the Alaska Environmental Lobby, in the Alaska State Legislature, for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, as advisor to the Governor and as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Her work on legislative, regulatory and budgetary issues has contributed to many notable conservation gains including groundbreaking reforms in the area of Alaska’s oil and gas regulation and major protections for offshore areas in Bristol Bay and the Arctic Ocean.

Throughout Marilyn’s career she has been at the forefront of extremely complicated and politically charged efforts to ensure the strongest possible regulation of Alaska’s oil and gas industry. She played a critical role in the successful effort to implement wide-ranging reforms following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and more recently spearheaded efforts to secure the first-ever Arctic-specific standards for offshore oil and gas operations. She achieved these through an extraordinary combination of political savvy, skilled leadership and relentless determination.

Marilyn is a recognized conservation leader who has devoted her career to safeguarding Alaska’s special places and building a more effective conservation movement in Alaska.

Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activists

Griffin Plush

Griffin Plush

Griffin Plush

Griffin Plush has the makings of a remarkable leader. He is thorough, focused, studious, patient and curious. He has already demonstrated his leadership as a high school student, and I am confident that he has a strong career in public service ahead of him. ~ Nominator

Griffin Plush grew up on the shores of Resurrection Bay, surrounded by the Chugach National Forest and Kenai Fjords National Park. Living in Seward has strengthened his commitment to conserving the natural beauty that makes Alaska special.

For the past four years, Griffin has been an active leader for Alaska Youth for Environmental Action serving in many roles, including chair of the Seward AYEA chapter. He continues to stay engaged on AYEA’s Advisory Board and recently joined Alaska Center for the Environment and Alaska Conservation Voters’ boards of directors as the first teen board member; he now serves as secretary of the ACE board.

Last winter, Griffin led the AYEA Climate Policy Committee to create recommendations for Alaska lawmakers to address climate change and ask Governor Walker to create a state task force. As one of 16 youth organizers, he helped collect over 1,000 signatures on AYEA’s petition supporting climate action. He believes while climate change is a difficult topic, young people have a very important role in helping people understand the importance of action.

In the summer, Griffin works as an interpretative ranger at Kenai Fjords National Park helping to educate people on the importance of conservation and taking action on climate change. This fall he will enter the government program at the University of Alaska Southeast. His goal is to continue to be a positive force for Alaska and work to protect special places like Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords, for future generations.

Daniel Housberg Wilderness Image Award for Excellence in Still Photography, Film, or Video

Florian Schulz

Florian Schulz

Florian Schulz

What makes Florian Schulz stand out from most photographers isn’t just his skills, but his unflinching commitment to his craft and to the protection of the Arctic. I have never met anyone so committed to the documentation and preservation of Alaska and the Arctic. Even though he is German, his heart and soul belongs to the tundra and ice of the far north. ~ Nominator

Florian Schulz is one of the world’s foremost conservation and wildlife photographers. His celebrated works have been published in recognized magazines and featured in world-renowned museums, and he has won numerous international awards throughout his career.

Florian’s work has played a vital role in numerous successful environmental campaigns over the years. His celebrated book, Freedom to Roam: Yellowstone to Yukon, was the centerpiece for a concept that would explode into a groundbreaking idea that is now considered a key to saving our world’s vanishing wildlife, conserving wildlife corridors. His upcoming book, Freedom to Roam: Baja to Beaufort, is a monumental effort that will take the concept of wildlife corridors to a whole new level. He has committed much of his life’s work to this concept.

No matter how exhausted Florian may become on his quest to get the shot needed to tell the story, he comes alive when talking about Alaska, the Arctic and its preservation. He speaks with such love and commitment that he inspires everyone around him. It’s his words and passion, combined with his imagery, that makes Florian a champion for the Arctic and Alaska like no other, a champion that is desperately needed if we ever hope to save our vanishing wildlife and wilderness.

Jerry S. Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education

Laurel Devaney

Laurel Devaney

Laurel Devaney

Laurel Devaney works tirelessly to bring wonder, science and conservation to Alaskan students through thoughtful environmental education. Her commitment to environmental education has resulted in direct, positive impact to thousands of students. ~Nominator

Laurel Devaney is the Education Coordinator for the US Wildlife Service Fisheries and Ecological Services for Alaska, based in the Fairbanks Fish & Wildlife Field Office. Over the years, she has taught teachers and students across Alaska about fisheries, watersheds and wildlife. In addition to training hundreds of teachers through Salmon in the Classroom, she was a leader in the process to develop the Alaska Natural Resource and Environmental Literacy Plan—a statewide effort to substantially increase environmental education in all our schools. Recently, Laurel spearheaded a youth track at the Alaska Forum on the Environment to bring Alaskan youth to the annual event to learn and network together, which has proved very successful.

Laurel has been a consistent voice and leader for the Alaska Natural Resource and Outdoor Education Association as president, officer, editor of the teacher resource guide and now as editor of the e-newsletter. All the while, she has been tireless, thoughtful and always balanced in her efforts to deliver the highest quality of environmental education training and materials to educators across Alaska.

Environmental education in Alaska is a challenging task requiring the utmost sensitivity, curiosity and engagement to deliver teacher development, materials and other support in a culturally diverse state where fish and wildlife values and uses are oftentimes laden with social conflict. Laurel has never wavered in her commitment to deliver balanced environmental education that respects different world views and cultural knowledge.

Caleb Pungowiyi Award for Outstanding Achievements by an Alaska Native Organization or Individual 

United Tribes of Bristol Bay

United Tribes of Bristol Bay Board and Staff

United Tribes of Bristol Bay Board and Staff

United Tribes of Bristol Bay has formed a powerful voice for the preservation of the lands and waters that support the traditional way of life in their region. This consortium has provided inspiring, culturally grounded and creative community engagement, yielding effective advocacy against extractive development. ~ Nominator

United Tribes of Bristol Bay was founded in 2013 to unite tribal members’ voices, representing thirteen of the Yup’ik, Denai’na, and Alutiq indigenous communities in Bristol Bay—over half the population of the region in Southwest Alaska. UTBB’s mission is to protect the lands and waters that support the traditional way of life of the indigenous people of Bristol Bay by advocating against unsustainable large-scale hard rock mines like the Pebble Project. The Bristol Bay Regional Visioning Project has guided UTBB’s efforts to achieve a sustainable future that honors their traditional values and way of life. Not only has UTBB had a positive impact on conservation, but they have done so in an innovative, inspiring and culturally connected way to create a lasting positive impact for their region.

UTBB’s tribal leadership includes some of the most vocal and effective advocates in Alaska. They are highly respected for sticking to their values, and staying united in their efforts to sustain their culture while protecting one of the most incredible ecosystems on Earth—the Bristol Bay watershed.

UTBB has utilized their tribal power to reach the highest levels of government to ensure their way of life and the lands and waters it depends on is protected from destructive resource development. UTBB has been guided by the recognition that their power is rooted in their communities, so engaging their people in the mission and the processes to protect their home has also been a top priority.

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