Learn about our history, our founders and the beginning of the conservation movement in Alaska

Alaska Conservation Foundation was founded in 1980, the same year Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The timing was no coincidence. Alaska Conservation Foundation’s co-founders, Celia Hunter and Denny Wilcher, were veterans of that decade-long struggle to protect more than 100 million acres of Alaska in parks, refuges and national forests.

Below, watch “Touchstone” (Baker-Jennings Films, 1988) the video history of Alaska Conservation Foundation, our founders and the beginning of the grassroots conservation movement in Alaska.

A Foundation is Born

by Denny Wilcher (1984)

The scene: a log house outside Fairbanks. The time: August 1979. The topic: a bold idea. The players: fifteen active environmental leaders, organized by Paul Lowe, from all over Alaska. Bob Allen of Kendall Foundation in Boston, Professor Dick Cooley of UC Santa Cruz, and Denny Wilcher, of the Sierra Club staff San Francisco, are there to aid the long exploratory discussion.

Weary but assured, the tiny band has come to a decision: give birth to a foundation that would help finance Alaskan conservation organizations. The foundation would not operate programs, but would raise funds around the United States to support the organizations doing issues work. The foundation would provide supplementary funds to these organizations where they are most needy: operating expenses like heat, light, rent, and staff, as well as special project resources. Guidance would come from a primarily Alaskan Board of Directors.

The determined board wasted no time turning dream into reality. Celia Hunter, dean of Alaskan conservationists, agreed to act as chairperson of the Trustees, and Denny Wilcher, long on the national staff of Sierra Club, was elected President and operating officer. The initial Trustee group was expanded, advisers were found with Mardy Murie as primary spokesperson and an office was opened by March of 1980. The first grants were proudly awarded in April.

By the end of 1983, a total of $1,156,000 had flowed into the accounts of the Alaska Conservation Foundation, and grants totaling $610,000 had been made to 26 Alaska-based organizations for program operations. Gifts amounting to $144,000 seeded an endowment fund. By the end of 1983, 1,412 individuals, foundations, and small businesses had made one or more gifts or grants to the Foundation. Gifts by bequest and in memoriam totaling $43,000 provided welcome additions to the available funds.

Alaska Conservation Foundation’s goal is to strengthen the whole Alaskan environmental movement. Thus Alaska Conservation Foundation assists the requesting organizations and centers with not only operation funds, but in planning, management, membership development and in procuring other grants.

In spite of a decline in income in 1983, the Trustees decided to take a confident leap forward in 1984 by adding another senior staff person to expand fund raising within Alaska. The state is sharply polarized over conservation issues. The very businesses and industries who could donate the most financial resources to the foundation are the ones most eager to develop and extract resources with the greatest haste and least environmental regulations. Yet, long range, a sound environment yields the best economical return. By creating a new staff position, Alaska Conservation Foundation is taking the opportunity to build more public and corporate awareness which opens new doors to new funders.

Five years ago, Alaska Conservation Foundation was an idea. Today Alaska Conservation Foundation is an expanding foundation and a lifeline to the movement.

Alaska Conservation Foundation’s goal is to strengthen the whole Alaskan environmental movement.