2017 Conservation Achievement Award Recipients  

Alaska Conservation Foundation is honored to announce the recipients of the 2017 Conservation Achievement Awards

Lifetime Achievement Award

Rick Sinnott, Anchorage

Rick Sinnott

Rick Sinnott

Rick Sinnott exemplifies Alaska’s conservation leaders in his resolve to address wildlife issues with science and his dedication to sustaining Alaska’s wildlife and habitats. Rick’s career largely involved managing the interface of wild animals and man in Alaska’s largest city. That responsibility exposed him to strong public opinions, the occasional need to criticize his own agency and forging new ways for wildlife and people to coexist.

During his 28-year career as a wildlife biologist with Alaska Fish and Game, mostly as Anchorage Area Biologist, Rick single-mindedly pursued Thoreau’s admonition “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” His knowledge and interpretations of wildlife and human behaviors with plain language and acerbic wit made him an astute media celebrity.

Needless to say, managing wildlife in populous Anchorage precipitates constant problems, from bear and moose conflicts to goose poop in parks. The city hosts an unprecedented menagerie of 300 black bears, 60 brown bears and, during winter, around 1,000 moose. It says a lot when Mark Begich, former Anchorage Mayor says, “Anytime there’s an animal issue, I expect Rick to be there.”

After retirement, Rick has continued involvement in conservation issues—mostly as a writer for the Alaska Dispatch News—but also volunteering on the Anchorage Watershed and Natural Resources Commission and Chugach State Park Citizens Advisory Board. One of his recent causes, advocating for removal of the dam on Eklutna River, is moving forward to restore a long-lost salmon run.

Rick’s determination to promote wildlife and wild places through education, advocacy and public engagement is a great asset to our sense of place and conservation in Alaska. We hope to see the curious fellow with the shabby ADFG hat, fleece jacket and ever-present Xtra-tufs frequenting the trails, public meetings and the pages of our newspapers for a long time.

Celia Hunter Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions

Frank Keim, Fairbanks

Frank Keim

Frank Keim

Frank Keim is an educator, nature writer and environmental activist. Upon graduating from the University of Alaska in 1965, he served for two years in the Peace Corps on the Bolivian Altiplano. Later he worked as an Anthropologist in Ecuador for four years, then, after returning to Alaska, he taught Yup’ik children for 21 years in four villages on Alaska’s Lower Yukon Delta. He has written a book about Wilderness Rivers in Alaska, entitled White Water Blue, and two books of poetry about Alaska’s wildlife and wilderness entitled, Voices on the Wind, and Today I Caught Your Spirit.

During his time as a teacher in Yup’ik villages, Frank became a part of a culture that was inseparably linked to the natural environment. He learned the Yup’ik language and as much as he could about the culture, traditions and wildlife of the region, and has shared what he learned through his writings, bird drawings and presentations.

Frank has a long history of environmental activism. He was a member of the Steering Committee of the first Earth Day in Fairbanks, served on the board of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, both the state and local Audubon Society boards and now the board of Alaskans For Wildlife. Frank does not hesitate to share his conservation knowledge and concerns with the public during his presentations, in his writings and on field trips. He has also never been shy about expressing his passion for protecting wild lands and wildlife in public forums or directly with national, state and local policy makers.

Over the course of many years, Frank’s volunteer efforts have helped to strengthen protections for Alaska’s wild lands and wildlife, and his dedication and commitment reflect Celia’s vision and values.

Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions

Nicole Whittington-Evans, Anchorage

Nicole Whittington-Evans

Nicole Whittington-Evans

For 25 years, Nicole Whittington-Evans has worked with numerous conservation partners, Native organizations and land management agencies to advance conservation in Alaska. She is currently the Alaska Regional Director for The Wilderness Society, and in her career with TWS and other Alaska conservation organizations, she has been a major player on issues affecting Alaska’s national wildlife refuges, parks, forests, wild and scenic rivers and wilderness lands. She has played a leadership role on Arctic issues, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and offshore development in the Arctic Ocean.

Nicole has provided detailed and insightful analyses and comments on environmental impact statements and comprehensive conservation plans for Alaska’s national refuges, parks, BLM lands and forests that have assisted federal land managers to reach decisions to protect public lands and wildlife. She’s testified before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives opposing legislation that would remove congressionally-designated wilderness lands from Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, as well as for budget appropriations for federal land management agencies. She led a coalition of groups that furthered Olaus Murie’s ecosystem vision for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which resulted in the Obama administration’s wilderness recommendation of over 12 million acres for the refuge.

Nicole exemplifies and carries forward the spirit of Olaus Murie. She loves the outdoors and is a tireless defender of wilderness values, wild lands and wildlife. She shares Murie’s personal approach to dealing with controversial issues. She is well-prepared on technical and policy details, which enables her to respond carefully and effectively to challenges posed by those with other points of view. No matter how confrontational her adversaries behave, she is always calm and polite, but firm and to the point in her replies and arguments. Nicole stands out as a shining example of competence, patience and politeness in the Murie tradition.

Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activist

Tyroan (Roan) Rediske, Homer

Tyroan (Roan) Rediske

Tyroan (Roan) Rediske

Tyroan (Roan) Rediske is a 17 year-old high school student from Homer, Alaska who began exhibiting his passion for protecting Alaska’s marine environment at the age of four when he accompanied his father to a Discovery Lab hosted by the Kachemak Bay Estuary Research Reserve. (Discovery Labs is a science education program sponsored by the Kachemak Bay Estuary Research Reserve in partnership with Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska Center for Coastal Studies.) By age six, Roan was volunteering in the Labs, becoming a teacher for all ages of participants. He is also an active volunteer with Kachemak Bay Estuary Research Reserve, Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and HoWL (Homer Wilderness Leaders).

Roan joined Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) as a high school freshman, participating in AYEA’s Civics and Conservation Summit. He learned quickly that in addition to building public awareness of our marine ecosystems through research, monitoring and education, advocacy and political action were essential to protect Alaska’s natural environment. During AYEA’s annual Youth Organizing Summits, he has helped train youth to engage in the politics and public process of creating effective environmental policy, and he has reached out to other young Alaskans, especially from rural villages, to get them engaged in environmental advocacy. He’s helped organize statewide environmental campaigns, written editorials for local papers, met with Governor Walker and other administration officials and lobbied in Juneau and Washington DC on issues related to climate change, energy and the Arctic. This summer, he attended the national Native Youth Leadership conference in West Virginia.

If Denny were to meet Roan today, he would be convinced that this was a young man who was making a real difference in protecting Alaska’s natural environment for future generations.

Lowell Thomas, Jr. Award for Outstanding Achievements by a Conservation Organization

Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, Dillingham

Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust's Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy ©Kelly DuFort

Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust’s Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy ©Kelly DuFort

The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust is dedicated to the preservation and protection of wildlife habitat of the Bristol Bay region. Since it was founded in 2000, the Trust has been securing protection for thousands of acres of fish and wildlife habitat through land purchases and conservation easements; conducting scientific research; collaborating with agencies, local organizations and individuals; fostering citizen engagement and building conservation leadership.

The Trust helped create the Southwest Alaska Salmon Habitat Partnership through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Habitat Initiative. It coordinates research for the Partnership and helps implement strategies to protect watersheds that sustain wild salmon populations. It surveyed and documented salmon in over 300 miles of the region’s streams and added them to Alaska’s Anadromous Waters Catalog to assure greater protection. It led efforts to develop a science-based Citizens’ Alternative Plan to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Bristol Bay Area Plan that helped convince DNR to restore protective classifications for more than 4.3 million acres of state land in Bristol Bay. With help from The Conservation Fund, it negotiated a 12,700-acre conservation easement covering 143 islands with Pedro Bay Corporation to establish the only permanently protected area on Lake Iliamna. Its education and outreach efforts include the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy which merges science with recreation and conservation principles to educate, engage and inspire Bristol Bay young adults to become local leaders in salmon stewardship and prepare for jobs based on healthy salmon in their home rivers. 

The Trust has been successful because of its science leadership, extensive collaboration, innovative education programs and public outreach efforts. It has effectively partnered with regional organizations, Native corporations and tribes, conservation groups, private landowners and other stakeholders to ensure that Bristol Bay’s wild salmon runs and aquatic habitats, resource-dependent economy, subsistence opportunities and cultural values are protected for future generations.

Jerry S. Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education

Richard Carstensen, Juneau

Richard Carstensen

Richard Carstensen

Richard Carstensen is an accomplished naturalist with a deep knowledge and understanding of landscape evolution and ecological systems of Southeast Alaska. He is the co-founder and senior naturalist for Discovery Southeast, a nonprofit organization that has been providing nature education and research since 1989. He has conducted classes for elementary, middle and high school students, teachers and general adult audiences on subjects that include biogeography, landforms, natural communities, forest, alpine and stream ecology, birding, mammals, wild edibles, tracking and sign interpretation, GIS mapping and air photo interpretation, journaling and field sketching. He has co-authored books and written research papers, and developed curricula and teachers’ guides for all educational levels. His reference materials are used in natural history courses taught at the University of Alaska Southeast.

His classrooms are natural classrooms—forests, coastal wetlands and beaches, streams, ponds, tide pools and glacial moraines—that stimulate close observations, deep connections and inspired learning. And he teaches diverse audiences with cultural understanding and sensitivity.

Richard’s knowledge of the Southeast Alaska environment is encyclopedic. He takes great joy in sharing it with young and old alike. His understanding of the natural world and his enthusiasm has inspired generations of naturalists. His early students now include senior staff for Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, engineers, teachers, lawyers, commercial fishermen, medical school students and hunting guides. He has mentored award-winning Southeast Regional Science Fair high school students and contributed to the knowledge of university-trained research scientists working for state and federal agencies in Southeast Alaska.

Richard has made enduring contributions to conservation education in Alaska, and through his astonishing understanding of Southeast Alaska landscapes and natural systems, he has conveyed an understanding of the complexity of the natural world and fostered a conservation ethic in students, teachers, resource managers and other Alaskans.

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

Where Water is Gold: Life and Livelihood in Alaska’s Bristol Bay by Carl Johnson, Anchorage

Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson

“Where Water is Gold: Life and Livelihood in Alaska’s Bristol Bay”, a book by photographer Carl Johnson, is a breathtaking portrait of a region with majestic landscapes, iconic wildlife and the extraordinary people who live there. It’s bringing greater awareness to the threat the proposed Pebble Mine poses to Bristol Bay, and it delivers a strong argument for protecting the ecosystem that provides the salmon that have sustained the people of the region for millennia.

Carl completed the book after five years of field work. During his time in Bristol Bay, he developed a deep understanding of the people and culture of the region and the vital role that salmon play in their lives. His visual portrait of Bristol Bay developed as a result of his work as an attorney at Trustees for Alaska. His “other job” was his photography while at Trustees, but his images reveal that photography is his real passion.

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve ©Carl Johnson/www.arcticlight-ak.com

“Where Water is Gold” was published in 2016 by Braided River. It features essays by six Alaskan writers and a foreword by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It was awarded a silver medal at the 2016 Nautilus Book Awards and a gold medal at the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards. The National Parks and Conservation Association, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, among other organizations, have used the book as part of their efforts to protect the salmon, wildlands and wildlife of Bristol Bay.

The book has been presented to members of the Alaska Congressional delegation and other leaders in Washington, D.C. and Juneau. Carl has used his work to educate passengers on Princess Cruise Line voyages, he’s given presentations to audiences in Alaska and communities in the Lower 48, and he often returns to Bristol Bay to capture new images that will continue to tell the story of a remarkable place and the need to protect it.

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

Patty Schwalenberg, Anchorage

Patty Schwalenberg

Patty Schwalenberg

Patty Schwalenberg is executive director of Chugach Regional Resources Commission, a nonprofit inter-tribal organization dedicated to conservation of natural resources in the Chugach region.

For nearly 35 years, Patty has been actively engaged with tribes across the country and Alaska on natural resource issues, including those related to migratory birds, marine mammals, fisheries and climate change. She has worked with tribes and members of Congress on issues related to the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and national resource policies that affect tribal governments. She is the director of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council which develops proposed regulations for the subsistence harvest of migratory birds, and has facilitated the involvement of the Chugach Tribes as members of the Indigenous Peoples Council on Marine Mammals.

Patty was instrumental in the creation of two accredited tribal natural resources management courses at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks College of Rural Alaska and the development of a K-12 science curriculum that integrates Alutiiq indigenous knowledge with western science in a way that is easy for students to understand.

In 2015, Patty received the Chief Sealth Award for Outstanding Contributions toward the Preservation, Protection and Prudent Conservation of this Nation’s Vital Fish and Wildlife Resources from the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society for her exceptional work with tribes in this arena.

Throughout her career, Patty has been deeply committed to protecting indigenous subsistence ways of life with the understanding that they depend on healthy ecosystems. She works tirelessly to protect the natural resources that sustain Alaska Native cultures through innovative problem solving, collaboration, effective communication and building conservation support within Alaska Native communities through meaningful involvement in research and management projects while building connections between Native and non-native cultures that share a common goal to protect Alaska’s natural environment.

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