Meet the 2013 Winners  

Celebrating Alaska’s conservation heroes

Celia Hunter Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions

Roberta Highland

Roberta Highland and Horse Cisco Buck in Homer

Roberta Highland and Horse Cisco Buck in Homer

Spanning a decades-long career of volunteerism, Roberta Highland has set a high bar for community activism. A self-described Pollyanna, Roberta begins every campaign asking the question “How hard can this be?” Her indomitable spirit is nourished by the belief that everything is connected and that protecting the earth and the life it sustains is the worthiest of causes.

Roberta has worked on an impressive number of significant issues that have required statewide coordination for success. These include the creation of the Fritz Creek Anchor River Critical Habitat Area, for which she received an award from the Governor for her efforts, and the Kachemak Bay State Park buyback. She served as the Director of Home Health for seven years after she and an associate lobbied to bring a home health department to South Peninsula Hospital.

She excels at working collaboratively with others, and her involvement in local campaigns helped instigate a jet ski ban in Kachemak Bay, halt coalbed methane development, shut down the Drift River oil terminal, and purchase property for the local ski trail system in Homer.

Roberta is civically engaged through her seats on the Homer Advisory Planning Commission and the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area Board. She serves as President of the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society and the Kachemak Bay Equestrian Association. Roberta weighs in regularly on issues being discussed on local radio including KBBI’s “Coffee Table” or the statewide “Talk of Alaska.”

Recognizing the value of one-on-one relationships, her favorite tool is the telephone. Remarkably, Roberta manages to do all of this work without a computer! She relies on help from computer-savvy associates when needed. She attributes her perseverance as a volunteer to remaining positive, pacing herself, and finding daily inspiration. 

Her guiding principles embrace the “Four E’s”: The Environment, Economy, Energy, and Ethics. Using this approach, inspired by former Governor Jay Hammond, she strives to elevate important conservation issues and influence decision makers. Her humor and optimism shine through all of her work. She believes we can all be a force for the change we want to see in the world.

Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions

Eric Myers

Eric Meyers

Eric Myers

Whether fighting against the building of a petrochemical plant in Alaska, against the Susitna Dam, for smoke-free workplaces in Anchorage or for millions of acres of protection in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA), Eric Myers has been a politically pragmatic, articulate and extremely effective advocate for environmental protection in Alaska. Eric’s work promoting civic engagement and increasing public awareness of conservation issues in Alaska stretches back four decades, to when he first worked at the Alaska Center for the Environment as an intern in the late 1970’s.

Eric honed his political skills working as a Legislative Aide for Alaska Representatives Adelheid Hermann and then Kay Brown. Eric also served as Director of Operations for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, helping our state recover from one of its greatest environmental disasters. Eric has served on the boards of several conservation and non-profit organizations, including Alaska Conservation Foundation. He recently retired from his position as Audubon Alaska’s Policy Director.

Among his many achievements, Eric’s passion for the protection of Alaska’s environment shines brightest in his efforts to safeguard the Arctic. Eric played a leadership role in successfully advancing a conservation blueprint for the NPRA that has resulted in the withdrawal of 11 million acres from oil and gas leasing.

Eric’s efforts to protect the remaining big-tree, old growth rainforest in the Tongass also extends back many years. He was a key player in the effort to secure permanent protection for the highest-value Tongass watersheds, bring an end to the US Forest Service’s large-scale, ecologically destructive old-growth logging program and transition the region to a truly sustainable economy.

Eric is the last person to take credit and the first to give it to others. That is in part why he is so successful. He is respectful, extremely helpful to his colleagues and a true team player. He is smart, witty and strategic. It’s not that he has won so many important efforts – it is how he has done it that sets him apart. 

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

Great Land Trust

Great Land Trust is a private, non-profit land conservation organization founded in 1995 by residents of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. They work directly with willing landowners and other partners to conserve Southcentral Alaska’s lands and waterways. Great Land Trust permanently and directly conserves lands and waterways essential to the quality of life and economic health of the communities in which they work.

Great Land Trust manages 33 conservation projects in Anchorage and the Mat-Su, protecting over 8,500 acres of vital habitat for fish and wildlife with significant community values like the Fish Creek Estuary. This project conserved 33 acres along Fish Creek including Fish Creek’s Estuary, enjoyed by thousands of people annually. Great Land Trust also recently completed 5 conservation projects conserving estuaries along Knik Arm. These projects combined conserved over 6,000 acres and provide permanent protection for nearly 40 miles of salmon streams, in addition to public access to some of our most productive coastal systems.

Under the keen leadership of Phil Shephard, the Campbell Creek Estuary project is one of the more ambitious ventures undertaken by the Great Land Trust. Raising over $7.4 million to purchase this beautiful 60 acre coastal parcel at the mouth of Campbell Creek, it will be maintained as a natural area in perpetuity. This estuary and adjacent land provides habitat for over 220 species of birds, including thousands of snow geese and sandhill cranes during migration. Beloved by local residents, we can thank the Great Land Trust for their tireless pursuit in protecting this remarkable parcel of land, forever.

Through their Pathways to the Chugach: Connecting to our Park program, the Great Land Trust works to permanently conserve traditional routes into Chugach State Park and provide for additional trailheads. Their most current project successfully secured 150 acres on the slopes of Near Point in cooperation with The Conservation Fund.

The Great Land Trust’s dedicated staff, board and partners have worked collaboratively to protect some of the most treasured and important lands and waterways in Southcentral Alaska. For more information about the Great Land Trust visit their website:

Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activists

Leila Pyle

Leila Pyle

Leila Pyle

Dedicated to sustainability and conservation within her community of Kodiak, Leila Pyle employs a scientific and creative arts-based approach in order to strengthen her community’s awareness and involvement in environmental conservation. She employs her passion for art and her interest in science in ways that inspire and motivate others. 

Leila collaborated with her Kodiak High School art teacher and several other students to create a massive sculpture made entirely of marine debris named Ophelia. Leila accompanied Ophelia to the Alaska Forum on the Environment, where she shared the underlying meaning of utilizing marine debris as a medium for the project so as to generate greater public awareness for the environmental hazards of marine debris in waterways.

Leila was selected to attend Alaska Youth for Environmental Action’s (AYEA) Fall Summit as a Youth Organizer, where she immediately stood out as a leader amongst her peers. Leila worked collaboratively with AYEA teens from across the state to produce a youth-led food book project, “Recipes for Alaska’s Food Future”. While in Juneau, she presented the finished product to legislative members and asked them to step up as leaders and support her envisioned food future.

Leila is highly involved in Girl Scouts and recently received the Gold Award, the highest honor for Girl Scouts, for developing and implementing art-based, environmental education programming for elementary school-aged youth in Kodiak. She plans to study biology in college and then return to the Swiss World Girl Scout Center to work as a volunteer. One of Leila’s goals is to promote environmental education efforts and advocate for sustainability as a cornerstone of the global Girl Scout movement.

Leila’s profound recognition of education and community mobilization as powerful mediums for the protection of Alaska’s natural places and resources make her a force to reckon with now and in the future.   

Madeline Rafferty

Madeline Rafferty

Madeline Rafferty

Madeline Rafferty is an incredible young leader who has served as Secretary and Chairperson of the Fairbanks Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) chapter and on the staff and board of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center (Northern Center) in Fairbanks.

Upon joining AYEA, she was shy but observant, a trait which turned out to be one of her strengths. Her peers gained great respect for her and encouraged her to attend the annual statewide Civics and Conservation Summit held in Juneau, where students from all over Alaska come together to lobby for bills including those in support of local food and protecting wild salmon.

Madeline helped select the Legislator of the Year winners, and she led a group of teens to research and advocate for funding for school meals (SB 6). The bill was languishing before the teens’ arrival, but due to their efforts, the education committee scheduled a hearing and passed it. Madeline’s leadership and passion clearly influenced the passage of this important bill which encourages more schools to provide nutritious meals for underprivileged children.

Madeline is an excellent communicator, who facilitates meetings and motivates other AYEA teens to stay focused and get things done. Under Madeline’s leadership, the Fairbanks AYEA chapter started a community garden at the Northern Center, sold their produce to raise money for the chapter, hosted educational workshops on local food production and spear-headed AYEA’s statewide “Recipes for Alaska’s Food Future” book project.

She will be attending the University of Alaska Southeast. Among her goals – she hopes to become a highly skilled communicator, learn the skills it takes to run a campaign and become an exemplary teacher to herself as well as others. She strives to emulate the same love and support she received so as to better support her peers and inspire others to join the cause. Her dedication to the future of Alaska is clear. 

Justice Sky

Justice Sky has been involved in Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) for six years, advocating on behalf of the environment. Wild salmon protection, renewable energy and ocean acidification are just a sampling of the issues he is passionate about. Justice is an incredible young leader who galvanizes others to join his cause. 

Justice has been an active member and Chairperson for the Homer AYEA chapter, helping to lead a group of his peers in efforts to implement a paper recycling program in their high school, organize community beach clean-ups and electronics recycling and advocate for reducing the city’s carbon footprint. When he started to tackle larger projects, he faced inevitable road blocks. It was difficult for him to understand why people were in opposition to his environmental goals or why others didn’t seem to care about the damage they were doing.

He found inspiration through the AYEA Civics and Conservation Summit in Juneau. There he learned valuable lessons about talking to decision makers and how to make individual goals a reality. It had such an effect on him that he returned three more years as a youth trainer to make sure that others benefitted as thoroughly as he had. Going to Juneau gave him the tools and motivation to carry out goals through positive action, like organizing events to promote local food, and lobbying for environmental action in the legislature on issues like ocean acidification, pollution and renewable resources.

Recently, Justice was asked why he cares about the environment. He responded by saying, “I care about the environment because I have to. Not only is it a part of who I am, but I have the duty to protect it and to inspire others to protect it from those who don’t care. I will always do everything I can to bring people together for my cause and to make sure that people keep asking why I care about the environment.” Justice is a shining example of what to expect from the emerging environmental leaders of tomorrow.

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

Michael Melford

Chikuminuk Lake in Bristol Bay by Michael Melford

Chikuminuk Lake in Bristol Bay by Michael Melford

Michael Melford’s assignments for National Geographic Magazine always celebrate the marvels of our incredible planet. Michael has distinguished himself both in the diversity of his subject matter as well as the publications in which he has been featured. His expertise is in shooting the wonders of travel and nature and the people who occupy that landscape. His vibrant work is a celebration of life, and his respect for all living things is apparent in his powerful images.

A passionate conservationist, Michael’s features have taken him to some of the most pristine places in the world including Alaska’s very own Bristol Bay. “Alaska’s Choice: Salmon or Gold”, appeared in the December 2010 National Geographic. Michael uses photography to visually tell the story of Bristol Bay. The powerful photographic journey movingly portrays exactly what is at stake should the Pebble Mine be developed.

As a follow-up to this article, Michael published a book with local writer and storyteller Dave Atcheson titled “Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond” which further explores the beauty, bounty and complexities of the Bristol Bay region and how the development of the proposed Pebble Mine puts it at risk. Melford and Atcheson describe their project as “ultimately a work of hope—hope that much of Alaska and especially Bristol Bay will remain wild”. It is a book, they say, “whose purpose is not to be a record of what we may potentially lose but rather what can still be saved”.

Michael’s goal is to share the wonders and beauty of the natural world with others, in hopes that his work might provide inspiration to preserve our wild legacy for future generations.

Jerry S. Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education

Dan Pascucci

Dan Pascucci studied communications and advertising at Boston University. Some thought he was throwing his degree away when he announced that he was headed to Alaska to teach kids about the importance of salmon. Using his communication skills and ability to sell an idea, he has spent the past ten years translating science into a language that people can understand and, in turn, care about. 

Dan spent five summers in Kachemak Bay as a teacher-naturalist with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, eventually making his way up the road to Soldotna where he currently works as the Education Specialist for the Kenai Watershed Forum. His love for the Kenai River flows into all of his work, and throughout his ten-year career he has taught thousands of kids about the importance of healthy watersheds, leading him to be known as “Watershed Man”. One of his greatest rewards was presenting one of his former students with an award for their participation in the Caring for the Kenai environmental contest.

Dan’s innovative approach to teaching infuses humor, music and field studies, making him a favorite among his students. He excels as a teacher due to his creativity, passion and his ability to connect with kids. It is vitally important that you love what you teach, and it is obvious to all who know him that Dan truly loves what he teaches and is devoted to his community. Dan volunteers for the local public radio as a DJ, the local theatre doing set-building and production and is a willing emcee and musician for numerous events around town. It is good for his students to see him around town engaged in a variety of activities.

Dan strives to use his skills and knowledge to create positive change by connecting people to their place. He encourages others to do the same whether or not you can play an instrument or get up in front of people and entertain and engage them. “All you need is a heart of caring about the place you love” he says. The rest will follow.

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

Victoria Hykes Steere

An Inupiaq from Unalakleet on Alaska’s west coast, Victoria Hykes Steere finds inspiration in life from lessons imparted by her family. After leaving home to earn a BA in economics from Colby College in Maine, Victoria went on to complete a JD with a concentration in international and federal Indian law from the University of Iowa College of Law. Her LLM, awarded in 1995 from the University of Washington School of Law, included a focus on environmental, natural resources, human rights and public land law and policy.

Victoria is a long-standing advocate for Alaska Native environmental justice issues, including advancing the understanding of climate change impacts on indigenous people. Her impressive resume demonstrates her expansive view of the world. She is a writer, speaker, organizer, advocate, researcher and teacher.

Currently she works as an Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Studies at Alaska Pacific University. Her courses include an exploration of social responsibility using biographies of Alaska Native leaders and a history of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. She heads up the new Alaska Native initiative that includes programs in sustainable communities and environmental policy.

She is committed to the development of programs to help students achieve their goals, and successfully implement practical knowledge that will ultimately benefit their home communities. She would like APU students to learn to treasure life and to be their best selves. Her hope is they understand that challenges create opportunities, and that this is an exciting time to be alive.

In 2001, Victoria participated as an expert in a United Nations workshop focusing on resource development and its effects on Indigenous Peoples. The session convened in Geneva and was the first time Indigenous experts fully participated in a UN workshop.

Victoria’s career has focused on advancing Alaska Native Peoples. Her influence is far-reaching and she clearly follows the wisdom of her grandmother Martha who liked to say, “Everything you do must be to the best of your ability.”

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