Meet the 2014 Winners  

Celebrating Alaska’s conservation heroes

Lifetime Achievement

Bob Childers


Bob Childers

Bob came to Alaska in the fall of 1972. It was an exciting time in Alaska’s history. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) had just passed and the pipeline was yet to be decided. The Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, established to oversee implementation of ANCSA, was established with Bob’s mentor Dick Cooley as one of the federal commissioners along with Celia Hunter, Walt Parker and other luminaries.

Bob worked for the planning commission as a draftsman gathering information for the first statewide resource maps of Alaska. He was recruited to join other conservationists on Mark Ganapole’s famous living room floor where they met every week for months mapping out the areas that would eventually become the Parks and Refuges we have today.

He served on the Board of Directors of the Alaska Center for the Environment and was deeply engaged in working to assure the Trans Alaska Pipeline was built with as little environmental and cultural damage as possible. Bob documented the various egregious mistakes that occurred during construction, and out of this effort was instrumental in helping establish Trustees for Alaska (he currently serves on their Board).

Bob played a large part in the success of the 1987 U.S.-Canada Porcupine Caribou Herd Agreement. He was awarded the Celia Hunter Award for his efforts and was made an Honorary Member of the Gwich’in Nation by their Chiefs, the only person so honored.

Today Bob consults on international issues and along with Eric Smith and Peter Van Tuyn, they constitute the permanent U.S. delegation to the NE Asia / North Pacific Environmental Forum – a high-level talking club of mostly Ministers and Deputy Ministers of several Asian nations including China, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia and the Eastern Russian “Republics”. What Bob describes as “serious fun.”

Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions

Eric Jorgensen


Eric Jorgenson

Eric graduated from Harvard College with a degree in biology in 1979 and, after a year teaching middle school science, attended the University of Virginia Law School. After law school, he served as a law clerk for Chief Judge James Browning of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Eric joined Earthjustice in 1984, starting as an associate attorney in the DC office.  He moved to the Alaska office in 1988 and has been the managing attorney of the Earthjustice Alaska office since 1991.

Over the past three decades, Eric Jorgensen has proven himself to be a skilled, determined and effective advocate for the conservation of Alaska’s wild places and natural resources. His professional contributions while leading Earthjustice in Alaska have had a lasting impact at the landscape scale as he has worked on a wide array of conservation challenges including public lands management, endangered species protection, air/water pollution prevention and oceans/fisheries conservation.

 “I have had the privilege of helping to protect the old growth rainforests of the Tongass and Chugach National Forests in coastal Alaska, and with it wildlife, like brown bears and wolves, so rarely seen in other parts of the world.”

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

Cook Inletkeeper

CookInletkeeperIn 1994, a group of Alaskans concerned about rapid ecological changes unfolding in Cook Inlet came together and formed Cook Inletkeeper, modeled after successful “Waterkeeper” programs across the country. The “Waterkeeper” concept dates back to the 19th century English tradition where Riverkeepers were the wardens of private streams, assuring the waters were healthy, well stocked and free of poachers. In the 1980’s, fishermen concerned about pollution in New York’s Hudson River started the first Waterkeeper program in the United States.   

Cook Inletkeeper was formally incorporated in 1995 after a landmark settlement that directed 3 years of start-up funding to the organization. The settlement was negotiated by local conservation groups (Alaska Center for the Environment, Greenpeace, Trustees for Alaska) with Cook Inlet oil and gas producers to address over 4,200 violations of the federal Clean Water Act in Cook Inlet. The EPA found the allegations so serious that it joined the litigation.

Since its inception, Cook Inletkeeper has built on the powerful Waterkeeper model to become a leader at the state and national levels in the fight for clean water and healthy fisheries. Cook Inletkeeper’s programs focus on Clean Water, Clean Energy and Health Habitats.

Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activists

Shanelle Afcan


Shanelle Afcan

Shanelle is a 17-year-old Yupik Alaskan born and raised in Nunam Iqua on the Yukon Delta.  She graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School and is currently a freshman at Stanford. Shanelle is a dedicated hard worker. She pushes herself to take challenging classes, be involved in activities and projects she cares about, and follow through on her commitments. She values the land and enjoys fishing and picking berries.

Shanelle has been involved with Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) since her freshmen year of high school, and has enjoyed volunteering with the program ever since. She participated in AYEA’s Civics & Conservation Summit as an attendee and trainer as well as the Youth Organizer Summit in 2013. She is an advocate for issues she cares about and has been a strong leader in AYEA for several years, she served on AYEA’s Statewide Advisory Board and as the President of the Mt. Edgecumbe Chapter.

Shanelle was raised to value the land as a part of herself.  “I want a clean state, one that will provide a living to the people just as it always has been. I want good food, good salmon, and a good public process! I want an in depth understanding of the issues that face my generation. I want connections with the people that are willing to stand up and look these issues in the eye, without fear, because when we stand, we stand in solidarity!” 

Jerry S. Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education

Cathy Rezabeck

03-cathy handler 4

Cathy Rezabeck

During Cathy’s 30-year career in Alaska she has delivered environmental education programming to students, taught educators how to deliver EE to their students, managed programs, and developed products to enhance the environmental education experience for young Alaskans. A few career highlights:

Cathy has had a far and wide impact on environmental education in Alaska. As a seasonal Denali National Park Interpreter, Cathy delivered programs to people of all ages and realized that the Alaska landscape was a powerful teaching tool. As the Executive Director of the Alaska Natural History Association, now Alaska Geographic, Cathy learned from employees of federal and state land-managing agencies about the beauty and diversity of Alaska’s public lands.  At the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Cathy worked as an Education Specialist, reaching out to schools and community members to enhance understanding and knowledge about the refuge. As an Education Specialist and Education Coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Cathy built a network of employees across the state and gave them the training and tools necessary to do environmental education in their communities.

As the Outreach Coordinator for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Alaska, Cathy planned and delivered communication strategies for many outcomes, including her favorite – “Connecting people with nature.” She built a coalition of individuals, organizations, and agencies called “Get Outdoors Anchorage” and led the development of the website “Get Outdoors Alaska.” She assisted in the development of the Alaska Environmental Literacy Plan, completed in 2013.

Cathy retired in March of 2014, and works as a contractor for the Alaska Natural Resource and Outdoor Education Association, an organization she helped charter in 1986.

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

Gwich’in Steering Committee

PrintThe Gwich’in Steering Committee was formed in 1988 in response to proposals to drill for oil in the Sacred Place Where Life Begins, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Gwich’in are the northernmost Indian Nation living in fifteen small villages scattered across a vast area extending from northeast Alaska in the U.S. to the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada.

Gwich’in’s elders recognized that oil development in caribou calving grounds was a threat to the very heart of the Gwich’in people. They called upon the chiefs of all Gwich’in villages from Canada to Alaska to come together for a traditional gathering, the first in more than a century. The gathering in Arctic Village addressed the issue with a talking stick in accordance with the traditional way, and it was decided unanimously that the Gwich’in would speak with one voice against oil and gas development in the birthing and nursing grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Gwich’in people’s voice is expressed in a formal resolution, Gwich’in Niintsyaa.

Time and time again, the Gwich’in Steering Committee has presented testimony in front of the US Congress, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, and public hearings. Without this testimony many would not know that this is a Human Rights issue to the Gwich’in.

 “We are caribou people.  Caribou are not just what we eat; they are who we are.  They are in our stories and songs and the whole way we see the world.  Caribou are our life.  Without caribou we wouldn’t exist”.  ~Sarah James


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