2022 Award Recipients

In recognition of their remarkable achievements in protecting Alaska, the following individuals have been awarded Alaska Conservation Foundation’s 2022 Conservation Achievement Awards


Lifetime Achievement Award

John Schoen 

Throughout his 45-year career, John has made immeasurable and lasting contributions to the conservation of the Tongass National Forest and the Arctic plus many other wild lands across Alaska through his unique combination of science, advocacy, leadership, and integrity. His life exemplifies his strong commitment to pragmatic conservation based on science and principled advocacy. Throughout his career, John has been an outspoken and effective advocate for wildlife and wild lands in Alaska.


Celia Hunter Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions

Susan Grace

Susan has organized the Earth Day activities in Fairbanks for over thirty years. She has inspired generations with her Earth music and has been a defender of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She has traveled to other states to talk about the Arctic Refuge and performed her music for benefits, testified, taught music in the bush, and inspires young people with her talents and commitment.


Olaus Murie Award for Outstanding Professional Contributions

Vicki Clark – Anchorage, Alaska

Vicki’s personal and professional commitment to protecting Alaska’s environment and all those reliant on its health is demonstrated again and again through her enduring expertise as a legal strategist, her guidance as an executive director and coalition leader, her dedication to partner groups through meaningful relationships and material support, and her collaborative approach that builds resiliency among groups and individuals. Her work demands focus, commitment, and resolve which she has sustained over years. Her mentorship and friendship have proven vital to staff, clients, and coalitions who work to counter intense and ongoing industrial and political pressures to exploit Alaska’s land, water, and wildlife.


Denny Wilcher Award for Young Environmental Activists

Iris Montesano

Iris is an astute, poignant, and persistent activist. As a youth peer trainer, she has enriched the experience of participants and trainers alike. Iris has a deep understanding of her role as a vocal ally in the decolonization of Alaska. Her dedication to personal growth, her peers, and her community is impressive. Iris is active in climate change issues and has repeatedly addressed members of the legislature.


Lowell Thomas, Jr. Award for Outstanding Achievements by an Organization Doing Conservation Work

The Imago Initiative Team at The Wilderness Society

The Imago Initiative Team is working to create a lasting paradigm shift in public land protections from historically exclusive and disenfranchising Indigenous Peoples, to a healing and inclusive framework that honors Native people’s connection to their traditional lands and uplifts Indigenous knowledge, ways of life, and land stewardship. The Imago Initiative is creating transformational change by collaborating with conservation groups and government agencies to initiate a paradigm shift to continue land protections. They are not only setting an example for what
conservation could look like in Alaska but an example for the entire nation in how we can bring together a common vision for public land protections that is based on uplifting Indigenous stewardship, values, and connections to traditional lands.


Jerry S. Dixon Award for Excellence in Environmental Education

Joanna Young

Joanna is a glaciologist with over a decade of experience in environmental education. She is currently the Director of Alaska Programs for Inspiring Girls Expeditions and a co-founder of the Girls on Ice Alaska program. She teaches climate change not just as an environmental issue but also as an economic, safety, and human rights issue. Joanna has
developed and implemented assessments that showed participation in the Girls on Ice Alaska program increased environmental stewardship. Her efforts as an environmental advocate have also included reaching a broader audience through podcasts, public presentations, news interviews, and participation in films, such as the National Geographic movie Extreme Weather. She is a uniquely skilled teacher and communicator.


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

Elsa Sebastian and Colin Arisman

Elsa Sebastian and Colin Arisman have created the inspiring advocacy film, Understory – A Journey into the Tongass. Colin was the cinematographer and director, and Elsa produced, narrated, and starred in the story of three women who set sail on a 350-mile expedition through Alaska’s massive Tongass National Forest. Colin and Elsa co-edited the film, which they released in 2021 during the first phase of the Biden Administration’s review of the Trump Administration’s removal of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass. For over a year Elsa worked to lead an effort to use Understory to build grassroots power for the Tongass; she created an advocacy guide, helped host online screenings and panel discussions, and during the 2021 public comment period for restoring Roadless Rule protections, over 6,000 unique public comments were submitted through the Understory website. 

Elsa grew up in a remote village on Prince of Wales Island – the epicenter of logging in SE Alaska, and has captained commercial fishing boats, worked for local environmental nonprofits, and led a Tongass ground-truthing project called Last Stands. Colin is a documentary filmmaker, who founded Wild Confluence Media, a production company that collaborates with like-minded brands and nonprofits to elevate our planet’s most compelling causes, spending a great deal of his time and talent in Alaska. Colin and Elsa are continuing to work together on conservation films, and they are currently editing a film about Bristol Bay.



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

Crystal Leonetti

Crystal’s work as a transformative leader with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been remarkable. She has been one of the more influential change-makers within government to make conservation equitable and inclusive and to promote healing and trust-building with Indigenous communities. As the USFWS Alaska Native Affairs Specialist, she has worked for years to create institutional change within the agency to move it from one of the exclusionary practices to one that is respectful and collaborator with Alaska Native communities. She is a skillful negotiatior and peacemaker and her intelligence, years of experience and deep intuition make her invaluable as a key leader to help heal wounds of the
past and to help forge more positive and respectful relationships among agencies, conservationists, and the local communities.