Paul Hansen

Paul Hansen

Jackson Hole has been home to many avid conservationists: advocacy group leaders, writers, field researchers, state and federal agency leaders. I think we would all agree that none were more accomplished than Mardy and Olaus Murie.

During these tense and difficult times I find myself harking back to the kindness in conservation advocacy exemplified by the Muries. That is why I plan to spend an hour on Aug. 11 with other people who like thinking about the Murie legacy. I hope you will join us. The Murie Spirit of Conservation Award ceremony will be held on Zoom at 5:30 p.m. that day. Check the Teton Science Schools’ Murie Ranch website to register.

The Muries came to Jackson Hole in 1927 from Alaska, where Mardy was the first woman graduate of the university.

She was the author of three books: “Island Between,” “Wapiti Wilderness” and “Two in the Far North.”

Olaus was a renowned explorer, wildlife biologist, artist and, with Mardy, a leading conservationist.

They helped found The Wilderness Society, and their work led to passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Olaus died in 1963, but Mardy went on to the lead the effort to pass the Alaska Lands Act in 1980, protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and much else. She died in 2003 at the age of 101.

I met Mardy in September 1974 after a field season in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Denali National Park. Her son Martin was one of my college professors. We had spent the summer studying in the footsteps of the Muries. That summer had already changed my life. Meeting Mardy was the capstone. We kept in touch for the next 25 years, with phone calls, letters, visits at the ranch, at Friday Harbor and in Washington, D.C., when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. I was always struck by Mardy’s high aspirations for environmental protection and her kind effectiveness toward implementing it.

This year the Murie Ranch, now managed by Teton Science Schools and the National Park Service, will honor former Park Service Director Bob Stanton with the Murie Spirit of Conservation award during their virtual awards ceremony Aug. 11.

Bob would be a great choice for this award anytime. He started his career at Grand Teton National Park in 1962 as a seasonal ranger. As one of our first African American park rangers, two years before the Civil Rights Act, he told me that his experience in the park could not have been better — except for the time he was refused service at a Jackson bar. When word got around town he had been refused, however, it never happened again.

Bob met Mardy in 1962 and kept in touch with her.

He is an especially great choice for this award as America reconsiders our historically racist and unequal treatment of African Americans and other minorities. I once hired Bob to provide a workshop on diversity in conservation for my Izaak Walton League staff and board. He has a particularly effective way of presenting the subject.

Another great aspect of the Murie Spirit of Conservation award is the Rising Leader award. Each year, the Murie Center presents an award to a young rising leader in conservation, chosen by the Spirit of Conservation honoree.

This year, the Rising Leader award winner is Lia Cheek, the national director of field campaigns for the Endangered Species Coalition. During her time with the nonprofit Lia has worked to advance key campaigns in support of the conservation of orca, wolves and pollinators.

The Rising Leader award is particularly well-aligned with Mardy’s lifelong encouragement of young people. In a speech in 1968 she said: “We should do all we can to engage with the next, more diverse, generation that will provide leadership on conservation and other issues for the future.” As usual, Mardy was spot on and ahead of her time.

Paul W. Hansen is a lifelong conservationist and former employee of the Izaak Walton League, Nature Conservancy and Murie Center. Columns are solely the opinion of their authors. Contact him via

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