About the Northern Center

Our Mission

The Northern Alaska Environmental Center promotes conservation of the environment and sustainable resource stewardship in Interior and Arctic Alaska through education and advocacy.

Our Vision


We envision a Northern Alaska far into the future that remains a land of superlatives—as inspiring, healthy and supremely beautiful as it is today. Our globally important wildlands will remain biologically diverse and productive, with abundant fish and wildlife that support vigorous subsistence traditions and an extraordinary, increasingly sustainable quality of life for Alaskans.

Alaskans will maintain these enviable qualities undiminished across generations by protecting our vast expanses of ecologically intact habitat, by shifting our economy toward sustainable use of renewable resources, and through careful stewardship of non-renewables. We thrive by respecting environmental carrying capacity, thereby safeguarding the rich natural environment that has supported Alaskans for over ten thousand years.

We envision a Northern Alaska Environmental Center that plays a leading role in achieving this promising future through strong grassroots organizing, defensive work, exploring solutions, and by building broad coalitions that translate Alaskans’ passion for our home into an environmentally and culturally sustainable future.

Our Guiding Principles


The Northern Alaska Environmental Center:

  1. Believes that a healthy environment is a prerequisite for a sustainable economy.
  2. Bases conservation decisions on sound science and ethics.
  3. Uses our stakeholders’ energy, expertise and enthusiasm to strengthen the organization.
  4. Seeks opportunities to collaborate with federal, state and local government agencies, and with other organizations to enhance our effectiveness.
  5. Supports the establishment, protection and appropriate stewardship of designated Wilderness areas, as well other less-restrictive management that protects sustainable uses of non-Wilderness wild lands.
  6. Values healthy and intact ecosystems where habitat fragmentation is minimized and wildlands are respected.
  1. Favors stewardship over intensive management of natural resources, in order to meet the needs of the present generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
  2. Encourages the implementation of clean energy technologies and management practices that minimize air, water and noise pollution and impacts on habitat.
  3. Supports public processes—including use of legal, legislative, and administrative systems—in natural resource use decisions.
  4. Expects to comment on issues in our areas of expertise and interest.
  5. Puts our greatest effort into issues whose results are irreversible or long lasting.
  6. Employs clear, honest communication and constructive dialogue.

Our History


Since 1971 the Northern Alaska Environmental Center (Northern Center) has employed grassroots activism, legislative advocacy, legal intervention, and public education to protect the ecological integrity of public lands in Northern Alaska. The Northern Center advocates for a more responsible and sustainable approach to resource development on subarctic and arctic wildlands and the surrounding seas, and addresses environmental issues that impact Alaskans’ quality of life.

Alaska’s Interior and Arctic encompass an immense area from Canada to the Bering Strait; from the Alaska Range to the Beaufort Sea. Here lie storied landscapes of unspoiled grandeur, vast boreal forests, remote mountain ranges, intricate coastline, and countless lakes and free-flowing rivers. Abundant fish and wildlife grace this land in complete, natural communities, the likes of which have all but vanished elsewhere in our nation. Precious in their own right, these wildlands and wildlife also support many Alaska communities where contemporary and traditional subsistence pursuits are a way of life.

This severe, fragile and unique state comprises the largest and most intact ecosystems remaining in the United States. But it is also vulnerable—poised on the brink of rapid anthropogenic change. Today, a warming climate and a growing global appetite for natural resources threatens these northern ecosystems and human communities. New fossil fuel exploitation, industrialization, mining, and related infrastructure such as roads and pipelines, as well as a growing human population will further compound these effects inside Alaska, whereas the ultimate consequences of exporting the huge stores of coal, oil, and gas beneath Alaska soils will continue to have harmful climatic effects on a global scale. Slowing the rate of change and protecting intact ecosystems and habitat are essential to preserve the timeless value of our Nation’s largest remaining wildlands, to mitigate the impact of climate change, and to allow natural and human communities to adapt to the changing environment.

The Northern Center has worked for over forty years to defend and sustain northern Alaska’s priceless natural heritage and to redirect our state’s course toward a more sustainable future. We continue to protect the public’s natural treasures, focusing on Arctic and sub-Arctic wilderness and the surrounding seas. Resource-management patterns across the north are sufficiently complex that addressing only federal land or any other single approach is inadequate. Millions of acres, inside and outside of federally or state-designated protected units, pose unique opportunities to leave a natural heritage of significant scope to future generations. The Northern Center will emphasize the nature and scope of this opportunity by closely integrating our present program approaches (Arctic, clean water, mining) and by emphasizing coordination with related efforts around the state.

Lois Barger

Lois Barger


Throughout a decade of political, electoral, conservation and community outreach Lois has a broad range of experience working to support healthy communities and a healthy environment.  From advocating for rural renewable energy policy in Wisconsin, fighting the Healy 2 Coal Plant and supporting local food, she’s explored various positions and gained skills along the way including grassroots organizing, effective communication, campaign management and online organizing.  After working at the Northern Center in 2011 on energy issues, she’s excited to return in this capacity to support the protection of northern landscapes.  Lois is a homemaker who enjoys exploring, fishing, berry picking, gardening, and striving everyday to live a more sustainable life.

Helen Chmura


Helen credits her Grandmom for her first experiences in nature and has built her professional and personal life around the out-of-doors ever since. After studying Biology at Swarthmore College, she traveled to and learned from mountain communities experiencing climate change on a Watson Fellowship and worked for National Wildlife Federation on climate change adaptation science and policy. Helen fell in love with Northern Alaska in 2012 studying migratory birds on the North Slope. For her Ph.D. (University of California, Davis) and in her current job as a postdoctoral fellow at University of Alaska Fairbanks, she has studied how the seasonal biology of Alaskan animals is affected by climate change. When not in the field or lab, Helen can be found exploring local trails with her skijoring buddy, Annie the dog, or plotting her next backpacking trip in the Brooks Range.

Stefan Milkowski

Vice President

Stefan Milkowski grew up in upstate New York and moved to Fairbanks in 2005 to cover business for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. He later covered politics for the News-Miner and for the Alaska Budget Report in Juneau, cleverly avoiding Fairbanks winters for five years. He probably wouldn’t have stayed in Alaska if not for the great people, the opportunity for amazing outdoor adventures, and the chance to live a simple, deliberate life. Like many Alaskans, he built his own home and gets much of his food from the wild. After helping insulate houses for Interior Weatherization, Inc., Stefan joined Carpenters Local 1243. Concern about climate change led him to the Northern Center. He is a co-founder of the Fairbanks chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

Laramie Maxwell

Laramie Maxwell


Laramie Maxwell is a Wyoming native who has more recently embraced life in interior Alaska. She is an environmental consultant whose current role is primarily as a Conservation Associate for the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, based in Bozeman, Montana, where she works on environmental policy with a focus on the ecology of roads and land management planning. Beyond being a passionate conservationist, Laramie loves to spend time riding her horse, Wally, paddling the rivers of the interior, and biking and hiking with her dog, Liberty. 

Our Staff


Elisabeth Balster Dabney

Elisabeth Balster Dabney

Executive Director

Elisabeth Balster Dabney was born and raised in Fairbanks—a second-generation Fairbanksan—and spent her childhood exploring her backyard woods. Growing up she was lucky to take hiking and camping trips with her parents and siblings and discover the value of place from a young age. Elisabeth has traveled extensively overseas and attended school in Austria, England, and graduated with a B.A. in history from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She used her training as a historian to help writers publish their manuscripts and worked in the publishing industry for 8 years. Her writers heavily influenced her appreciation of the place she is fortunate to call home—Alaska. Elisabeth is committed to seeing Alaska—and northern Alaska in particular—preserved for the generations that follow. She lives in west Fairbanks with her husband, Jeremiah and daughters, Audrey and Violet.

Anna Sorensen

Anna Sorensen

Director of Administration and Finance

Anna is a lifelong Alaskan who spent most of her childhood on a small farm in Palmer.  In 1997 the family moved north to Fairbanks where she decided to stay.  After earning her B.A. in History and minor in Political Science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Anna worked for the Alaska State Legislature in Fairbanks and Juneau for six years.  During this time she and her husband Joe settled into a 20 foot diameter, off-the-grid yurt that they called home for four years.  They now live in a small, efficient house they built in the Goldstream Valley.  In her spare time Anna can be found in her garden, volunteering around town, skiing in the Goldstream Public Use Area, hiking in the woods, or harvesting for winter.

Solaris Gillispie

Clean Water and Mining Manager

Solaris was born and raised in Fairbanks and spent many of their childhood summers canoeing up and down the Yukon River, which instilled in them a deep respect for the natural world. An AmeriCorps alumni, Solaris earned their B.A. in Political Science from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Since then, they have worked as a campaign manager for local candidates, a Legislative Aide in the Alaska State Legislature, and a freelance grant writer. In their spare time Solaris can often be found climbing rocks just outside Fairbanks, working on collaborative storytelling projects, hiking in the White Mountains, or skiing the trails near their home.

Lisa Baraff

Lisa Baraff

Program Director

Lisa first visited the Arctic in 1981 when she participated in a humpback whale survey off West Greenland. That experience instilled a love of the sea and set her upon a multi-decade journey of marine mammal research from the Arctic to the tropics, in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  She came to Fairbanks in 2001 to pursue a Master’s degree in Marine Biology at UAF,  and continues to call Fairbanks home.  Since then, she has worked on various whale research projects, and as a NEPA consultant. In her spare time, Lisa enjoys being with her Alaskan huskies, mushing, skijoring, romping on the trails, or hanging out on her deck at home outside Ester.

Erica Watson

Erica Watson

Communications Manager

Erica has lived just outside Denali National Park for most of her adult life, starting with seasonal summer work while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Arizona, and then settling into the Denali community year-round in 2009. Over the years, she’s worked assorted tourism, service, and educational jobs in the Denali Borough, as well as volunteered for the Denali Citizens Council. She earned her Master’s of Fine Arts in creative writing and literary arts in 2014 from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s low-residency program, and her essays and articles on community, relationships, and the natural and human-made environment have appeared in several print and online publications. She is passionate about the work required to do justice to the complexities of Alaska’s political and social idiosyncrasies, and to the landscapes that have shaped all of us. Erica spends her free time in the garden, exploring on foot, skis, or bike, or curled up with a book or knitting project.

Emily Sullivan

Emily Sullivan

Arctic Program Coordinator

Emily came to Alaska in 2010 as an artist, planning to spend one summer exploring and photographing its dreamy landscapes. She immediately fell in love with the state and subsequently spent nine seasons working as a naturalist guide in Denali National Park. Emily‘s intimacy with the subarctic ecosystem and her human-powered trips across Alaska’s diverse landscapes inspired her freelance writing, photography, and ultimately, a career in conservation. Emily is passionate about climate action and believes in a just and holistic approach to restoring and protecting healthy ecosystems. Her particular passions for the Arctic and for social and environmental justice fuel her advocacy. Outside the office, Emily can be found in the mountains: her favorite days are spent traveling long distances on skis, trail running, packrafting, or picking berries and identifying flowers.