The Northern Alaska Environmental Center promotes conservation of the environment and sustainable resource stewardship in Interior and Arctic Alaska through education and advocacy.
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.
Molly Nakayama is a dedicated environmentalist and conservationist, with a particular focus on protecting the Alaskan wilderness. As the Vice President of the Northern Alaskan Environmental Center Board, she has made it her mission to advocate for the protection of the environment and the preservation of Alaska’s natural resources.
Molly’s passion for conservation began at an early age, sparked by a public service commercial she starred in on Oregon Public Broadcasting. This early exposure to conservation practices inspired her to become an advocate for the environment, and she has remained committed to this cause throughout her life. After spending time living and working in Asia and Central Europe, Molly settled in Fairbanks, Alaska, for 7 years where she married and had two sons. Her love for the Alaskan wilderness grew stronger over time, and she and her former husband spent 100 days alone in the wilderness, embarking on a life-changing trip from spring into summer in the Ray Mountains.
Molly’s personal experiences in the Alaskan wilderness have fueled her passion for protecting the environment, and she has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the threats facing Alaska’s natural resources. As the Vice President of the Northern Alaskan Environmental Center Board, she has helped to shape policies and initiatives that promote sustainability and conservation. Molly is a respected leader in the environmental community, known for her deep commitment to protecting the Alaskan wilderness and her ability to inspire others to take action. She is a tireless advocate for the environment, and her work has had a significant impact on the conservation efforts in Alaska and beyond.
Shannon came to Alaska in 2010 to work as a field biologist and quickly fell in love with the land and lifestyle of the north. From skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking in the winter, to collecting edible and medicinal plants, backpacking, and packrafting in the summer; she spends as much time as possible outside in the boreal forest and tundra. After completing her master’s degree in natural resource management from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, studying ethnobotany she started her own nature guiding business. Shannon also works with a nationwide project to inventory Alaska’s forests. She is passionate about fostering connection to place and sharing the joy and sense of wonder that can be found when you disconnect and step outside.
Kasey was born and raised in Alaska and has a deep love of the Alaskan wilderness. Out of college Kasey worked as an outdoor educator and guide and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel the state weeks at a time. This time exploring fostered a love and appreciation for the land and people of Alaska. Kasey eventually made a career move into healthcare and has been a nurse for almost 10 years. Increasingly, she sees the parallels between the health of Alaskans and the environment and is passionate about bringing awareness to the health disparities of both. Kasey lives in Fairbanks with her husband and son. In her free time she can be found on the ski trails, boating, running, doing yoga or reading.
Paul grew up in Missouri, where his interest in and commitment to conservation issues had their genesis in childhood experiences in the hills and streams of the Ozarks. Life took him to many places, including a visit to Alaska with his wife Terry in 1971. A year later a dream came true, and they moved to Fairbanks where Paul began a career as a chemistry professor and administrator at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He retired in 2007, and he and Terry still live in the Goldstream Valley outside of Fairbanks.
Paul’s connection to the Alaskan environment has been two-fold. As a researcher, over a period of about twenty years, he and a team of colleagues explored and described the role that plant-produced defensive chemicals play in the environments of Alaska and other northern lands. As an activist, he has had a nearly five-decade involvement with the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, including previous service on its board and as Interim Executive Director.
For Paul, Alaska hasn’t just been a place to live. It has been a way of life, one which he wants to pass on to future generations. His involvement with the Northern Center is one way in which he works to make that happen.
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.
Chad Brown is a nonprofit leader and an accomplished adventure photographer, film maker and cinematographer in outdoor recreational and conservation spaces. Chad is the founder and president of Soul River Inc., a nonprofit organization that focuses on connecting veterans and introducing diverse urban youth to the outdoors, nature conservation and growing young leaders into advocacy for our public lands, wildlife and freshwater. Recently, Brown has launched a new nonprofit Love is King that he leads with the mission to dismantle the hate, bigotry, ignorance and racism in the outdoors for BIPOC and all marginalized groups to have the opportunity to roam further and bolder in the outdoors and create wonderful memories for themselves without having to face any aggression. The focus of Love is King is increasing the access and establishing safety in the outdoors, fostering outdoors leadership and advocacy for public land, wildlife and indigenous communities. Brown is also a Navy veteran, accomplished documentary style portrait photographer; he has been commissioned to shoot for the New York Times and operates as a creative director, director of photography and film maker for Chado Communication Design. Chad often pursues adventures in the back country overlanding and fly fishing, He was recently selected to be a 2022 Team Ford Bronco athlete. He is passionate about off-roading; he is an outdoorsman, bow hunter, conservationist, and artist. He guides outdoor leadership teams into the Arctic Circle. He is especially passionate about working closely with Indigenous nations, as well as working for environmental justice on public lands, raising awareness through education, providing access, inclusivity, and safety for everyone but especially for people of color in the outdoors. Brown is a board member of the Alaska Wilderness League and has been featured on BBC and CBS. He took part in National Geographic / Natgeo Wild’s survival reality TV series “Called to the Wild”. Articles about him have been published in national publications such as Outside Magazine and The Drake, and in various Pacific Northwest publications. Additionally, Brown was the first recipient of the Breaking Barriers Award presented by Orvis, as well as the Bending Toward Justice Award from Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley.
Elisabeth Balster Dabney
Elisabeth is a life-long Alaskan, a settler on the traditional lands of the Lower Tanana Dené Peoples. An historian by training and literary agent and editor, Elisabeth is seeking better ways to do conservation education and advocacy that respects the traditional lifeways of Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples and keeps Alaska’s vibrant and thriving ecosystems intact for future generations. Elisabeth lives in west Trothheet (Fairbanks, AK) with her partner and two elementary-aged children. Elisabeth enjoys re-discovering the outdoor world through the experiences of her young children, knitting, sewing, and reading.
Outreach & Engagement Manager
Alex grew up in the northeast, spending a lot of time in the Adirondacks and on lakes in New York and Connecticut. They worked in public policy and communications before studying at Brooklyn Law School, where they met their partner who grew up in Alaska. While visiting their partner’s family for a month in 2020, Alex fell in love with the land and has been here since.
Alex is excited to be a part of the Northern Center team and learn more about conservation that centers Indigenous practices and leadership. Outside of the office, Alex can be found running, biking, hanging out with dogs, or growing food.
Director and Head Guide for Adventure Borealis
Ryan Arash Marsh (Director and Head Guide for Adventure Borealis) is a first-generation Iranian American naturalist and guide. He grew up in the Bay Area and found a deep connection to our planet rock climbing and backpacking amidst the ancient redwoods in far Northern California. He lived for several years in Madagascar, first with the Peace Corps, and then as a graduate student studying conservation issues around Indigenous communities. Since 2016 he has lived in Interior Alaska, spending his summers connecting people to the land by leading natural history explorations in Denali National Park. He is an avid birder and is enthralled with the lingering twilight of the short Northern winter days.
Previously, Ryan managed the Arctic program for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, working to maintain protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands in Alaska. He has now rejoined our staff to start a new program, Adventure Borealis. More information about this program will be shared in the coming year.
Chief Financial Officer
Sarah is originally from Utah where she loved the snow, sun, and outdoors. She moved to Fairbanks about 10 years ago and worked in public accounting for a few years before leaving to start a family. Her three elementary-aged kids keep her on her toes.
During her time home with family, Sarah served on non-profit boards for Team Alaska Arctic Winter Games and the Fairbanks Community Band. She loves being involved and volunteering in the Fairbanks community, including helping at her kids’ school. Sarah believes that all boats rise with the tide and tries to lift others where she can.
Sarah studied accounting and economics at Westminster College in Salt Lake City Utah, where she earned a bachelors in accounting, then continued on to earn a Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis in international business and marketing. She is also a licensed CPA in the State of Alaska.
When she’s not working, Sarah enjoys spending time outdoors during all seasons. She loves skiing, snowboarding, hiking, camping and exploring Alaska with her family.
Mining Impacts Response Coordinator
After several years of managing projects in archives and hiking the woodlands of Pennsylvania and Maryland, Emily began contemplating a career change and a move westward. She was inspired to head west and north to live at the Yukon River crossing, where she worked serving locals and visitors, helped launch a sustainability program for the remote camp, and spent her free time seeing as much as she could from Prudhoe Bay to Homer. Emily also made meaningful connections with the community of Fairbanks, which steered her decision to call it home. She continued to find ways of engaging with her newfound love of the Interior by teaching about Alaskan landscapes and ways of life as a guide, helping run a community ski hill, and assisting in field work, all while continuing to soak up the bountiful flora and fauna and the year-round drama of the skies. She has always felt a strong connection to the natural world, and is excited to collaborate with her community in protecting its immanent qualities and supporting sustainable interactions for the wellbeing of all. Free time for her in summer is hiking, biking, and gardening, and winter is for cross country and downhill skiing. She is otherwise reading, drawing, or making jewelry from found natural objects.
Lois moved to Alaska from Wisconsin in 2011 when she came for a three month organizing job and fell in love with Fairbanks. At that time, she was briefly a staff member with the Northern Center fighting investment in the Healy 2 Coal Plant and working on railbelt utility issues.
She was a board member from 2015-2021 including a stint as board president. During this time on the board she was a stay-at-home-mom who loved bringing her babies to board meetings and events. It was important to remain engaged in this work even during this introverted chapter of life.
Lois worked in legislative and electoral politics as well as various types of community outreach and office administration including in local food and health care access.
In her free time, she enjoys fiber arts like spinning, hunting and fishing with her family and spending time outside.
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
Events & Development Coordinator
Christin’s conservation ethic came from a childhood in Death Valley National Park, where each living thing is beautifully offset from each other by negative space of sand and rock. She fell in love with the contrasting riot of life in the boreal forest of Interior Alaska, especially with the diverse and beautiful mushrooms that appear each fall. Christin studied Biology and Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, and TA’d mycology while earning a master’s in Natural Resources at UAF. Events and development is her newfound passion, but she can still be found teaching mycology and volunteering for the national nonprofit Fungal Diversity Survey in her spore time. She enjoys hiking, dancing, photographing mushrooms, cooking, and foraging.
Mining Impacts & Energy Program Manager
Katie grew up playing in the woods of Pennsylvania and first came to Alaska to work in Denali National Park in 2014. One season became five, working as a guide and educator to help visitors explore and connect with the park’s ecosystems. Her love of Interior Alaska’s landscapes and strong community led her to finding a permanent home in Fairbanks. Since then, Katie has applied her background and experience in environmental studies and public engagement to environmental outreach, youth and community education, and habitat restoration in Interior Alaska. She is excited to learn from and work alongside social and environmental advocates throughout the state, and use her skills and enthusiasm to advance the health and protection of the ecosystems and communities of Interior and Northern Alaska. Outside of the office, you’ll find Katie sharing trail-side snacks with her dogs and friends.
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.
OUR GUIDING PRINCIPLES
The Northern Alaska Environmental Center:
- Believes that a healthy environment is a prerequisite for a sustainable economy.
- Bases conservation decisions on sound science and ethics.
- Uses our stakeholders’ energy, expertise and enthusiasm to strengthen the organization.
- Seeks opportunities to collaborate with federal, state and local government agencies, and with other organizations to enhance our effectiveness.
- 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.
- Values healthy and intact ecosystems where habitat fragmentation is minimized and wildlands are respected.
- 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.
- Encourages the implementation of clean energy technologies and management practices that minimize air, water and noise pollution and impacts on habitat.
- Supports public processes—including use of legal, legislative, and administrative systems—in natural resource use decisions.
- Expects to comment on issues in our areas of expertise and interest.
- Puts our greatest effort into issues whose results are irreversible or long lasting.
- Employs clear, honest communication and constructive dialogue.