December 29, 2021|By Larry Selzer| Support our Efforts

Celebrating Glenn Elison’s Conservation Legacy

Growing up on the shore of Long Island Sound in Connecticut, my brother and I often played the game “If you had to be stranded on a desert island with only one other person, who would it be?” We could see several islands from our house—Plum Island, Gardiners Island, Fishers Island—and I am sure that was what helped stimulate our imaginations. Well, half a century later, I can tell you without reservation who that person would be now—Glenn Elison.

Glenn Elison DSC 0192 editedGlenn Elison. Photo courtesy Wilson Hughes.

Glenn is the most resourceful, resilient, educated, and entertaining person I know. He is as strong as an ox and as intellectually curious as an Oxford Don. He has a keen mind for problem-solving and boundless creativity. And on top of that, he is fun and genuine in a way that too few people are.

These traits made Glenn an excellent leader inside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and, after he came over to The Conservation Fund, as our State Director in Alaska. In addition, as many have experienced, they made him one of the most capable wilderness leaders in the world. Those who have worked with him to conserve large parts of Alaska, especially in the Arctic and in Bristol Bay, or have been on a float trip with him on one or more of the rivers of southwest Alaska, surely are nodding their heads right about now.

Glenn Elison IMG 8613Larry Selzer (left) sits tying flies while board member Wilson Hughes (center) and Glenn Elison (right) enjoy a break from their fishing trip on the Middle Fork of the Goodnews River in Alaska. Photo courtesy Larry Selzer.

Even the way he came to the Fund was creative—an IPA, or Intergovernmental Personnel Act, assignment from the USFWS. After serving as the Refuge Manager for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a decade, Glenn was promoted to oversee all the National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska. In that capacity, he worked very closely with the founder of our Freshwater Institute, Dr. Robert Putz, who also spent a career at the USFWS before coming over to The Conservation Fund. Glenn and Bob completed many conservation acquisitions together, including protecting through easements nearly 275,000 acres of native-owned land on Kodiak Island using money from the Exxon Valdez settlement.

Glenn Elison ArcticNationalWildlifeRefuge Alaska USFWS 01Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo by USFWS.

Coincidentally, Bob Putz also was my first boss at The Conservation Fund when I graduated from business school in 1990. He had just gotten the first scoping grant to create what is now the Freshwater Institute and needed someone to help manage the financial and administrative side of the enterprise. My first title was “Associate Director of the Spring and Groundwater Resources Institute,” proving without a doubt that even the most fertile scientific minds in the world should stick to their day jobs and leave marketing to the professionals.

Glenn arrived at the Fund in May 2001 and, working closely with Brad Meiklejohn who led the Alaska office at the time, set about to design and implement a salmon conservation plan across the Bristol Bay region. The Bristol Bay region encompasses more than 27.5 million acres of land and 12.5 million acres of marine water, and is the greatest salmon production area anywhere in the world. Bristol Bay also is home to 7,400+ residents, many of whom maintain the subsistence lifestyles of their Yup'ik, Alutiiq, and Dena'ina ancestors. While much of the region is now protected, land along the major salmon rivers was privately owned and being sold off at an alarming rate. Subdivision and inappropriate development were increasing rapidly.

Glenn designed a new landscape scale program for acquiring in fee or easement native owned land on major salmon rivers when it came on the market. Major funding came from the Goldman Foundation, which Brad helped secure, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which Tom Macy helped secure. Over the next decade Glenn acquired more than 100,000 acres across almost every major salmon drainage in the region, thereby securing forever the magic and majesty of the Bristol Bay ecosystem. His legacy with the USFWS and The Conservation Fund is broad, deep and powerful. Remarkable really.

As Glenn rides off into the distance, which actually looks a lot like a section of state land behind his house in Lewistown, Montana that is full of pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse, with Foxy and Kiska at his side, let us raise a glass of fine single malt scotch (perhaps Oban, Glenfarclas or Bunnahabhain) and say, “Thank you, Glenn, for all that you have done for the magnificent natural resources of this country, especially the miracle that is Alaska.” You are one of a kind, and I for one, am a far better person for having the good fortune to spend a lot of time in your company.

Of course, with your retirement you will have more time to take me fishing in the spring creek below your house, and you can show me “one more time” how to fish while smoking a cigar without melting through the fly line when the neighbor’s yellow lab jumps off the bank on top of me…

Written By

Larry Selzer

Larry Selzer is President and CEO of The Conservation Fund. Appointed in 2001, he has led the Fund through significant growth while advancing its environmental and economic goals.