Tom Campion (center) with writer and climate activist Maia Wikler (left) and artist Monica Hernandez (right). (Alaska Wilderness League)
We were thrilled on November 12, 2019, to honor a great conservation advocate, philanthropist and political operative, and a true Alaska conservation hero, Tom Campion, with our first ever Mardy Murie Lifetime Achievement Award.
Tom, the co-founder of worldwide action sports lifestyle retailer Zumiez, spent 20 years the Alaska Wilderness League Board of Directors — half as board president — before moving into a Chair Emeritus role late last year.
When Tom joined our board in 1999, Alaska Wilderness League had a budget just shy of $800,000 with six full-time employees. Thanks to Tom’s unwavering support and leadership, our budget has nearly quadrupled to $3,000,000 and staff has grown to 16.
More importantly, from this Alaska Wilderness League volunteer leadership position and through his launch of the Campion Foundation and Campion Advocacy Fund, Tom‘s efforts led to a host of positive steps during the Obama administration, including safeguarding 98% of the Arctic Ocean, creation of a management plan for the western Arctic that protects millions of acres including Teshekpuk Lake, as well as an amended management plan for the Tongass National Forest that is helping speed the transition away from old growth clearcutting and toward a more sustainable Southeast Alaska economy.
Perhaps most significantly, as our current board president Betsy Loyless said so eloquently, “it is not an exaggeration to say that but for Tom Campion, there would long ago have been oil wells in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and, because of Tom’s unwavering and unflinching resolve, we remain confident that we can and will prevent the industrialization of the wildest place left in America and the sacred place where life begins.”
For myself and nearly 200 friends and supporters on hand for the event, held at Seattle’s fabulous new Burke Museum, it was an emotional evening that featured powerful tributes to Tom including a letter from President Barack Obama, who during his presidency traveled to Alaska to see firsthand the impacts of climate change on its people and frontline indigenous communities.
President Obama wrote:
You have demonstrated just how powerful it is when a steady, principled leader brings people together to hold us accountable to our highest ideals. It makes a difference, and not just for folks now, but also four our children and our grandchildren — your work is helping ensure that we leave them with a safer, cleaner, and more sustainable planet.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shared his own letter noting that he has “met no person more passionately engaged in politics for the benefit of wild places than you. As someone who shares your passion for wilderness, I know fewer still who are as effective at advocating for these treasures.”
But perhaps the most moving tribute to Tom came in the form of this video featuring members of Washington’s congressional delegation, Governor Jay Inslee and other conservation leaders, some of whom have known and worked with him for decades, going back to Tom’s days fighting to stop logging of ancient forests in the Pacific Northwest home to the spotted owl.
For my part, when I had the honor of presenting Tom with the actual award named for “the grandmother of the conservation movement,” I sought to share the similarities between him and the great Mardy Murie:
Like you, Tom, she found ways to tell the story of Alaska, reaching people across the country, inspiring action and pressing the case with decision-makers. Like you, Tom, she was deeply connected to the wilderness. It was part of her soul, her fiber and her being. Like you with Sonya, Mardy was deeply in love with her partner, Olaus, and together they had big dreams, shared their warmth and generosity of spirit, and worked together as a team. And like you, Tom, Mardy did not seek the limelight or awards or adulation. She was in it for the cause and in it for the next generation. Finally, Mardy never wavered in her optimism. In the darkest hours and most dire times for Alaska, she urged all of us in conservation to “dance” and to be full of joy.
It was an optimistic and joyous occasion honoring Tom. Many who attended the event and others seeking to show their appreciation for his longstanding, effective and inspirational leadership have donated to a special new Tom Campion Arctic Defense Fund, which will be used by Alaska Wilderness League to ramp up federal advocacy, litigation, organizing, communications and other Arctic Refuge campaign efforts at this critical time.