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Jim Kowalsky
Jim Kowalsky

James "Jim" Kowalsky was interviewed on February 9, 2022 by William Schneider and Karen Brewster at Jim's home in Fairbanks, Alaska. Philip Wight participated in the interview from his home elsewhere in Fairbanks by calling in and being on the speaker of an I-phone placed on the table in front of Jim. In this interview, Jim talks about his involvement with the conservation movement during the period of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). He discusses the lawsuit filed over construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline that led to ANCSA, formation of the Fairbanks Environmental Center (eventually becoming the Northern Alaska Environmental Center), the struggle for recognition of subsistence rights, and the relationship between the conservation community and Alaska Natives.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2022-01-04

Project: Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
Date of Interview: Feb 9, 2022
Narrator(s): James "Jim" Kowalsky
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Ruth Sensenig
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Developing interest in conservation

Starting the Fairbanks Environmental Center, and the lawsuit against the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline that eventually led to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA)

Taking David Brower of Friends of the Earth to Chevak, Alaska to show him the subsistence lifestyle

Developing subsistence management ideas with Don Mitchell of the Alaska Federation of Natives

David Brower's support for Native subsistence

Role of Friends of the Earth in supporting Native subsistence and bowhead whale hunting

Alliance between the conservation community and Alaska Natives

Environmental Center's role in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), and working with Jonathan Solomon to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)

Being a conservationist, a hunter, and a supporter of Native hunting and fishing rights

Working for Tanana Chiefs Conference to develop proposals to the Alaska Board of Game and Board of Fish, lack of non-consumptive proposals, and board member appointment

Formation of the Fairbanks Environmental Center (later the Northern Alaska Environmental Center), and main issues they were concerned about

Aerial wolf hunting

Changing from conservation work to steady employment

Relationship between environmentalists and Alaska Natives, and corporate structure of ANCSA

Involvement with protecting fishing and establishing wilderness status for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Support for subsistence in ANILCA, and more about aerial wolf hunting

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok. Well, today’s February 9, 2022. I’m Bill Schneider. We have the pleasure today of doing an interview with Jim Kowalsky out at his lovely place out in the woods out Chena Hot Springs Road.

Karen Brewster’s part of this recording and Phil Wight is also. And so, thank you, Jim, for taking time to do this. Appreciate it. Let’s --


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Thank you. Let’s begin by maybe talking a little bit about your early background and who influenced you in the course of your development and interest in conservation.

JIM KOWALSKY: You have to acknowledge that memory is part of this, and I don’t remember everything very well.


JIM KOWALSKY: Uh, well, when I lived in Madison, Gordon Wright and I used to pedal our bikes early in the morning, and we developed a certain appreciation for what we saw and what we didn’t see. And uh, I guess it really started there with those bike rides early in the mornings.

And then Gordon accepted the job here. In fact, I was with him when he, um, when he accepted the position. We were in the Smoky Mountains. I was in Kentucky, where I was teaching at the time, and it was raining. I still remember that.

And he called Inga from Gatlinburg, and Inga, his wife, related to him that he was given an offer here, which he accepted.

And I remember we slept overnight in his Volvo. And we’re both very long people. My pad --

So that’s really where it kind of started. And then subsequently, I helped him move to Fairbanks by driving one of his vehicles.

And he had bought a truck to transfer all of his books from his bookshop to Fairbanks. And so, we drove the long drive from Madison to Fairbanks. And uh -- so that’s -- was really the start of all of this.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Maybe check with Phil. Phil, can you hear ok? PHIL WIGHT: Yep. No problem. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Good.

JIM KOWALSKY: Um, so that’s really how it all started. And four of us got together with the environmental center idea in the summer of ’71.

And I have a story to relate to you about attitude. We were very unpopular locally, because the business people had already ramped up for the start of the oil pipeline construction, and we were part of the lawsuit that we brought to oppose it.

But I have a story to tell about attitude of the community. We were in the -- we were set up in the Rampart Building on 5th Avenue. Rampart is still there.

And Bud Fate was our landlord, and he hated us. But we offered him a fee to rent, which he accepted.

And it was one of those 40-below days, and he -- well, the two of us more or less went downstairs in the parking lot together. And I had a 1950 Ford, which I drove all the way from Madison, and it wouldn’t start. So I asked him if he would jump me. And he said, no, and he drove away. That’s my story.

Um, I don’t remember how I eventually got going, but that story sticks with me. And, of course, since then, he’s passed away. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Can you tell us about the lawsuit?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, the lawsuit, as I say, emanated from trapline. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Trapline?

JIM KOWALSKY: Stevens Village. That was the first lawsuit. It was brought by -- oh, I have to try and remember. It’s the outfit that does lawsuits for indigenous -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh. Uh-huh. JIM KOWALSKY: -- people.

KAREN BREWSTER: Phil, do you know the name? JIM KOWALSKY: No, I don’t remember. KAREN BREWSTER: No, if Phil, maybe, knows.

PHIL WIGHT: Yeah, you know, my recollection was that, um, Alaska Legal Services was helping with that first lawsuit from Stevens Village. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

PHIL WIGHT: But I don’t recall if there were other players involved with that. But I -- I didn’t know that it had anything to do with a trapline. So I’d be curious to learn a little bit more about that from Jim.

JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah. Well, there were people running their traplines, and they were out there one day and encountered a survey for the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline Service Company. And they were astonished to see and to realize and recognize what this meant.

It meant the oil pipeline people were going to take over. And their lawsuit, I think, is not recognized by whoever recognizes lawsuits.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. Did I understand you correctly that the Environmental Center joined with Stevens Village in that lawsuit?

JIM KOWALSKY: This I don’t recall.

KAREN BREWSTER: I just want to interrupt with a logistical thing. Phil, are you typing on your computer?

PHIL WIGHT: Um, I am, but I will mute my phone so that you can’t hear me. KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you. PHIL WIGHT: And just -- if -- I’m happy to ask questions, but just say my name, and that way I can come off of mute. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Yeah, thank you. I’ve got the microphone turned up really high, so I’m hearing your typing. So thanks.

JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah, so I don’t remember if the Environmental Center participated. I don’t think so. But we were certainly interested.

And that’s the story about -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. JIM KOWALSKY: -- the lawsuit.

KAREN BREWSTER: What -- what happened with the lawsuit? How was it resolved?

JIM KOWALSKY: Um, ANCSA ultimately developed from the recognition that those Stevens Village trappers were vindicated.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Could you talk a little bit about the Environmental Center’s relationship with the Native community? Were there times when there was interaction with the Native people?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, I have a -- two occasions I can relate to you. And this takes us beyond the Environmental Center, but it was part of my experience. So let’s see, where should I start?

Well, I remember inviting David Brower to Chevak to the home of Mary and Joe Friday. Neither of them were English speakers. And David Friday, their son, was involved in the visit.

And the visit, in my mind -- Let me back up a little bit. I remember Brower wanted to come to Alaska, and I was thinking, well, he’s a mountain guy. And we had relationship with people in Ambler. And I thought, it’s probably going to be Ambler or Chevak.

And I decided on Chevak because of the subsistence provisions in what was going to pass as Native Claims Settlement. And I wanted him to experience a subsistence environment.

And so, there we were, on a flight to Chevak. And David greeted us, David Friday, at the airstrip. And we proceeded into the dwelling of Mary and Joe. And we spent the night.

And so, David Brower was fairly quiet throughout our visit, but I remember he being a -- an interest in books, he greeted a -- a string of young people who came by, ’cause they heard about him and his visit.

And he -- I have a photograph of him, I think, still somewhere in the house here. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.

JIM KOWALSKY: In which he shows delight as he looks at the photographs that they presented to him, as youngsters. And, of course, he did spend time with the Fridays.

I remember there’s a picture of him looking at a basket that Mary presented to him that she was weaving with plant material from the delta (Yukon-Kuskokwim Rivers delta).

And we also did spend a bit of time outside in their motor boat. And we went out a ways away from Chevak. Experienced what I would call subsistence. I remember we witnessed a flock of swans taking off. And --

Ok, where am I going with this? Um, we, of course, eat the -- the um -- from the material that they harvested. And this is what I wanted him to see it, wanted him to experience subsistence as it was practiced by people that did not speak English. And so, that’s the story I have to tell about Che -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. JIM KOWALSKY: -- the visit to Chevak.

Um, I understand when he got back to Berkeley, he exploded. Exploded to his wife about this trip that he had just taken and the experience he had with the Fridays.

And meanwhile, David Friday, the son, had -- was the chair of a group that -- that started that we would call -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. JIM KOWALSKY: We would translate in our language to Friends of the Earth. And, you know, I forget now what -- what it -- the local name was for that organization.

David was present throughout the visit. That is, David Friday. And there’s a -- I have a picture of him in that situation.

Um, so that organization was, um, present and active during the ANILCA and also the um, the -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: ANCSA? JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah. Uh, which leads me to my second story. Um, which takes me to Washington, DC, where I’ve spent months to be present.

And Don Mitchell was -- at the time was working for AFN. And he called me one night through the place where I was staying, which was a -- it was a -- a house with activists. And he asked if I wanted to come to an Irish bar that was somewhere near the Capitol Building and discuss something that he had in mind.

And I thought, well, Don Mitchell is, at the time, is representing AFN, and I most certainly want to be there. And so, I went to the Capital, or to the Irish bar.

And what he had in mind was what has become the second of two management systems in Alaska. And so, we -- we sat down with each other, and he proceeded to let me know what he had in mind, which is the rural priority Article 8.

And I’d like to think that that place was the origins of this new system of management that we have.

And I thought as I sat there and considered what he was telling me, I remember agreeing it was a good situation to develop, given that the privilege to hunt and fish have been given away. It’s part of the settlement for the pipeline.

And indeed, it seemed like it was a perfect solution. Um, and I like to think it was the start of what has become contentious.


JIM KOWALSKY: Among sport hunters. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. JIM KOWALSKY: Trophy hunters, and what have you.

And uh, so I mention this occasion to a number of parties since -- since it happened. And how it got into law, I’m not sure.

And in fact, I’m thinking that there probably was similar thoughts by the agencies that were dealing with the -- the -- with ANILCA. So that’s my stories.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What was -- what capacity were you serving in at that time, when you met with him?

JIM KOWALSKY: I was working for Friends of the Earth. Uh, and I agreed with Don, I thought this was the perfect solution. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. JIM KOWALSKY: To a problem of giving up the right to hunt and fish to indigenous people.

And I asked -- I’m thinking this might've been Al Ketzler. Al was one of the four people, I think, that represented the Native interests in the deliberations over ANCSA.

I think Willie Hensley was another. And I thought to ask them -- one of them -- I forgot who, why did you give this up?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: The hunting and fishing? JIM KOWALSKY: Yes. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Right, yeah.

JIM KOWALSKY: And the answer was -- see if I can characterize it. The answer was that they were given this option, either take it or leave it. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

JIM KOWALSKY: So that’s -- that was my involvement with ANCSA.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Could I go back to, you said when David Brower got back to Berkeley, he exploded. What did you mean when you say, he exploded? JIM KOWALSKY: To his wife.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Was in terms of being supportive of Native subsistence?

JIM KOWALSKY: Yes. And that was the hoped-for result. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

JIM KOWALSKY: The conservation groups that were substantial in size tended to oppose it.

And this was my attempt to give voice or give presence to subsistence in a very real way by bringing him to a subsistence household. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

JIM KOWALSKY: So that -- that -- that's the connection there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did David Brower, then, take that experience and spread it out into the larger conservation community?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, that was the hope. KAREN BREWSTER: But yeah, did -- he did do that? JIM KOWALSKY: I don’t know if he did it or not. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok.

JIM KOWALSKY: But in his mind, he had the experience that I wanted him to have. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Phil, do you want to chime in here with a question?

PHIL WIGHT: Sure. Um, just one -- one quick clarifying question and then I’ll ask a second. Jim, if I remember correctly, um, you know, it’s -- it's -- it's my impression that Friends of the Earth was hands-down the most pro-subsistence environmental organization, ah, you know, operating in Alaska.

And, you know, I think where that was really on display, but I’d love to hear if you recall this, is from the bowhead whale controversy on the North Slope in the late 1970’s.

I’m curious if you were, um -- if you recall that, or if you were involved in that, and I’m wondering if you might speak to what role Friends of the Earth played in that.

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, I remember it well. And I remember Pam Rich was connected with Friends of the Earth in their Washington, DC, headquarters. She had to take phone calls in the bathroom, because of being overheard by board members as she would speak in support of bowhead whale hunting.

PHIL WIGHT: Fascinating. Um, and -- and those were board members of Friends of the Earth, or other environmental organizations?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, board members of Friends of the Earth. PHIL WIGHT: Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: It is interesting to think that Friends of the Earth supported bowhead whale hunting. And subsistence. I’m surprised to hear that.

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, ultimately, they did.

PHIL WIGHT: Jim, do you recall, was there a concerted effort by environmental groups, whether that was the Fairbanks Environmental Center or Friends of the Earth, to form a strong alliance with the Native peoples to stop extractive development in the 1970’s?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, I don’t remember the trajectory. It’s beyond my memory.

PHIL WIGHT: Ok. I think I’ll -- I'll -- I'll keep -- I’ll keep listening and pass it on over to you, you folks.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: I think, Phil, you had -- had written that in the early days, the pipeline people were promising jobs to Native people. And then, the Native people became disillusioned by the fact they weren’t getting those jobs.

And uh, then at some point, the pipeline company realized that getting behind land claims was their best opportunity to, uh, get the pipeline to be built. Is that correct?

PHIL WIGHT: Yeah, that’s -- that is my understanding of the history. There were a lot of promises made. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. PHIL WIGHT: To people like Stevens Village, and, you know, folks down around Prince William Sound.

And um, it was only when, you know, the folks in Stevens Village went to court and stalled the pipeline that the oil companies realized, uh, you know, they needed a new strategy.

Um, but I’m curious to hear what, you know, Jim’s remembrances of that -- of that transaction.

KAREN BREWSTER: You might have to repeat that.

JIM KOWALSKY: I don’t remember it clearly. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. PHIL WIGHT: Sure.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: It a -- I’ve always wondered, though, why the Native community didn’t come knocking on the door of the Environmental Center. That it seemed to me that they were natural allies in preserving the land.

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, yes, we were. Um, I can recall a number of situations where that was in force.

For example, the Blair Lakes Bombing Range was an issue where we did combine with sport hunters in opposition to the bombing range that was proposed in the Tanana Flats.

Uh, yeah, I don’t know what else to tell. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: So with ANILCA and the conservation units and selecting lands for that, was there an alliance between the conservation community and the Native community?

JIM KOWALSKY: (sigh) I don’t remember.

KAREN BREWSTER: Was the Native community opposed to ANILCA?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, I thought they should be, because the main thrust behind ANILCA was to make corporate people out of indigenous people.

KAREN BREWSTER: So ANCSA, the Native Claims Settlement Act, you mean? JIM KOWALSKY: Right. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, ok.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Can you talk a little bit about the Environmental Center’s role in ANILCA, the National Interest Lands Conservation Act?

Things that you did to promote that and work with community members.

JIM KOWALSKY: Yes, well, I spent a number of months each year in DC to do exactly that. That’s what I did.

Um, I recall, for example, a hearing by the House Interior Committee, on which Don Young was a member, and Morris Udall was the chair.

I remember Sterling Bolema from Angoon testified in support of what we were proposing in ANILCA. And to which Don Young made this response: "I’m a politician, and there aren’t many votes in Angoon."

He actually said that. And you could hear a pin drop in that hearing. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. JIM KOWALSKY: People were astonished to hear him say that.


PHIL WIGHT: I have a question, if I may. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yes, please.

PHIL WIGHT: Uh, Jim, I recall you, um, speaking about Jonathan Solomon and Jonathan Solomon’s role in -- in ANILCA and specifically in helping to protect the Arctic Range, at the time, what would become the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

I wonder, um, do -- do you recall, you know, Jonathan Solomon’s influence, and -- and, you know, did you have a relationship with him in the -- in the 1970’s?

JIM KOWALSKY: Yes, I did. We flew together, for example. I remember asking him, what -- what is it that you support here? Why are you doing this?

And Jonathan, who was a model of brief statements, said, "We need to preserve what we’ve got." PHIL WIGHT: Mm.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What did he say, Jim?

JIM KOWALSKY: We need to preserve what we’ve got. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: That says it all.

JIM KOWALSKY: That does say it all. He said this on a flight that he and I took to Kaktovik to meet there with one of the supporters of the Porcupine Caribou Treaty, proposed.

Um, gosh, I can’t remember his name now. His wife is still living, I think, but he’s no longer with us.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Were you working for the Environmental Center at that time?

JIM KOWALSKY: Uh, at that time I was working for Tanana Chiefs. Director of Wildlife and Parks. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh.

JIM KOWALSKY: And I spent substantial moments traveling to the Fish and Game Advisory Committees that were established in the area. There were six or seven.

And, uh, I remember being chastised for what I characterized as giving up fish and game. Uh, that was it.

And eventually, I was accepted, but initially, I was not, at these various venues.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: But what happened there? JIM KOWALSKY: Well, I -- I was chastised.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Because of a position you took or --?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, not because of what I -- what position I took. The position I took was to direct wildlife and parks.

And I realized as somebody who lives out here and doesn’t hunt or fish, that I was putting myself in a position of support for subsistence. Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Huh.

JIM KOWALSKY: And yeah, so that’s what I’m telling you. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Um-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: So are you saying that you found it to be internally a conflict because --

JIM KOWALSKY: No. No conflict from my perspective. But conflict from their perspective. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, ok. JIM KOWALSKY: Was initially perceived.

And eventually, it went away as I would travel through these locations to provide technical assistance to these committees. And what that amounted to is, I would suggest, for example, fisheries proposals that became proposals that were debated by the Board of Fisheries.

And I would travel to the site of the Game and Fish Boards’ meetings, which usually were in Anchorage, and to hold hands. I would provide support for the individuals who put their names on these proposals because they supported them. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Right.

JIM KOWALSKY: And subsequently, in recent times, I’ve noticed that there is a preponderance of emphasis on the game board for consumptive proposals. And not for non-consumptive proposals.

As many as we offered, the game board, in particular, would not -- would not support them. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Hm. Right.

JIM KOWALSKY: And to this day, I have strong opposition to the appointment of game board members by the governor. And proposals to support his -- his submissions, despite, I would say, a fair amount of opposition in the state.

They keep going along the trajectory that they chose, to not be supportive. And that goes to the Legislature, who may approve these appointments. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JIM KOWALSKY: I don’t know how this mixes in with your theme.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: No, that's -- it’s good.

JIM KOWALSKY: But to my thinking, it represents support for trophy hunting, which does not fit into the idea of indigenous hunts. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Hm-mm.

JIM KOWALSKY: And recently, the president of Tanana Chiefs (Conference) was fired. He had a hat that said Safari Clubs, for example. And he wore it. And he was -- he’s a Republican, and he was a speaker at a Democratic noon-hour occasion here.

And I remember somebody who was defeated for his position was Ed Alexander. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. JIM KOWALSKY: And Ed wondered what the hell a Republican speaker -- what he has to offer a Democratic organization.

And to my thinking, sure, it’s part of the conflict represented by that Safari Club hat.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. That was Ed Alexander from Fort Yukon? JIM KOWALSKY: Yes. He was up -- further out. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Could we go back to the formation of the Northern Alaska Environmental Center? JIM KOWALSKY: Sure.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Who were the principal people involved? JIM KOWALSKY: Who were they? Who?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Who were the people, yeah.

JIM KOWALSKY: Oh, gosh. David Klein. Uh, Ray Bane.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You mentioned a Hunter at one time. KAREN BREWSTER: Jim Hunter? JIM KOWALSKY: Oh, Jim Hunter. Gordon Wright.

KAREN BREWSTER: You? JIM KOWALSKY: And me. Yeah, we were the principal voices.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And why -- why was it formed? JIM KOWALSKY: Why was it what?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Why was the Environmental Center formed?

JIM KOWALSKY: Why was it formed? Oh, my.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Or how was it formed?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, it was a product of, I suppose, frustration with the Alaska Conservation Society. ACS was also involved at -- at the time.

Bob Weeden, for example, was one. Uh, Ginny Wood. Celia Hunter. These were all people who we were involved with in the formation of the Environmental Center.

But we thought we should be a center where people can come and be involved in decisions that affect them environmentally.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What were the key issues that you were concerned about?

JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah, that’s what I don’t remember. Uh, well, I already mentioned Blair Lakes Bombing Range. But -- and, of course, the Porcupine Caribou were the subject of a treaty. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Um-hm. JIM KOWALSKY: That we were pursuing at the time. Um.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: We’re working you pretty hard. JIM KOWALSKY: Say again? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: We’re working you pretty hard. JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah, you are.

KAREN BREWSTER: What were the issues -- was that Environ -- Northern Center issue the oil pipeline or land claims or ANILCA yet? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: '71.


KAREN BREWSTER: And subsistence.

PHIL WIGHT: Jim, I have written down here in my notes, one of the reasons you had told me that FEC (Fairbanks Environmental Center) was formed was concern over aerial wolf hunting.

JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah. That was the main issue.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What was going on there?

JIM KOWALSKY: Lots of aerial hunting of wolves. And um -- well, you’re staring at me.

KAREN BREWSTER: With the aerial wolf hunting, was there a connection with the Native community and the conservation community, that you had a common concern?

JIM KOWALSKY: I think at the time, maybe, no. Although Anaktuvuk, for one, was one community that was demonstrably opposed, because they saw aerial hunters as -- as opposition.

And I had joined the -- when I still lived in Minnesota, I had joined the outfit called Help Our Wolves Live, which is HOWL. HOWL. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JIM KOWALSKY: And uh, I remember somebody who carried the same idea north with them was Vic Van Ballenberghe.

KAREN BREWSTER: And who was he?

JIM KOWALSKY: Who is he? Well, he is a distinguished biologist who has Parkinson’s, unfortunately, and is not very active now. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

JIM KOWALSKY: Who lives in Anchorage.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Phil, I think we’re probably coming to a closure here. Are there some questions that you would like to get in before we finish?

PHIL WIGHT: Sure, just -- just a couple. Jim, I’m -- I'm curious, if my memory serves you right, you stopped working for the Fairbanks Environmental Center and Friends of the Earth in 1978.

What, uh -- what caused you to transition out of those -- those positions you had been working in for so long?


PHIL WIGHT: And that’s hard work to do.

JIM KOWALSKY: I think 1978 is a little early.

PHIL WIGHT: Do you recall the -- the exact year?

JIM KOWALSKY: Oh, no, I don’t exactly recall. I would say 1979, probably. PHIL WIGHT: Ok. JIM KOWALSKY: But I remember -- PHIL WIGHT: And -- JIM KOWALSKY: Consulting with my -- PHIL WIGHT: Sorry -- JIM KOWALSKY: -- check account.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wait, say that again. You remember what? JIM KOWALSKY: Consulting with my check account. (laughter) KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. JIM KOWALSKY: And --

PHIL WIGHT: I was -- you know, I asked that because I was just curious, um, you know, if -- if you had, you know, differences of opinion with the environmental movement or some of the folks working in there. Um, but certainly the financial angle makes a lot of sense.

JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah, well, I would say that’s why I went back into teaching. PHIL WIGHT: Yeah. JIM KOWALSKY: For at least a brief time. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, and ANILCA was passed in 1980, and you were involved in that effort? JIM KOWALSKY: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: So was that through your positions with Friends of the Earth and the Northern Center, or that was, um, your personal time? Or both?

JIM KOWALSKY: Uh, probably both. Yeah, I’ve had an interest for quite some time prior to and since then to the present, actually. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.

JIM KOWALSKY: Which finds me with the two of you.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I know you’ve been involved with, what is it, the Alaska Wilderness Alliance? Or League? Is that what it’s called?

With Frank Keim and Sean McGuire? JIM KOWALSKY: Well, I share a wildlife advocacy currently. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Ok.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Anything else, Phil?

PHIL WIGHT: Yeah, just one more question, if I may. Um, Jim, you know, recently critics have called out conservationists and environmentalists for being racist and exclusionary towards Native peoples.

Considering your long experience in Alaska, um, you know, I’m curious if you think that’s true, or what was your experience?

JIM KOWALSKY: Oh, my. Well, I’m certainly aware of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, and support their efforts with regard to ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). Um, yeah, that’s my response.

KAREN BREWSTER: What was it like in the '70’s? Do you remember, would that criticism have applied then? JIM KOWALSKY: Would it have what?

KAREN BREWSTER: Would that criticism of the conservation community being against the Natives or being racist, would that have applied in the 1970’s? In your experience here?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, I see ANCSA as a effort by Congress to make indigenous people into corporate people, first of all. And I am aware that there are Native governments that don’t like that.

I’m thinking, for example, of Ed Alexander and his opposition to the land trade in the Yukon Flats. Um, and many other voices in opposition to the corporate translation of the Native community.

And I see Bill looking down. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Thinking. KAREN BREWSTER: He’s thinking.

JIM KOWALSKY: He’s thinking, yeah. He’s coming up with questions I probably fail to answer.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, I think we’ve -- we've learned quite a bit. I -- A lot of the things you’ve talked about fill in some holes and make it -- make us look at the question a lot more broadly, I think, in terms of the involvement of the environmental community and your own personal involvement.

I particularly like the story you told about David Brower and getting him out to Chevak and the interaction with Joe Friday and that whole movement. And your activities back in DC. I think that’s instructive stuff.

JIM KOWALSKY: Actually, we were -- we were wanting -- or were in support of what has become the Togiak Wildlife Refuge. KAREN BREWSTER: Um-hm.

JIM KOWALSKY: And I do remember arguing with -- I can’t remember the guy’s name. He actually eventually passed away. And on his deathbed, he was still giving instructions about offshore intervention with the salmon.

These were Asian interests. He was still dictating as he was dying.

KAREN BREWSTER: So -- so he was from Togiak and was concerned about the fishing? JIM KOWALSKY: This guy was from Baltimore. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Ok.

But it was concern about the fish interception. The commercial fishing --? JIM KOWALSKY: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: -- intercepting local fishing? JIM KOWALSKY: Intercepting, yes.

And what I remember, we had a debate over wilderness status for the refuge. And he kept -- I mean, there was support, mind you, local support in the 50-some villages, for the refuge. But there was not support for wilderness status.

And he kept telling me that we, meaning all those people, don’t understand what is involved in wilderness status. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Hm.

JIM KOWALSKY: So they were supportive of a status for the refuge, but not wilderness status.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: What were they concerned about?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, the provisions of a wilderness act, uh, include not -- visiting, but not staying.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. In the wilderness? That you can visit the wilderness, but you can’t live in the wilderness? Is that what you mean?

JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah, I guess that’s what I mean.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, building cabins and that sort of thing.

JIM KOWALSKY: So the presence of individuals in those many, many lakes was not envisioned as sustainable.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And were you involved in that Togiak situation? JIM KOWALSKY: Just nominally. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you said when you worked for Tanana Chiefs and you supported subsistence in that job and in general, were you a rare person in the environmental community for taking that stance, or did other people support subsistence in ANILCA?

JIM KOWALSKY: Oh, dear. I don’t remember.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. I was wondering, yeah, who your allies might have been?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, certainly those who envisioned the environmental movement understood my involvement.

KAREN BREWSTER: Was -- do you remember if there was any individuals who were opposed to subsistence in ANILCA? JIM KOWALSKY: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No, ok. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok.

KAREN BREWSTER: We’ve covered everything. Unless there’s anything else from you, Jim?

JIM KOWALSKY: Well, the aerial wolf aspect of what I was doing is more substantial than reflected here. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.

JIM KOWALSKY: It was being done by people that could afford it, which is to say doctors and dentists. That’s my statement. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.


PHIL WIGHT: No, nothing -- nothing else. This has been very insightful.

And Jim, I just want to thank you for sharing all these wonderful remembrances with us.

JIM KOWALSKY: Oh, you’re welcome.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Thank you very much. KAREN BREWSTER: Thank you very much, Jim. JIM KOWALSKY: Yeah. You’re welcome. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok.