Environmentalist pioneer Celia Hunter dies

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A pioneer Alaska environmentalist died Saturday in Fairbanks.

Celia Hunter, an original member of the Alaska Conservation Society, died at her home. She was 82.

Hunter was honored this year with the Alaska Conservationist Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor created by the Alaska Conservation Foundation as part of its new Alaska Conservation Hall of Fame.

Former Gov. Jay Hammond, who was present at the ceremony, called Hunter and close friend Ginny Wood ''the grand dames of the environmental movement.''

''Her death leaves a monumental smoking crater in the environmental landscape,'' Hammond said Saturday.

He described himself as a very good friend of Hunter's. ''She was a terrific person and will be missed by all who loved her.''

Hammond met Hunter through a mutual friend, Bob Weeden.

''We hit it off well and she had no reluctance in attempting to straighten me out when I had gone astray,'' Hammond said. ''I appreciated her counsel immensely and greatly encouraged her friendship.''

Hunter once told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that her prominence was not planned.

''I didn't set out when I came to Fairbanks to become a leader of the environmental movement,'' she said. ''It just happened.''

The night before she died, Hunter was on the telephone compiling a list of senators who were on the fence regarding a scheduled vote Monday in the U.S. Senate about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Wood said.

Hunter grew up in the Pacific Northwest and met Wood in the Women's Air Service Pilots. They arrived in Alaska in 1947 when they were assigned to fly surplus Stinsons from Seattle to Fairbanks.

They came into contact with Chuck West, who later founded Westours. West had just started the first travel agency in Alaska and Hunter and Wood talked West into setting up tours to Kotzebue.

The women and Woody Wood in 1951 built Camp Denali, a wilderness lodge in the Kantishna area.

In 1960, Hunter and Wood joined a small group of Fairbanks conservationists and founded the Alaska Conservation Society, the first statewide conservation organization.

They took part in many environmental causes, including opposition to Project Chariot, Edward Teller's proposed experiment with nuclear explosives to build a deep-water harbor near Point Hope.

They also fought an effort to dam the Yukon River.

In the 1970s, Hunter was appointed to the Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission for Alaska, which dealt with land-use conflicts and policy issues following statehood. She served as an interim executive director of The Wilderness Society in the late 1970s.

Hunter also was a writer. For years, she wrote a weekly column for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

In 1991, Hunter was honored with the John Muir Award, the Sierra Club's highest honor.

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