Ted Swem

Ted Swem, a lifelong conservationist, served as member and president of the governing council at The Wilderness Society for over two decades.

A passionate outdoors man, federal worker and Wilderness Society council member, Ted's quiet determination led to the protection of more than 100 million acres of wildlife refuges, parks and wildernesses in Alaska.

Early life

Theodore “Ted” Swem was born in 1917 and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He became infatuated with the outdoors and nature after joining the Boy Scouts at the age of 12.

Ted received a BS in Forestry from Iowa State University and spent a year studying biology at Harvard University.


Ted married his wide Helen Olson, worked in Colorado and Nebraska and participated in a series of conservation roles in Washington before he began his most famous work in Alaska.

His proudest professional accomplishments include his cooperative work with foreign governments in Japan, India and Africa as they established park systems, as well as his contributions to protection of Alaska’s wild lands.


In 1973, Swem became chairman of the Alaska Planning Groups for the Department of Interior (DOI). The result of their work was the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980, which established 104.3 million acres of National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges and other protected lands in Alaska. It designated wilderness in the wild and scenic rivers, the Tongass National Forest, the Steese National Conservation Area and the White Mountains National Recreation Area.

Ted was recipient of the DOI’s Meritorious and Distinguished Service award and retired from the National Park Service in 1976.

After over 20 years of service as a governing council member, The Wilderness Society awarded him the Bob Marshall Award on their 50th anniversary in 1985. He received awards from numerous other conservation organizations recognizing his tireless work and capable leadership.