Wilderness Society Honors Forest Service Visionaries

Award recipients Aaron and K.K. Prussian

When Aaron and Katherine (“K.K.”) Prussian moved to Thorne Bay, Alaska on Prince of Wales Island to take jobs with the Forest Service’s watershed restoration program, their work may have felt a bit like a stream in a forest of big trees — overshadowed.

Thorne Bay was for many years home to one of North America’s largest logging camps, and timber production has remained a major focus of Forest Service activities there.

But Aaron, a biologist, and K.K., a hydrologist, quickly seized an opportunity to make a real difference.

Despite decades of logging, Prince of Wales Island still has some of the largest trees left in southeast Alaska and some of the region’s most valuable habitat for fish and wildlife. Although past logging and road-building has degraded streams and blocked fish passage, the Prussians recognized that it was possible not only to restore these waters to pre-logging conditions, enabling fish to spawn again, but also to create new jobs in a region where employment opportunities are limited.

It’s that kind of work that got the couple selected as The Wilderness Society’s 2008 recipients of the annual Olaus and Margaret Murie Award.

The Wilderness Society presents the award annually to a person, usually unheralded, who has shown dedication to protecting the nation's natural heritage.

In just a few short years with the Thorne Bay forest district, Aaron and K.K. completed two major stream restoration projects, and a host of other watershed restoration projects, bringing new attention to their agency’s cutting edge program, and setting the stage for future work of this kind on Prince of Wales Island and elsewhere within the Tongass forest.

"K.K. and Aaron are not only dedicated, but inspiring," said Karen Hardigg, Forest Program Manager for The Wilderness Society’s Alaska Regional Office.

"Working in what has historically been such a timber-focused district, Aaron & K.K. have tirelessly promoted watershed restoration. Their successful projects are now a showcase for the Tongass National Forest and a model for the way the Forest Service could do business here in the future,” Hardigg said.

The Prussian’s work has provided tangible examples and possibilities for moving away from forest management that focuses primarily on logging — a shift The Wilderness Society has been advocating through our science and policy work.

The work they spear-headed has demonstrated that the forest can be managed to provide ecological, social, recreation, and economic benefits to local communities, all at the same time. Their work will also go a long way towards ultimately ensuring that future generations will enjoy the same Tongass National Forest we know today, with intact old-growth stands and healthy populations of fish and wildlife.

"We are so honored, and humbled.” said K.K. upon learning she and her husband had received the award. “We were just responding to what we saw as a need and a unique niche for applying our knowledge and skills.”

Aaron and K.K. also acknowledged the efforts of a large group of people who contributed to the design, contracting, and funding allocation which made these restoration projects happen.

It’s fitting that Aaron and K.K. are a husband-and-wife team since this award is named for another exceptional couple. Olaus Murie, an acclaimed naturalist, was president of The Wilderness Society from 1945 to 1962.

Murie and his wife, Margaret (Mardy), spent years promoting legislation that would protect wild places from development.

The Murie Award will be presented at an upcoming meeting of The Wilderness Society's Governing Council.