Marine Biology to Environmental Advocate

Vicki Clark’s Journey to Trustees’ Executive Director

May 16, 2016
Lisa Oakley

Vicki Clark, Trustees for Alaska’s Executive Director, tells her story:

Vicki Clark at Hatcher Pass with her dog Loki.

Vicki Clark at Hatcher Pass with her dog Loki.

I never thought I would be the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization. It wasn’t among the things I dreamed of as a kid—astronaut, judge, veterinarian, President of the United States. Yeah, not fundraiser.

I’ve worked at Trustees for Alaska for 13 years, which may be the longest of anyone in our history. I’ve held many positions through the years—from intern all the way up. But what was my motivation?

Marine Biology to Attorney
Vicki Clark on a Kodiak beach with Legal Director Valerie Brown's mother.

Vicki Clark on a Kodiak beach with Legal Director Valerie Brown’s mother.

I thought I wanted to be Jacqueline Cousteau and was working toward a degree in aquatic biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. What a great place to go to college! And it’s where I had my environmental epiphany, which is appropriate since the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara invigorated the conservation movement.

It was at UCSB that it clicked for me in an invertebrate zoology class where we were discussing porcelain crabs. These crabs are about the size of your fingernail and spend a lot of time hiding under rocks. And they have a key function in the ecosystem and ecology. So? Well, it turns out, EVERYTHING is connected. All species play their part on the planet and that connectedness is what is important, and must be celebrated and protected. I wasn’t the first person to figure that out by any means. John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

But it got me thinking and I decided that I could make a bigger difference working as a lawyer to protect the environment rather than as a biologist studying it. Now I get my “fix” of sea creatures and that vast undersea world on scuba diving trips.

Law School

I headed off to law school at Golden Gate University School of Law. I received practice being a lawyer at Trustees, the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara, and the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University. I was one of the first students in the Golden Gate Clinic. I fought to protect air quality in low income communities in the Bay Area as well as challenging water quality violations by the Navy.

As a legal intern at Trustees, I documented thousands of discharge violations from Cook Inlet oil and gas facilities, which Trustees challenged in a citizen suit under the Clean Water Act against the facility operators. Trustees won that case and it resulted in establishing Cook Inletkeeper. Not many interns to get see results like that!

Alaska Beckons
Vicki Clark and her dog Tamarack that came North with her to work at Trustees.

Vicki Clark and her dog Tamarack that came North with her to work at Trustees.

A job opened up at Trustees for Alaska after I’d practiced public interest law for eight years in California. I jumped at the chance to return to Alaska and soon, me and my dog Tamarack were on our way to Alaska.

What I find most appealing and challenging about working in Alaska is the vast beauty and natural bounty in Alaska, but the significant threats to all of it if we don’t learn from the mistakes made in the Lower 48. Alaska is the place to ensure that salmon runs are not eliminated as they have been almost everywhere else in the world. We don’t have to get to the point that we’re destroying wildlife habitat for resources, like coal. We can do better.

As a staff attorney, my focus was on Clean Water Act enforcement in Cook Inlet, stopping coalbed methane in the Mat-Su Valley, and challenging mining projects, like Pebble.

When I became Legal Director, it was my job to supervise the other lawyers and to ensure that Trustees’ work is of the highest caliber. I had to know at least a little bit about a lot of things, which helped me see the big picture of why Trustees exists and how we do the work in Alaska’s vast landscapes.

Why Trustees?

Trustees IS the homegrown environmental law firm working to defend and protect Alaska’s lands, waters, wildlife, and people. Through the years, my love for Trustees and Alaska grows and grows! Two and a half years ago, I became Trustees’ Executive Director.

I thought I was busy when I was practicing the law. There is a lot more involved in running an organization than one can ever know unless they do it. There are never enough hours in the day. I stay motivated because the work we do it so important to Alaska’s future.

My days are now filled with connecting with our invaluable donors and funders, reaching out to prospective new donors, working with our esteemed Board of Directors, and guiding the work of Trustees for Alaska. I want to ensure a strong future for Trustees. We’ve been here for more than 40 years, and I want Trustees to remain as long as Alaska needs defense and protection.

I’m excited about Trustees’ direction. We have an amazing staff and Board. We have such strong relationships with our clients and partners, and a tremendous amount of support from our donors and foundation funders. Thank you! We are a small group of people, but we are holding the line for Alaska.

See what a young aspiring marine biologist can do?

 

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