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Staff and Board


Christyann Olson B.N., M.S.A.

Executive Director

I’m passionate about our society’s responsibility to ensure the health and legacy of wilderness for generations to come. I take every possible opportunity to enjoy Alberta’s wilderness and share my enthusiasm with others. Although my roots are in the Crowsnest Pass, I have lived in and explored much of Alberta including many of its wild places by foot, canoe, and occasionally by horse. More than 25 years of administrative experience in senior management and leadership roles in health care has been an asset toward my position as Executive Director of the Alberta Wilderness Association. Throughout the past 17 years and indeed in my early years as a member of the association I have worked on many conservation and wilderness protection issues. Finding great diverse opportunities to help others learn by bringing sound science and reasoned argument to conservation initiatives in Alberta has been a major goal. Working cooperatively and collaboratively throughout Alberta with members, supporters, landowners, students, elected officials, civil servants, industry, scientists and colleagues from every sector is key to my daily work and achievements with AWA. Willmore Wilderness is an area we achieved protection for with hard fought efforts to inform and educate on the value of wilderness, true roadless wilderness.  At times when all other avenues have been exhausted, we have gone to court and it has meant an Emergency Protection Order for Greater Sage-grouse that is truly making a difference and more recently a Critical Habitat Order for westslope cutthroat trout that recognizes the science and work of so many outstanding individuals, scientists, conservationists and stewards who know we must do more.  I believe firmly that local groups, those that live in an area must take the lead on informing and making the case for conservation and long-term protection and we can help them achieve conservation goals. Everything I do is quite simply part of a greater good that so many individuals make possible.  Our team at AWA has a shared vision for a safe and healthy environment and people who care enough to make a difference.  I often say I don’t want to protect the environment as much as I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting. My work is far from done.

(403) 283-2025

Carolyn Campbell B.A., B.Ed., M.A., M.B.A.

Conservation Specialist

My focus is on AWA’s wilderness priorities in northeast Alberta and on provincial water issues. I have been a Director of the Alberta Water Council since 2007 and have contributed to watershed planning on the Bow River, Red Deer River and Athabasca River basins. I have organized conferences and presented on various aspects of headwaters, river, wetlands and groundwater management. A major portion of my work is at the grassroots community level encouraging well-informed and empowered public participation.

(403) 283-2025

Joanna Skrajny B.Sc., B.I.T.

Conservation Specialist

My conservation focus is on AWA’s wilderness priorities in central Alberta and the Eastern Slopes.  I graduated from the University of Calgary with a degree in Environmental Sciences (concentration in Biological Sciences). One particularly interesting group research project that I participated in during my time at school was investigating the carbon sequestration potential of our Eastern Slopes forests. I have lived in Alberta my entire life and am proud of Alberta’s wilderness, enjoying many weekend hiking, camping, fishing and backpacking excursions.

At AWA, I work to ensure that Alberta’s Eastern Slopes are managed in a way that prioritizes water security. I advocate for the protection of key areas such as the Castle and the Bighorn wilderness. On the rest of the Eastern Slopes, I advocate for limits on human impacts so that we have a secure source of drinking water.  I do this through providing a voice for our threatened native trout and wildlife such as grizzlies, many of which aren’t even listed or do not have credible recovery strategies. My wish is for Alberta to have sound system of decision making and a comprehensive system of protected areas, so that there are wild places to explore and enjoy for generations to come.

(403) 283-2025

Nissa Petterson B.Sc.

Conservation Specialist

My conservation focus is on AWA’s wilderness priorities in the Northern Eastern Slopes and the North West region of Alberta. I graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Science with a major in Ecology. In my last year of study, I was able to complete an honours thesis on the population dynamics of the Banff Springs Snail. My honours thesis instituted my passion for conservation practices, and emphasized the importance of communicating this knowledge. I was born and raised in Alberta, and have had the privilege to explore many of Alberta’s unique wild lands through camping and fishing excursions. My experiences in Alberta’s wilderness motivate my personal conservation efforts, and through the AWA, I hope to contribute to a higher level of public awareness when it comes to conservation issues within Alberta.

Grace Wark B.Sc.

Conservation Specialist

My conservation focus is on AWA’s wilderness priorities in the Southern Eastern Slopes (SES) of the Rocky Mountains, from South Ghost to Waterton. While completing my degree in Environmental Science at the University of Calgary (concentration in Geography), I spent much of my time exploring the Eastern Slopes and understanding how human disturbance affects Alberta’s wildlife and natural spaces. I spent the final year of my undergrad completing an honours thesis on the ways that environments are represented through open data and open data portals. This research emphasized that how we choose to create and share information influences the ways that environmental opinions are formulated and consequently how environmental decision-making proceeds. At AWA, I strive to provide the robust and straightforward information regarding Alberta’s environments, so that Albertans can engage in their wilderness and advocate its conservation. I believe that with the right tools in hand Albertans can act as agents for change, ensuring the conservation of wild spaces for years to come. Additionally, I focus on forests as a provincial issue, including the organizing of AWA’s Fish and Forests Forum that convenes four times per year.

(403) 283-2025

Ian Urquhart Ph.D.

Conservation Staff and Editor of Wild Lands Advocate

Ian received his PhD in Political Science from the University of British Columbia after completing an M.A. at Queen’s, an Honours B.A. at U.B.C. and working for several years in the House of Commons. Environmental and natural resource exploitation issues have figured prominently in his research and teaching since he joined the University of Alberta in 1987. He has been a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley (John A Sproul Research Fellowship in Canadian Studies), Portland State University (Fulbright Research Chair in Canadian Studies), and the University of Alaska Fairbanks (Northern Momentum Teacher/ Scholar).  His publications include The Last Great Forest: Japanese Multinationals and Alberta’s Northern Forests (with Larry Pratt), Assault of the Rockies: Environmental Controversies in Alberta, and Making it Work: Kyoto, Trade and Politics (for the Parkland Institute). His forthcoming publications include Costly Fix: Power, Politics, and Nature in the Tar Sands and the article “Borders, Boundaries and the Politics of Petroleum Pipelines” (Journal of Borderland Studies). Ian served on the AWA Board of Directors from 2002 – 2009 and has been the editor of Wild Lands Advocate since 2009.

(403) 283-2025

Diane Mihalcheon

Administrative Associate

I am passionate for wild things and wild places. I’m the cheerful voice answering our phones, working on event planning and office organization.

(403) 283-2025

Board of Directors

Frank Calder


Frank Calder is a native of Edmonton where he attended school and university (Bachelor of Arts). He worked for the Alberta government until 1987, with his last seven years as head of the Alberta Public Affairs Bureau. He is a partner in the advertising and public relations firm of Calder Bateman. Frank has served on the boards of the Edmonton Opera, the Edmonton SPCA (President for two years) and others including the Citadel Theatre where he is currently the longest-serving board member. He has been honoured by the advertising community in Edmonton with its Fellowship Award for service to the community.

Jim Campbell

1st Vice President

Jim grew up in Quebec and graduated from McGill University with a B.Sc. in 1975 and then from Queen’s University with a B.Ed. in 1976 where he focused on Outdoor Education. Jim also earned a Master’s Degree in Counselling from Antioch/New England University in 1983.

To start his career Jim worked for various Outward Bound programs and followed this with a career in mainstream social services in Calgary with Wood’s Homes, Salvation Army Children’s Village and Big Brothers & Big Sisters. In 1998 Jim received a Muttart Foundation Fellowship to write articles on Management of Non-Profit Organizations. In 2000 he worked for the Nature Conservancy of Canada and in January 2004 began the role of Manager, Western Canada Office for Queen’s University until 2013. He now does consulting with a variety of non-profit organizations.

Jim has two children, a son and a daughter, and two wonderful grandchildren. They inspire him to ensure that they will always have the opportunity for the profound joy to be found in untrammeled Alberta Wilderness.

Clint Docken


Clint has been practicing law in Calgary for 40 years and has extensive civil litigation experience where he has been involved in many precedent-setting cases in trial courts and appeal courts throughout Canada including the Supreme Court of Canada.  He also has extensive mediation experience and regularly lectures in the field at Mount Royal University.

He resides in the Bragg Creek area where he has been involved in environmental and community activities since 1974.

Gail Docken


Gail is an associate with Maxwell Realty and has called Edmonton home since 1961. She attended the University of Alberta and began her working career serving on many boards over the last 30 years. She is past President of the Realtors Community Foundation and has actively fundraised for many causes including AWA.

Gail and her husband have enjoyed a very active, outdoors life with their 5 children and wish for that to continue, in the future, for all Albertans.

Jamie Jack

Board Member

Jamie graduated from the University of Calgary with a BSc majoring in Geography. For the past ten years she has worked at The City of Calgary. She is an active member of the social club at work, and in her free time she loves to travel, windsurf, mountain bike, cross-country ski and go indoor rock climbing.


Owen McGoldrick


Owen McGoldrick hails from St. John’s Newfoundland, raised in Calgary, Alberta and continues to call the city and province home. Owen holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Calgary and a MBA in Finance and Global Energy Management and Sustainability from the Haskayne School of Business. He has served in various leadership roles across diverse career interests including hospitality management, information technology, and currently in facilities management. Owen served as the Chair of the Faculty of Science Alumni Association Council at UofC for the 2017/2018 academic year.  A passionate Albertan, Owen enjoys spending time in the outdoors and continues to pursue learning opportunities with French, Spanish and Wado-Kai Karate classes. After serving as an AWA volunteer at various events, Owen has served on the AWA Board of Directors since 2007.

Chris Saunders


Chris was born and grew up in the south of England. He moved to Calgary in the late seventies on a temporary assignment and has lived there ever since. He is a semi-retired accountant with more than 35 years of varied experience. Throughout his life he has been a keen hiker which has given him a very strong appreciation of the importance of wilderness and the need to protect it.

Richard Secord

2nd Vice President, Past President

Richard was born in Edmonton, Alberta. Richard was the recipient of the J. P. Crerar Scholarship from 1965 to 1973. He received the degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Law from the University of Durham, England in 1977 and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1978. In 1979 he received the degree of Master of Laws from the University of Alberta and was admitted to the Alberta Bar in 1980. He is a partner of the firm Ackroyd LLP in Edmonton. He has practiced law in Alberta for over 37 years. In 2000 he was listed in The Canadian Legal Lexpert Directory as a leading practitioner in the field of Environmental Law. In March 2007, he was listed as one of Canada’s Best Environmental Lawyers in the National Post’s Best Lawyers in Canada series. He has appeared in numerous hearings before various administrative tribunals. In these hearings, he has acted for landowners, NGOs and aboriginal groups who have had concerns about environmental impacts from oil & gas processing plants, wells and pipelines, oil sands developments, hazardous waste facilities, power plant applications and high-voltage transmission lines. He has also litigated a wide range of cases involving environmental issues. He has appeared before the Provincial Court of Alberta, the Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, the Court of Appeal of Alberta, the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. He is a frequent speaker at legal education seminars devoted to environmental law issues.  Richard joined the Board of Ecojustice in 2017. Richard devotes countless hours as a volunteer helping AWA defend Wild Alberta. In 2009 he received the Alberta Wilderness Association Wilderness Defenders Award. Richard has been a Board member of the Alberta Wilderness Association since 2000 and served as President from 2003 to 2007 and from 2011-2015.

Cliff Wallis

Secretary Treasurer

Cliff is an avid naturalist and a professional biologist. After extensive experience with Alberta Parks he set up his own successful consulting firm in 1978 where he continues to represent landowners in regulatory processes and conduct field research on species at risk, environmentally significant areas and wetlands. Canadians best know him for his love and knowledge of grassland and parkland ecosystems in Alberta. Cliff served on the AWA Board as a Director, first elected in 1982 and later as AWA President from 1992 – 2002. He also served or continues to serve on the governing bodies of Nature Canada, Environmental Law Centre, Alberta Ecotrust, Northern Plains Conservation Network, Milk River Management Society, and Friends of the Oldman River. In addition to his grassland work, he has been heavily involved in northern ecosystem protection through his standards development advisory role with Forest Stewardship Council Canada as well as serving on the Alberta Caribou Committee, Wainwright Dunes Management Committee, and the Hay-Zama Committee. He helped twin the Dalai Lake National Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia with the Hay-Zama Wildland Park in Alberta. He was awarded the James B. Harkin Medal by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the Douglas H. Pimlott Award by Nature Canada for his long service and dedication to nature protection. Cliff was awarded the Alberta Wilderness Defenders Award in 2004.

Vivian Pharis

Board Member Emeritus

Vivian Pharis grew up in Canada’s north, coming south in the 1960’s to attend the University of Calgary, gaining degrees in biology and education. After ten years of teaching high school, she studied four years at the Alberta College of Art. Vivian has been active with the AWA since its inception and has served on its board of directors since 1984, including seven years as president. She and her husband Dick have traveled through many of the world’s wilder places but always return to Alberta’s prairies and eastern slopes. They have roamed Alberta’s mountains for 40 years on foot and horseback, between the Montana boarder and the Kakwa, north of Willmore Wilderness Park. Vivian has worked tirelessly for more than 25 years to maintain the Bighorn Historic Trail for hikers and equestrian riders. She became a board member emeritus in 2015. Vivian was awarded AWA’s Wilderness Defenders Award in 2005.In 2015, she and two neighbours near Cochrane began the Big Hill Creek Preservation Society to study and protect the Big Hill Creek’s watershed. She remains an active part of this new conservation initiative and mentors staff, always mindful of the corporate history of AWA and the work done throughout Alberta.

"Away, away from men and towns, To the wild wood and the downs- To the silent wilderness Where the soul need not repress Its music."
- Percy Bysshe Shelley, "To Jane: An Invitation," 1822
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