Tim Troll, MPA '86

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Please describe the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust and its mission. 

The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust is a nonprofit organization with the mission to conserve fish and wildlife habitat in the Bristol Bay region of Southwestern Alaska. Bristol Bay is a largely unblemished wilderness region that constitutes the salmon stronghold of the U.S. More than 50% of the world’s commercially valuable sockeye salmon return to spawn in Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is also home to three indigenous cultures (Yup’ik, Dena’ina and Alutiiq) that still live on their ancestral lands and thrive on the fish, plants and animals still abundant in the region.

In 1999, I helped create the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust. The primary reason for starting the land trust was to protect the lands and waters critical for fish and wildlife survival and the subsistence needs of the residents of Bristol Bay. We raise money from government, foundation and corporate grants and individual donations to purchase land or perpetual non-development conservation easements and to secure water rights for fish under Alaska law. We also fund scientific research that enables us to focus our conservation efforts through a better understanding of the natural environment of Bristol Bay. Education and outreach programs that create local employment opportunities around renewable natural resources and emphasize the need to preserve the intact wildlife habitat of Bristol Bay are also important components of our program. 

In 2014, the Land Trust Alliance, the professional service organization for the country’s 1500 + land trusts, recognized the achievements of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust with its National Excellence Award.

Please describe your role as Executive Director

As the Executive Director, I am responsible for carrying out the mission of the organization, which means administering day-to-day operations, raising funds, developing and managing programs, negotiating conservation deals, promoting laws and regulations to protect the fish and wildlife of Bristol Bay, and opposing laws and regulations that take away protections. All of this means I spend a lot of time in meetings and in front of my laptop. However, my work also takes me into one of the most beautiful and remote regions of the country, where fishing, wildlife viewing, scientific fieldwork, and visiting Native villages is just part of the job.

How did you become interested in this work?

I came to Alaska in 1978 as a VISTA volunteer lawyer and was assigned to an office in Bethel, a remote Yup’ik Eskimo community in Southwestern Alaska.  After my tour of duty ended I was invited to become the village manager for the Yup’ik community of St. Mary’s on the Yukon River. There I became intimately acquainted with the subsistence lifestyle, hunting, fishing and cultural traditions of these Alaska Native people.  Quite unintentionally most my career, or rather succession of careers, have the common theme of working for Alaska Native communities, corporations, or organizations that serve Alaska Native interests. Land, water and Alaska Native cultures are intimately connected.  So it came to pass that I helped form and now direct an organization dedicated to conserving land and water in an area whose population is primarily Alaska Native.

How has Fels helped you in your career?

I came to Fels after serving five years as the village administrator for the Yup’ik Eskimo community of St. Mary’s on the Yukon River. While I was there, money from Alaska’s oil pipeline boom was just beginning to trickle down to communities.  I was in the enviable position of having an expanded budget to start a fire department and to build roads, water and sewer systems, a dock expansion, and other ventures.  I had to learn how to manage all of this on the fly, which led me to look for academic programs where I could develop the skills to administer government agencies and public service organizations. 

Fels gave me a foundation from which to maneuver through the challenges of the various careers I had after Fels – attorney, CEO for an Alaska Native corporation, City administrator for a community in the Aleutians, rural government specialist for the State of Alaska, conservation program director for The Nature Conservancy, and now managing the nonprofit I helped establish. I am now approaching the end of my career, but unfortunately Fels didn’t teach me how to retire gracefully!

What was your favorite Fels course and why?

I enjoyed and learned much from many of the courses I attended at Fels, but the class I most remember now was Dr. Spady’s evening Government class.  The take-away from that class, and Dr. Spady’s mantra during my time at Fels, was “Dual Competence.” To run an organization, you need to be savvy at the political level and credible at the technical level.  Needless to say, Dr. Spady’s class was all about the savvy political level. I can’t say whether I always exemplified dual competence in my work, but I have found it to be a useful framework from which to measure my likely success with an organization or endeavor.

What advice do you have for incoming students? 

I would say be open to the camaraderie that can come with a small class, take advantage of your time at Fels and Penn to attend thought provoking courses and lectures, and allow yourself the time to explore Philadelphia.

Fels Institute of Government

The Fels Institute of Government
3814 Walnut St. 
Philadelphia, PA 19104

(215) 898-7326

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