Warren Keogh talks about Alaska, advocacy, and why he gives
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Warren Keogh talks about Alaska, advocacy, and why he gives

By Mackenzie Pope and Dawnell Smith

Warren Keogh has been a supporter of Trustees for many years, and his advocacy for the health of land, water, and communities goes back decades. We talked to Warren about his life in Alaska and how it drew him to conservation work.

We first crossed paths with Warren Keogh when he served as vice president of the Castle Mountain Coalition – a citizen group that has worked to promote the health of the Matanuska watershed for decades.

The coalition formed when he and four other folks in a Matanuska Valley learned about a plan for massive coal lease sales on land adjacent to their homes within the Matanuska Valley Moose Range. The group later became a key client in successful litigation around Wishbone Hill, an open pit coal mine project with significant heavy traffic, noise, and water and air quality impacts on a nearby Matanuska-Susitna Valley neighborhood.

Warren’s interest in advocating for land and water goes far deeper than his own backyard, though.

A few of his biggest concerns these days center on “the ongoing and extraordinary influence of Big Oil in Alaska politics and the prioritization of the immediate extraction of oil, gas and minerals over rational, forward thinking conservation measures.”

The log house. Photo by Warren Keogh.

Many roles, many lifts

Now retired, Warren and his wife Sally live in Chickaloon where they built a log house and raised their kids. They’ve been there 40 years now, first adding a road, a log house, a well, a garden.

Warren’s connection to Alaska relates to his relationship with land, his home, and the places he’s been, he said. “Wildlife, wild places, pristine waters, good people, plenty of space, and an all-around healthy environment.”  

Though Warren says he ended up in Alaska in 1973 “by accident” and never moved on, he did do plenty of moving.  He worked as a city paramedic and firefighter in Anchorage, on vessels in Prince William Sound during the Exxon Valdez oil spill response, and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a paralegal specialist, navigability specialist, and water rights coordinator for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

“I also had the good fortune of traveling to and working in nearly every national wildlife refuge in Alaska, mostly in regard to hydrologic fieldwork or stream gauging,” he said. 

Water’s where it’s at

Trustees’ board member Tom Meacham knows Warren because of their shared interest in the health of Alaska’s water, and specifically with allocation and use statutes, regulations and policies. Their common concert centers on fish habitat and the health of seasonal migratory fish runs.

Warren hunting in the Matanuska Valley 30 years ago. Courtesy Warren Keogh.

“Warren has the benefit of decades of practical experience as a water specialist with Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Tom. “His perspective is particularly valuable in circumstances where current U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers, constrained by ‘political considerations,’ may not have the freedom to speak frankly about these issues. Warren has that freedom, and he will certainly speak out.”

From advocacy to politics

Over the years, Warren served as a Matanuska-Susitna Borough assemblyman and Chickaloon community council chairman, and when no one ran against then-Senator Mike Dunleavy in 2014, he jumped into the race.

That unsuccessful bid, along with his grueling assembly term, made him wonder why he left Fish and Wildlife early. In politics, what’s good for things like water and wildlife often get lost in the snarl of  money interests.

Warren’s draw to wanting to see stewardship of land and water stems from varying experiences, from farming and ranching as a child and teenager in Michigan and Colorado and soldiering in Vietnam to working on the Exxon Valdez oil spill response, traveling internationally and throughout Alaska, completing graduate studies in environmental science and participating in community and local government as an elected public official.

A wintery view of Castle Mountain from Warren’s house. Photo by Warren Keogh.

Plus, of course, “living in a quiet, beautiful, somewhat remote, still a bit wild place in the company of a small stream, a diverse forest, a variety of wildlife, a bountiful garden and good neighbors.”

The oil spill that reverberates still

Warren had been laid off from the Anchorage Fire Department when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground. He headed to Prince William Sound to work as a ship medic and then as a security sergeant aboard a larger vessel with clean-up crews.

Seeing “miles of black water, island beaches awash with oil, dead and dying sea mammals, seabirds and raptors left indelible impressions,” he said.

He has many memories of that time, and he described one of them. He was on a promontory above a small cove where a beach crew attempted to clean and contain oil. There were oil booms on the water, noisy equipment, and small watercraft. The water, beach rocks, equipment and people covered in oil.

A seal poked its head above the oily ocean water, 50 yards out, looking toward the blackened shore, he said. It popped up and looked several times, and eventually disappeared.

 “I assume the place was its former haul out that had become uninhabitable in every imaginable way,” Warren said.

The view from his home, September 2021. Photo by Warren Keogh

His contributions continue

Warren continues his engagement on issues around water, land and animals by speaking up and staying connected with groups like Castle Mountain and Trustees. He has donated to Trustees for 16 years now, and plans to continue supporting groups that do the work he thinks can ensure Alaska’s health and future.

Vicki Clark, Trustee’s executive director, truly appreciates Warren’s commitment to community and Alaska.

“I so admire Warren and his dedication to Alaska, and how he works locally to make change,” said Vicki Clark, executive director of Trustees. “I have had many talks and lunches with Warren. His knowledge and passion run deep.”

Vicki and her sister once spent a couple of nights in Warren’s cabin at the foot of Castle Mountain. “I understand why he never left. It’s awesome! Thank you, Warren, for all you do!”