Mardy Olaus (1889-1963)
Olaus Murie spent his honeymoon with Margaret (Mardy) tracking caribou along the Koyukuk River in Alaska in 1924—the beginning of a lifelong partnership to explore and protect America’s wilderness and wildlife.
Born in 1889 to Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota, Olaus became a biologist for the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey—the precursor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—in 1920. His work would ultimately influence actions of at least three presidents.
In Montana, he wrote that the “jumble of carved and stratified buttes perhaps mellowed by the setting sun or set off by cloud formations at dawn, leaves nothing to be desired.” On Murie’s recommendation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Fort Peck Game Range in 1936, which would later become the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
Murie’s studies of the elk herd in Wyoming defined the principles of elk research and management in the mid-20th century. He served as president of The Wilderness Society and The Wildlife Society and as director of the Izaak Walton League. He not only studied and lobbied for wildlife, he painted it, too. His image of swans in Jackson Hole, Wyoming is on display at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
In 1956, the Muries led their signature expedition to the upper Sheenjek River of Alaska’s Brooks Range, which Olaus called “a little portion of our planet left alone.” They lobbied to keep it that way along with Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Aldo Leopold’s son Starker, and Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser.
In 1960, President Dwight E. Eisenhower set aside eight million acres as the Arctic National Wildlife Range. Twenty years later, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) renamed the “range” to a “refuge,” increased the total area to 19 million acres and designated a large portion as wilderness. The Wilderness Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, a year after Olaus Murie had died.
Mardy Murie continued the push for wilderness preservation, empowered by Olaus’ belief, shared during a 1978 National Public Radio interview, that it is “better to be in the thick of the fight than standing in the corner with your face to the wall.” Their Alaskan adventures were captured in Mardy’s widely-read book “Two in the Far North.”