Mardy and Olaus Murie, Conservation Enthusiasts

Margaret (Mardy) and Olaus Murie were fiercely dedicated to protecting America’s most beautiful places and wildlife. The couple enriched the concept of conservation, all while experiencing the outdoors and enjoying the wildlife and beautiful scenery around them. The story of their lives and commitment to conservation inspires me, as a fish and wildlife management major, to carry on their love for animals and the environment into the future.

Mardy and Olaus Murie by their home in front of Grand Tetons, 1953.
Photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Mardy Thomas and Olaus Murie met in Fairbanks, Alaska. They were both avid outdoors people and had a great interest in backing conservation efforts with science. Olaus worked with the U.S. Biological Survey doing research in Alaska on caribou. Later he was in Wyoming, doing research on elk. Throughout the time that Mardy and Olaus were in Alaska, Mardy wrote an autobiography of their married life and their activities there.

This silent video shows footage of Olaus Murie, a mouse, and illustrations from Murie’s Field Guide to Animal Tracks. Murie Family Papers, Accession Number 11375, Box 33.

Olaus was quite successful during his time in Jackson, Wyoming, and was asked to take a council seat for the Wilderness Society in 1937. He was the voice for wildlife, encouraging people to respect animals and give them the space they need to be free.

Olaus and Mardy educated others on the importance of having protected wild land both for the sake of the ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabits it. The effect of their knowledge and passion led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park; however, they didn’t stop there. In 1950, Olaus moved on to be the president for both the Wildlife Society and the Wilderness Society.

Photo caption: “The cow which has fallen was weak after the winter season of food scarcity. Not the closely grazed banks along the river.” Madison River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, April 18, 1938.
Murie Family Papers, Accession Number 11375, Box 27, Folder 8

Mardy and Olaus visited Alaska often after they made their move to Wyoming. During one visit, the couple thought that turning the Brooks Range in Northern Alaska into a refuge would be beneficial for wildlife, the ecosystem, tourists and environmentalists alike. With the help of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, they set aside nearly 8 million acres of untouched land to be protected by the US government, and it became known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The rise of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sparked a new movement in America. Conservation began to become a more popular concept, and people were excited about it. Olaus’ and Mardy’s names became well known for the conservation work they were doing and the difference they were making for the wild lands they cared so much about.

Photo caption: “A healthy lamb pawing for short Russian thistle. Bighorn readily pawed through 14 inches of snow.” Mount Everts in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, February 9, 1938.
Murie Family Papers, Accession Number 11375, Box 27, Folder 10.

In 1959, Olaus Murie earned the Audubon Medal for his continued work protecting America’s beautiful places. In addition, the Wilderness Act was signed by Congress with the help of Mardy and Olaus.

After Olaus passed in 1963, Mardy continued her conservation efforts. She took a position with the National Park Service to help initiate the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. She eventually earned the Audubon Medal in 1980, the John Muir Award in 1983, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. She died in 2003 in Moose, Wyoming.

The work that Olaus and Mardy did to help conserve wild lands will always be appreciated by conservationists and environmentalists, and I hope to continue their legacy in the future. To learn more about the Murie Family, see the Murie Family Papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC staff member Ashley Townsend.


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