AWA Board

President: Ed Schmitt

edschmittwebEd is a retired surgeon and rancher. He has a BS in Molecular Biology and a MD from the University of Colorado. He has been a lifetime outdoorsman with interests in ranching, fishing, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, hunting, and skiing.

He resides just outside Soldotna on the Kenai river. He and his wife Kerri hope their three children will still be able to see the plentiful fish and wildlife that attracted them to Alaska in 1987.


John Toppenberg

John is a veteran of the many battles AWA has fought over the last 15 years. He and his wife Peggy moved to Alaska in 1996, from Ft. Collins, Colorado. He served on the board of directors of a Colorado based wildlife organization for six years before moving to Alaska. John retired from a 22 year career in law enforcement, having spent the last 11 years as a major crimes detective for the Larimer County Sheriffs department in Ft. Collins. He is a self-taught naturalist, and a professional wildlife photographer. John’s wife is a nurse midwife. They live on a lake near Soldotna with 3 golden retrievers.

Secretary: Connie Brandel

Born and raised in Iowa, Connie lived in Idaho, Oregon and California before making her home in Alaska over 20 years ago. Connie is familiar with both Alaska’s wildlife issues and the day-to-day operations of not-for-profit organizations. She spent the previous 10 years as a volunteer and staff member at Wolf Song of Alaska, a non-political organization dedicated to increasing public awareness, understanding and acceptance of the wolf through education. While at Wolf Song she managed its downtown Anchorage museum and gift shop, and continues to volunteer for the organization as a wolf adoption and membership coordinator. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and in several of her “prior lives” she was a newspaper reporter and a legal secretary. Her hobbies are reading, fiction writing, camping, travel, and anything related to wolves. She lives near Wasilla with her two shelter-rescue, not-very-wolflike dogs: China, an Australian Shepherd-mix trained for agility competition, and Wilson, an English Springer Spaniel.

Josh Klauder

Josh KlauderJosh lives in a tiny cabin he built by the river in Chase, Alaska – “up the tracks” from Talkeetna. He is dog musher, river runner, and backcountry explorer. To support those habits he is self employed as a designer/developer of web sites ( yes, this one) and other digital media, photographer, instructor, and guide.

Josh’s love affair with Alaska, its land and its wildlife began in 1978 when he crossed the border on the night of winter solstice, at 55 below, driving a 1965 Rambler station wagon with the first of many canoes on the roof. He still has that canoe, and wishes he still had the car.

The decades between then and now have been filled with a more or less standard Alaskan resume: guiding, homesteading, parenting, commercial fishing, ditch digging, house painting, construction, research support, electronics repair, lots of work in libraries, and web design.

During, and around those things Josh has spent as much time as possible getting out and exploring our great state, mostly by dogteam and canoe. He likes nothing better than looking at a map, finding a place that looks interesting, and going there to see it. In 40 years he hasn’t been disappointed yet.

Jim Kowalsky

AWA Board Member Jim KowalskyAWA was pleased to welcome long-time Fairbanks resident and veteran wildlife advocate Jim Kowalsky to its Board of Directors in October, 2015.

Jim came to Alaska in 1970. A year later he and three others started what is now the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, and immediately becoming embroiled in a statewide campaign opposing the (still) very controversial practice of aerial wolf hunting. He later served as Alaska Field Representative for Friends of the Earth, where he worked for the late David Brower. (Notably, Brower also founded the Earth Island Institute and the League of Conservation Voters, and helped usher the Sierra Club into national prominence.)

During the 1970s Jim’s conservation efforts in Alaska were dedicated to drafting proposals for, and seeking congressional passage of, new wildlife refuges and national parks to be included in ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which was finally signed into law in 1980.

Jim holds bachelor of arts and master of music degrees from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. A lifelong symphony orchestra trumpet player performing in many settings, he also taught at colleges in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Minnesota, and at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He was a program administrator for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, and also was a program administrator for UAF for 18 years. Jim has performed 44 seasons with the Fairbanks Symphony and Arctic Chamber Orchestras.

He is a self-described passionate advocate for animals, both wild and domestic, and believes wilderness must be managed to support a non-manipulated balance of wildlife.

A bicycle junkie, Jim lives east of Fairbanks with wife Suzanne, four non-bird-snatching cats, and dog Max, a beloved best friend shepherd-husky mix.

We welcome Jim and look forward to having a voice from Interior Alaska on our Board. His amazing four decades of knowledge encompassing countless wildlife issues and battles fought for better management will be an invaluable resource for AWA.