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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

Wisconsin's Conservation Hall of Fame to Induct Three Legends

This year’s three inductees to the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame impressed friend and foe alike by eagerly and respectfully working with everyone during their long careers.

Gordon Bubolz, 1905-1990, was a prominent “Paper Valley” insurance executive and Republican state senator from the conservative Fox Valley. Even so, Bubolz criticized local papermakers for polluting the Fox River, helped create clean air and water programs, and led state efforts to buy and manage 10 natural areas ranging from High Cliff State Park on Lake Winnebago to public hunting and fishing grounds on the Wolf River.

Arlen Christenson, 87, was a deputy attorney general, and University of Wisconsin-Madison law professor, assistant chancellor and associate dean who never forgot his small-town roots in Amery.

Christenson also never forgot that natural resources belong to the public. He knew, however, that commercial users and polluters of air, water and other natural resources hire experts and employ lawyers to protect their interests while profiting from publicly owned resources. He spent his life protecting those public resources for all Wisconsinites, who typically have no one representing their shared interests.

Kathleen Falk, 70, was a state-employed attorney and the first female elected Dane County’s executive, a post she held 14 years. Among Falk’s achievements was ensuring hunters and anglers enjoyed the same access to county-owned lands and waters as dog-walkers, birdwatchers and horseback riders.

Bubolz, Christenson and Falk will enter the WCHF on Tuesday, April 19, in a virtual induction ceremony. The ceremonies will be at 2 p.m. for Bubolz, 4 p.m. for Christenson, and 6 p.m. for Falk. To register and receive a link to watch, visit Each session lasts 45 minutes to an hour.

Space doesn’t allow a full accounting of the inductees’ credentials, but Bubolz, Christenson and Falk earned their seats among other WCHF legends like Aldo Leopold, Owen Gromme, Warren Knowles, Gaylord Nelson, Bud Jordahl, John Muir, Gordon MacQuarrie, Christine Thomas and George Meyer. Detailed bios for all 100-plus inductees are on the WCHF website,

Bubolz grew up in Seymour, earned a law degree at UW-Madison, and eventually became the top executive of Home Mutual, now SECURA Insurance, near Appleton. He served in the state Senate from 1945-1953, and supported regional planning commissions to control urban sprawl while improving communities’ water, sewer and transportation services.

The state Senate recognized Bubolz in 1991 for his work acquiring land in northeastern Wisconsin for a record 10 natural areas, which have grown to cover about 6,200 acres. He had hoped, however, to establish at least one nature center in all 72 counties.

Area residents mainly associate him with the 775-acre Gordon Bubolz Nature Preserve near Appleton, but he had nothing to do with its naming. The preserve’s executive committee temporarily removed him as chair, ordered him from the room, and forced him to accept its new name before reinstating him.

The three largest public properties Bubolz helped create cover about 4,000 acres. The 1,300-acre Mukwa Wildlife Area near New London is a sprawling marsh and woodlands that’s popular with hunters for its deer and waterfowl.

The Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve near Manitowoc and Two Rivers grew from 40 acres in 1974 to 1,500 acres after its original purchase. Bubolz also helped the state acquire nearly 1,200 acres for High Cliff State Park on Lake Winnebago’s eastern shoreline in the mid-1950s after noting its geology made it part of the Kettle Moraine. That novelty made the lands eligible for some of the $4.5 million the government set aside for such purchases.

Christenson is considered the father of the state’s Public Intervenor, an office the Legislature created in 1967, along with the Department of Natural Resources, to protect the public’s rights involving natural resources and ensure due process on environmental issues. After the Public Intervenor was eliminated in the controversial 1995 state budget, which also made the DNR secretary part of the governor’s cabinet, Christenson helped launch Midwest Environmental Advocates. This nonprofit law center works to protect the public’s natural resources.

“Arlen has a deep moral compass,” Falk said. “He always stays calm and focused, even while everyone else is showing huge anxiety or animosity on environmental issues.”

Tom Dawson, a longtime state attorney who served nearly 20 years in the intervenor’s office, said the intervenor’s office languished until Christenson got involved.

“Until Arlen gave the office structure and direction in 1976, the public intervenor was like the Maytag repairman, mostly ignored,” Dawson said. “Arlen made the Public Intervenor independent of the DNR and attorney general, because it often had to hold state agencies accountable to the public. He set up a citizens committee that chose the intervenor’s cases. We dove into many difficult, controversial issues, and we usually prevailed.”

Madison’s Peter Peshek, a former assistant attorney general and public intervenor, called Christenson a “teacher’s teacher.”

“Arlen sent seven or eight law interns from UW-Madison to the Public Intervenor’s office each semester,” Peshek said. “They worked on really difficult projects, ranging from wetlands protection to helping farmers deal with stray voltage from powerlines.”

Falk, an avid hunter and angler who twice ran for governor and also attorney general as a Democrat, spent nearly 20 years in the intervenor’s office. “Kathleen never took the easy stuff,” Dawson said. “She took on the hard fights and usually prevailed. She’s a woman of few words. She listens before talking. When she speaks, she speaks with authority and persuasiveness.”

Peshek agreed. “Kathleen was always fearless,” he said. “If she had a choice of staying ashore in a duck blind or getting tossed around in waves miles offshore, she chose the layout boat. But she also knew how to bring people together and get things done. She had innovative ideas, and volunteered at CWD collection sites when the DNR found chronic wasting disease in deer.”

Falk said she worked with her political foes because everyone has something to offer. “If you don’t have a healthy process where everyone gets heard, no one respects the outcome,” she said.

She considered her efforts to allow deer and turkey hunting in Dane County parks and natural areas (currently 28 properties) a matter of fairness. “When government owns or buys land, it should be available to everyone,” she said. “They’re all being taxed for those properties, and they all appreciate the land differently. They should have access, whether they’re hunters, anglers, hikers, picnickers, birdwatchers, or dog-walkers.”

To learn more about how and why Falk, Bubolz and Christenson earned their place beside the WCHF’s other 100 inductees, visit the Hall’s website (

Gordon Bubolz, Arlen Christenson and Kathleen Falk are the 2022 inductees in the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame. — Contributed photos

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1 Comment

Rich Eggleston
Rich Eggleston
Apr 09, 2022

I missed Bubolz's active role, but I saw firsthand Christensen and Falk's work as defenders of the environment. Those were halcyon days for the environment, before it became a partisan issue. If Gaylord Nelson tried to create Earth Day today, he'd be lucky to eke out three votes from the other side of the asle.

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