Remembering Edgar Bailey, conservation activist and explorer
January 18th | Staff Report
Edgar P. Bailey passed away peacefully in his sleep on Jan. 14 in Homer after a protracted debilitating illness.
Growing up with a dad who was exploring the jungles of Indonesia, South America, and Africa, Bailey learned to do his own exploring. Not content with city life in Hollywood, young Bailey got into all sorts of trouble diverting traffic on his street creating fake detours and other pranks that conveyed his discontent.
To keep him out of trouble and assuage his need for a life in the countryside, his folks sent him to Ojai Valley School, a life-changing and memorable experience that included lifelong friends and memories. Illness prevented him from attending high school at a boarding school, so he attended Hollywood High and discovered he loved science, especially biology. During hikes in the Hollywood Hills with his dad, he gained an appreciation and skills in birding and hiking, fueling his lifelong love of the outdoors.
After earning his undergraduate degree in biology at the University of Redlands, he pursued a master's degree in wildlife biology at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. He wrote his master's thesis on starlings. Birds became his life's passion for work and pleasure.
He married his first wife and, after college, hired on with the National Park Service. He did stints in Capulin Mountain Volcano National Monument, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, and Death Valley National Park. He was disillusioned by life as a park service naturalist since he spent a lot of time in visitor centers, telling people where the bathrooms were and the cost of a postcard.
He wanted to pursue biology and exploration, so he transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife at Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, then transferred to Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge. While at Fish Springs, the military experimented with nerve gas and sheep died all around the refuge. At Hart Mountain his son, Lorne, was born.
In 1969, he and his family transferred to the remote Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Cold Bay. During his stay in Cold Bay, he and his wife parted ways. In 1973, Bailey transferred to Anchorage and worked in the Regional Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
During the summer seasons, he was sent out to the field as these were exciting times in Alaska with discussions of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and plans for new refuges and monuments all over Alaska. He was part of the planning team for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge now located in Homer.
Bailey met Nina Faust, his long-time partner and wife, at a Mountaineering Club meeting in Anchorage in 1973. Cleverly he signed up for the hike she had signed up for, got there early, and was already sitting on top of Bird Ridge when she arrived. He asked her to go to the movies with him, the beginning of their 45 years of life adventures together.
Bailey's career took him to remote field areas each summer, and Faust became his annual summer volunteer. Their first projects were exploring all the coastal areas on the Alaska Peninsula, Kenai Peninsula, and offshore island groups counting seabirds and marine mammals. Trips were solo —just the two of them — most of the time. They traveled along treacherous wilderness coastlines and offshore islands, while carrying all their food and supplies for up to a month in a 16-foot rubber inflatable boat. Their only way to contact the outside world then was an emergency locator beacon.
After the 1980s Alaska Lands Act passed, the summer projects took on Restoration of Island Biodiversity, a project to trap off introduced foxes put on islands in the 1800s into the 1940s. The foxes decimated the seabird populations leaving the islands biologically impoverished. Removing the foxes allowed seabirds to recolonize, bringing back their biologically important guano that helps plant life thrive.
Trips to the remote Shumagin Islands and the weather-challenged Aleutians were taken each year till Bailey retired in 1995.
Each summer after the refuge field season, they floated remote rivers all over Alaska, including some of the largest and best-known glacial rivers. Many of these trips are recounted in videos on YouTube.
In winter they traveled to the desert southwest to explore mountains and parks.
Bailey was a devoted conservation activist and worked on many important issues with various conservation groups over the years, including trying to end the practice of bear baiting and aerial wolf hunting in Alaska, stopping the parking of oil rigs in Kachemak Bay, keeping oil and gas drilling out of Kachemak Bay, making Kachemak Bay a Jet Ski-free area, and stopping the coalbed methane oil and gas lease in Homer, to just mention a few.
As an avid birder, he worked to protect local habitat in Kachemak Bay, served on the Kachemak Bay State Park Advisory Board, and co-founded Kachemak Crane Watch with Faust. He also has provided a building to house the Cook Inletkeeper at a subsidized rent. In 2004, the Alaska Conservation Foundation honored him with the Celia Hunter Award for Outstanding Volunteer Contributions; in 2014 the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust selected him for their Land at Heart Award honoring distinguished contributions to conservations on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.
In retirement, Bailey wanted to start his own wildlife preserve so he bought as many contiguous lands as were available to piece together a wildlife corridor that is managed as a preserve for all wildlife, and especially for Sandhill Cranes.
Today that 650-acre private preserve is known as Inspiration Ridge Preserve, and in the near future it will officially become a preserve actively run by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. This will be a lasting legacy of Bailey's conservation efforts, a cause he has worked for all his adult life.
Bailey is survived by his partner and wife of 45 years, Nina Faust and his son, Lorne Bailey.
In lieu of flowers, his family requests donations in his memory to the Alaska Conservation Foundation, Inspiration Ridge Preserve Maintenance and Operation Fund, 911 West 8th Ave., Suite 300, Anchorage, Alaska, 99501.