Arlen Christenson

Arlen Christenson

Amery’s very own Arlen Christenson has been selected to be inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame (WCHF). Also, being inducted into the WCHF April 19, 2022 are Kathleen Falk and Gordon Bubolz.

“Each of these conservation heroes has shaped the Wisconsin we know and love," Patty Dreier, president of the hall's foundation, said in a statement. "Their legacies continue to make a difference in our lives today."

Christenson was born and raised in Amery and, after service in the U.S. Navy, earned a bachelor's degree at UW-River Falls (1958) and a law degree at UW-Madison (1960).

Christenson worked at the Minneapolis-based law firm of Larson, Loevinger, Lindquist & Fraser from 1960 to 1963. He joined the law faculty at UW-Madison in 1963, teaching classes in contracts, local government law, land-use regulation, environmental law and administrative law.

He later served as deputy attorney general of Wisconsin from 1966 to 1969, and he was the assistant chancellor of UW-Madison from 1969 to 1971. He became the associate dean of the law school from 1972 to 1974, and the co-director of the center for public representation in 1974, 1975 and 1977.

After taking emeritus status in 1995, Christenson continued participating in environmental law. He was involved in non-profit environmental law and land-use issues as board president of Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) and faculty supervisor of the law school’s clinical program at MEA.

Christenson inspired generations of environmental lawyers and created the organizational

structures where those lawyers can continue to advocate for public rights to counter well-organized economic self-interests.

Christenson played a key role in shaping the Public Intervenor’s Office during its most formative and effective years. In 1975, he authored a report commissioned by the Center for Public Representation on the Public Intervenor, which convinced Attorney General Bronson LaFollette to implement a variety of his recommendations to empower the attorneys’ ability to protect public rights in natural resources. Republican and Democratic attorneys general appointed and reappointed him to advise the Public Intervenor’s Office from 1975 until the office was abolished in 1995. He ensured they were effective conservation advocates that improved state and sometimes national policy.

He then went on to do the same for Midwest Environmental Advocates as a founding board member, helping grow the state’s first non-profit environmental law center into a powerhouse of lawyers with a 20-year track record and bright future. He similarly played a major role in land use policy as founding board member of 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin when that organization launched in 1989.

The WCHF calls Christenson a visionary whose contributions innovated new and more effective legal protections for our natural resources and helped the public stay engaged in democratic processes. He played a key role in shaping the Public Intervenor’s Office during its most formative and effective years.

WCHF said, “Christenson inspired and mentored countless law students through his classroom teaching and supervision of their clinical work with the Public Intervenor’s Office and Midwest Environmental Advocates. As a result, students contributed to environmental protection and his legacy lives on through the hundreds of lawyers throughout the country educated in environmental protection law who are carrying the torch forward to advance public rights in natural resources. Christenson exercised his intellect and leadership over six decades of formative years of environmental advocacy in Wisconsin. He was a highly respected University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School Professor who specialized in environmental, land use, local government, and administrative law from 1963 until 2000, when he was granted emeritus status.”

Christenson was also the recipient of the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Alumni Award from UW-River Falls.

He said, “The beneficiaries of public rights are diffuse, often unorganized, and have only small economic stakes as individuals. Without lawyers dedicated to protecting public rights, our air and water will be polluted, dammed, and privatized.”

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