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Ruckelshaus Receives 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom

November 24, 2015
head portrait of man
William Ruckelshaus

President Barack Obama today (Nov. 24) presents a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to William Ruckelshaus, for whom the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources is named.

The White House describes Ruckelshaus as “a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly to protect public health and combat global challenges like climate change.”

Ruckelshaus came to UW in 1993 at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson to serve as a founding chairman on the board of a new institute dedicated to collaborative problem solving for natural resource challenges. He was a proponent of bringing together diverse stakeholders -- different kinds of people who would be affected by any management or policy decision -- to engage in civil discourse about desired outcomes for natural resource challenges. He once summed up this work by saying, “Everyone has to be in the boat rowing. You can’t leave anyone on shore, because those are the people most apt to heave rocks as the boat goes by.”

The goal was to build inclusive, lasting decisions that could avoid future litigation. In Wyoming, this sometimes meant convening landowners, energy workers, agency staff, conservation groups and other entities to “row” together toward shared solutions.

Ruckelshaus had served in several presidential appointments, including as the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  from 1970-73 under President Richard Nixon, shaping that agency’s guiding principles. Under his leadership, the EPA established a nationwide ban on DDT, a harmful pesticide that threatened birds and other species, and a requirement for catalytic converters on automobiles that greatly reduced pollution, among other projects.

He also served briefly as acting director of the FBI and as deputy attorney general, before resigning to protest Nixon’s efforts to fire the Watergate special prosecutor in 1973. From 1983-85, Ruckelshaus again administered the EPA, this time under President Ronald Reagan.

Ruckelshaus served on the UW Institute of Environment and Natural Resources board for nine years before becoming emeritus. In 1998, he received an honorary doctorate from UW. In 2002, UW named the institute in his honor. Today, the UW Ruckelshaus Institute continues the work started by its namesake: supporting stakeholder-driven solutions to environmental challenges by conducting and communicating relevant research and promoting collaborative decision-making processes through training and facilitation.

For example, Ruckelshaus Institute staff members recently facilitated meetings of and published final recommendations from Gov. Matt Mead’s Task Force on Forests. The institute continues to provide facilitation support for a collaborative process for forest management in the state under the governor’s direction.

The institute convened a recent forum, titled “Sustaining Big Game Migrations in the West,” which brought together ranchers, hunters, outfitters, energy industry representatives, biologists, agency leaders, conservation organizations and others to discuss the science and policy of protecting long-distance wildlife migrations.

President Obama will honor Ruckelshaus, along with 16 other Medal of Freedom recipients, at the White House, celebrating his meritorious contributions to national interests of the United States and his significant public endeavors.

Learn more about Ruckelshaus’s contributions to UW in a video at For more information about the Presidential Medal of Freedom, view the White House’s announcement at or contact Emilene Ostlind, Ruckelshaus Institute communications coordinator, at (307) 766-2604 or

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