My work is always rooted in natural history, ecology, and conservation biology, but plies the terrain at the margins of disciplines. I’m most interested in the connections between sciences, humanities, and public policy, and between analytical and creative modes of thought. I'm fascinated by the confluence of nature & culture, biology & adaptation, when considering humans as an ecological species.
I'm the Executive Director of a newly independent, nonprofit version of the Natural History Institute, which seeks to integrate art, science, and humanities in the work of connecting humans and nature. I've recently transitioned to Faculty Emeritus status at Prescott College, where I taught in the interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program for 29 years. In addition to helping coordinate the Conservation Biology and Natural History and Ecology emphasis areas, I created courses that linked with many other curricular areas, including creative writing, environmental politics, and ecopsychology (see Teaching).
Much of my work over the past few years has focused on revitalizing the practice of natural history (see Natural History Projects). My writings on this topic are available here (at bottom of page). I have edited two anthologies on the importance of natural history. Nature, Love, Medicine: Essays on Wildness and Wellness, will be released in November by Torrey House Press. The book gathers narrative essays that address three interrelated questions: "How can nature heal us, as individuals and communities?," "How does practicing natural history lead to healthier lives?," and "Why does deep engagement with nature help us love the world?" (For a list of book-related events, see Presentations.) The Way of Natural History (2011) received attention from reviewers as diverse as the Wall Street Journal, which included Way on its end of year "Best of Science" list, and the Shambhala Sun. It received an Honorable Mention in the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards.
I wrote two earlier books—Singing Stone: A Natural History of the Escalante Canyons (1999) and Desert Wetlands (a collaboration with photographer Lucian Niemeyer, 2005). I've also written numerous journal articles and book chapters (see Publications).
I've been delighted and honored to lead a National Science Foundation project, “The Decline in Field Studies: Proactive Strategies for Essential Training for the Next Generation of Biological Researchers,” to address the growing crisis in American (and, indeed, global) ecological sciences training--that fewer and fewer students have the opportunity to study and learn in the field, directly from nature. We convened a working group of faculty, administrators, and practitioners from across the spectrum of field education to identify the specific obstacles that have made field study increasingly difficult in some institutions--and defined and communicated specific strategies to remove these obstacles. An article we wrote on this topic, "Teaching Biology in the Field: Importance, Challenges, and Solutions," has recently been published by the professional journal, BioScience. (Contact me if you'd like a copy.) We also produced a short video, "Why We Teach in the Field," and a number of products, all available here.
Recent field research projects include an ongoing study of migratory and wintering shorebirds at Estero Santa Cruz in the Gulf of California, Mexico. For many years I've been involved in studying the ecological effects of livestock grazing in western North America. I chaired the committee that wrote a position statement on this topic for the Society for Conservation Biology. More recently, colleagues and I conducted a study of the ecological effects of historic livestock grazing on plant communities in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (as well as a follow-up study). I wrote earlier and more recent synthesis papers on livestock grazing and wildilfe conservation in the American West. Recently, I was a co-author on a paper linking livestock and native ungulates to climate change concerns; this paper received a great deal of response, both positive and negative. We wrote a follow-up paper that responds to one of the latter.
Earlier field research concerned marine mammals and marine birds. I continue to be fascinated with these animals; they remain strong passions, and subjects in my teaching (including in a recent field program on island biogeography in the Gulf of California, one of my favorite places in the world).
I co-founded the North Cascades Institute in Washington State, and have served on the Board of Governors of the Society for Conservation Biology, the Science Advisory Council of the Grand Canyon Trust, and many other local and regional organizations. I was a long-term member of the Education Committee of the Society for Conservation Biology, and served as President of the society’s Colorado Plateau Chapter.
Ph.D., Environmental Studies, The Union Institute, 1998.
M.S., Biology, Western Washington University, 1983.
B.S., Field Biology, The Evergreen State College, 1977.