New ecologist moves the dial for ecosystems

By Audrey Rader

December 2021

January 2021 saw me packing up my home along the US/Mexico border and trekking 22 hours across the country to land in Corvallis, Oregon. I was chasing down a dream that I’d held close for years: to conserve and restore the ecosystems that had stolen my heart as a child visiting the Oregon coast. The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE), with its mission to conserve native species and habitats through restoration, research and education, made my dream come true. I was officially a Research Ecologist with IAE. Now, a year later, it only feels natural to slow down and reflect on the incredible year I’ve had with this organization.

Whether I found myself in the enclaves of oak-prairie woodlands, sweeping sagebrush landscapes so expansive they could break one’s heart, ever-scenic coastal systems, or riparian areas abuzz with frenetic activity, 2021 brought a lot to be grateful for. The principal perk of my job this past year has been laying my head down at the end of each long day feeling like I’ve nudged the dial for these ecosystems—even minutely—toward a brighter future. 2021 did not always bring its wins and losses in equal measure. My time with IAE has underscored that working with one’s body, mind and heart to make positive change is the only antidote to the uncertain times we’ve found ourselves in.

In the spirit of reflection, I would like to take a moment to share some of my biggest highlights this year with IAE. The following achievements would have been impossible without the generous funding and collaboration of our project partners, the support and hard work of the fantastic team we have at IAE and the innumerable hours our field staff spent conducting this challenging work in similarly challenging conditions. Here are some of the Conservation Research Program’s 2021 achievements that I’ve had the privilege to partake in this year:

  • Surveying 3400 acres of land across Idaho for threatened and endangered species with seasonal field crews
  • Establishing 148 long-term monitoring plots in Oregon and California to track changes over time in response to restoration treatments
  • Surveying 60 Special Status Plant populations throughout Idaho, California, and Oregon
  • Living out of my vehicle for 13 weeks, all the while convening with inspiring seasonal staff and project partners in breathtaking locales
  • Losing one shoe, a jacket, and a sunhat to the wiles of California chaparral (but somehow still making it out alive!)
  • Spending countless hours behind my desk analyzing data, writing reports, and attending meetings that will drive future conservation and restoration efforts in these special landscapes

It has been a genuine honor to learn and grow with this organization this past year. No matter where I find myself, there is one constant I come back to in the environmental field: it may not always be easy, but it will always be worth it. I can only hope that 2022 brings the same sense of accomplishment as 2021 has.