Long-term & Collaborative Projects
HALF A CENTURY AGO, major cities throughout the Northern Hemisphere were largely devoid of wildlife. In the years since, however, biologists have documented a remarkable transformation: wild animals, including many large and charismatic species once believed to require remote wilderness areas, have returned to cities in North America, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. Most urban regions on these continents now house diverse and abundant wildlife, with repercussions for everything from ecology to ethics, epidemiology, sustainability, and planning. How did this transformation occur? And what does it tell us about wildlife, people, and the cities we increasingly share on this urbanizing planet?
CONCRETE JUNGLE is now my primary research and writing focus. I am hard at work on a book manuscript, which I plan to complete in 2018. For more information about this project and related topics, check out my urban wildlife blog (coming soon)!
The California Grizzly
ON THE EVE OF THE GOLD RUSH in 1849, an estimated 10,000 grizzlies roamed California. By the late nineteenth century grizzlies were rare in the state, and they probably went extinct in the mid-1920s. It has been more than 90 years since the last credible sighting of a wild grizzly in California. Yet several factors—including the state’s ample wildland habitat, the return of wolves, and promising trends in brown bear recovery programs elsewhere such as in Europe—suggest that California may once again someday host a wild population of grizzlies. The California Grizzly Study Group, which I convened in 2016, brings together scholars from half a dozen disciplines to discuss the past, present, and future of grizzlies in this state. Its goal is to develop a community of experts able to support a well-informed public discussion and decision-making process for the proposed reintroduction of California’s most famous extinct species and official mascot.
For more on the California Grizzly Study Group, check out our website (coming soon)!
Ecological Change on Western Rangelands
RANGELANDS—arid and semi-arid landscapes dominated by grassland, woodland, shrubland, and savanna vegetation—cover more than 45 percent of Earth's land surface and more than half of the American West. Scientists have long viewed these areas, which are used mainly for livestock grazing and wildlife habitat, as dynamic ecosystems prone to rapid change through processes like desertification. Over the years, researchers have developed several models to explain and predict such changes, but there have been few efforts to test these models using long-term data or other forms of historical evidence. This project, which I am conducting with UCSB graduate student Tim Paulson and postdoctoral fellow Kevin Brown, takes up the challenge of testing these models based on historical source materials from environmental science and agricultural field stations in California. The emerging result is a new framework for understanding ecological change on western rangelands.
A Sanctuary for Science
THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA NATURAL RESERVE SYSTEM (NRS) is the largest and most diverse network of university-run field research stations in the world. The UC acquired its first reserve in 1937, and today the system includes 39 sites with access to more than 1.4 million acres. UC reserves span from the Northwest forest to the Mojave Desert and from the Channel Islands to the High Sierra. They provide space, resources, and infrastructure for thousands of research projects, hundreds of college courses, and dozens of community outreach programs in the environmental sciences and related disciplines. They have also produced crucial data that has shaped political debates, legal proceedings, and public policy decisions regarding the state’s environment and natural resources. The NRS's story exemplifies the role of field stations in post-war California and American environmental history, and it provides exceptional opportunities for studying the relations between people and nature on a changing planet.
A SANCTUARY FOR SCIENCE, the UC Natural Reserve System History and Archive project, seeks to document, preserve, and study the history of the NRS and the California ecosystems it encompasses and represents. To achieve these goals, we are working with our partners to conduct a system-wide historical resource survey and archival conservation initiative that will ensure permanent access to the NRS's vast but largely unorganized collections. These archival materials will ultimately enable researchers and teachers from a wide variety of disciplines to use the NRS as a laboratory for environmental history, and as a microcosm for understanding the development and influence of field research stations since World War II.
For more information, check out the UC NRS History & Archive Project website.
EACH YEAR, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funds around a dozen John E. Sawyer Seminars on the Comparative Study of Cultures at the nation's top universities. These competitive grants support the establishment of temporary research centers, which over the course of an academic year organize a series of events based on a broad theme. In 2013 and 2014, I co-led UCSB's first Sawyer Seminar along with Teresa Shewry, David Lopez-Carr, and Jennifer Martin. Entitled Sea Change, our seminar focused on the topic of marine environmental history. Marine environmental history is a relatively new endeavor, but it has gained tremendous momentum in recent years as scholars from several fields have sought to understand the patterns, processes, causes, and consequences of environmental change in the world's oceans. Our seminar series, which took place over the course of an academic year, included two-dozen participants from more than half-a-dozen disciplines and hosted more than 20 visiting lecturers.