About a decade ago, Sky Island Alliance approached the Forest Service, where I worked as a staff officer, to offer volunteer services to help with some difficult ecological restoration projects. One entailed wading out in stinky cattle stock tanks to capture invasive bullfrogs to help recover native frog and fish populations. I was so impressed. They were so dedicated, worked very hard without complaint, showed much interest in learning and sharing knowledge, and were all great fun to spend time with. This was just the start of many environmental improvement projects on public land that continue to this day. Thank you, SIA, for all the good work you do!
Sky Island Alliance is one of those run-silent-run-deep organizations which has the delicate and inclusive skill of building bridges between and among seemingly disparate groups. They bring opposing and opinionated people together to see each others' points of view and to find common ground. Their staff understands issues from the ground up--from deep ecological studies of sky island flora and fauna, up through the action arena inspiring volunteer boots on the ground to care for threatened natural places, and at the top, advocating as a team player on Capitol Hill to bring about changes in wildland management policy.
Sky Island Alliance is an important and effective regional leader on issues at the intersection of climate change and the environment. They have brought together a diverse array of regional resource managers, decision-makers, and private land owners for constructive dialogues on environmental change, habitat vulnerability, wildfire threats, and the potential compounding effects of climate change. Moreover, SIA's ability to mobilize volunteers for monitoring key regional ecosystem processes and species, has improved the ability of scientists and others to track environmental change, and contributed to scientific understanding of wildlife and ecosystem issues.
I first learned about Sky Island Alliance as an undergrad in college. I was looking for a class project combining my interest in wildlife research and photography. Over coffee I met with two SIA staff, Mike and Sergio, to talk about my ideas, and we set up a date to go out in the field setting remote camera traps for a mountain lion and jaguar study... a turning point for me and the best weekend of my life. In the course of three days of rough hiking and great food, I saw my first lion tracks. In the evening, watching the sun set over the rugged mountains - jaguar country - I felt a powerful connection to the land and the people who were working to protect it. I returned home sore, tired, scratched and bloody, and knowing exactly what I wanted to do for my life and career. I continued to volunteer with the organization for the next two years with wildlife tracking, jaguar conservation and Wilderness designation, eventually getting a part-time job with SIA doing Wilderness outreach for the Tumacacori Highlands in 2008. Today, I work full time as a wildlife biologist for Sky Island Alliance and am gearing up to take on a position as their Wildlife Linkages Program Coordinator. It all began with good people doing good work to protect and restore a region special for its great biodiversity, and special to me as my home. There is a great sense of camaraderie and scientific work ethic with this small organization, which relies on volunteers and big ideas to achieve conservation action in a region that spans four states in two countries. I greatly admire this organization and the work it does.