Science for a thriving natural world

Support science. Support a thriving natural world.

On Saturday, May 13th, 2017, Pepperwood’s Board of Directors hosted our second Sunset Celebration to raise money for regional conservation science with a national and global impact. Pepperwood’s Preserve Ecologist, Michelle Halbur, delivered the keynote speech explaining the importance of our Fund-in-Need. Below is a transcript of Michelle’s speech.

Pepperwood’s Preserve Ecologist, Michelle Halbur, delivering the keynote speech at our Sunset Celebration

My connection to nature happened at a very young age. I was the girl who played in the mud with my dolls. I was the girl whose father was a Boy Scout leader who let me tag along on countless hikes, journeys to mountaintops, and adventures snow camping in hand carved snow caves. And today I am the mother who recognizes that the environment…well, the environment directly impacts my son, as it does the quality of life for every living being on this planet.

Quite simply, the environment is the context under which we all live—our shelter, water, food. A healthy environment frees us up to experience the quality of life on this wonderful earth and in this amazing place we call home.

Each and every day there are scientists, students, children and families coming through Pepperwood’s gates. We conduct research, steward the land, and coordinate experts across disciplines, jurisdictions, and counties. In just over a decade, thanks to caring people like you here tonight, Pepperwood has emerged as a leader in conservation science, dedicated to the health of our environment.

When I think about Pepperwood, here are some of the things I get really excited about:

  • We are advancing innovation in conservation science. 

    For me, a typical day is spending the morning working with renowned scientists to monitor birds from space using NASA technology and cell phones. Then turning around to collect data from motion-detecting wildlife cameras and climate stations on my way back into the office.

  • Another thing I get excited about is that we get information to land managers who desperately need it to make the best possible decisions. 

    For example, we recently hosted a vegetation manager’s workshop where David Ackerly [editor’s note: Dr. David Ackerly is a professor and associate dean of biology at UC Berkeley, and co-chair of Pepperwood’s TBC3. He explained the value of Pepperwood’s work and introduced Michelle at the Sunset Celebration.] and his team presented complex climate data to the group. YEARS of information, conversations, and research were winnowed down to a single pamphlet that we held in one hand – and we understood it. It was a tool we could use to better understand and protect our critical habitats.

  • Finally, I get excited about the fact that we are bringing science to the people. 

    And the people we work with are from many different backgrounds and places, such as Louis or a young man named Prahlada who started as a volunteer with a philosophy background and is now a PhD student in David’s lab at Berkeley because of his connection to Pepperwood’s programs.

In my role supervising Pepperwood’s interns I have the privilege of working with students who have never stepped onto a trail before, let alone OFF a trail. I get to watch as they take each step. Plants pulling at their feet, fear of the unknown lurking, snakes, ticks, getting lost…. And yet, through our gentle guidance, these students build confidence with each step.

Through our mentorship they experience the joy of discovery, which is the essence of science.

Pepperwood’s Fall 2016 Conservation Science Interns from the Santa Rosa Junior College

Conservation is not about saving everything today exactly as it is. Change is a constant in the natural world, but here’s a simple reality: change is happening faster than it ever has in human history. And it is happening with greater implications than ever before.

We need—we must have—a clear understanding of our habitat. We need to know what’s going on right here, right now, and link that to national and global data and knowledge networks.

At Pepperwood we are monitoring changes so we can understand them, think innovatively about how we might address them, and shift the outcome to the best possible future.

When I had my son the nurse looked at me. She knew there was a part of me that was terrified. I’m sure those of you who are parents can relate. She then told me that THIS is the infant’s habitat and *CLICK* it made sense. Last Monday my son turned two. Now THIS is his habitat, as it is ours.

View of the Pepperwood landscape earlier this spring taken by Michelle

Black bear photographed at Pepperwood by motion-activated camera

Yes, I’m Pepperwood’s Preserve Ecologist. It’s my job to study these things. But as I look out at all of you tonight, I can’t help but ask:

Who is responsible for the thousands of plants that call Sonoma County home—some of which are found nowhere else in the world?

Who is responsible for ensuring that the birds, bobcats, deer and rabbits that live here have a place to thrive and nurture their young?

Who is responsible for making sure our tall mountains connect with the oceans, supporting the ecosystem services that would otherwise cost us billions of dollars to replicate? BILLIONS of dollars.

We ALL are.

This is no longer just about our children’s children. It is about the generations that are alive RIGHT NOW, including all of us. Change is happening and it’s happening fast. By the time my son graduates from college there will be no more glaciers in Glacier National Park. We will be challenged —we already are being challenged—like never before.

As a scientist and as a mother on the eve of Mother’s Day, I ask you to join Pepperwood—to join science—to discover long-term solutions for a healthy environment, including clean water, fresh air, and healthy landscapes that support all living beings in this beautiful place we call home.

By investing in Pepperwood, you invest in a future we all will share. With your support that future can be—will be—better than any of us have imagined. Thank you.


If you feel inspired by Michelle’s speech, please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to support science for a thriving natural world.

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