Lisa Micheli’s Leadership & Legacy

“…Our team makes Pepperwood a place where people can touch the earth and find new hope for the future.”

What A Journey We Have Shared!

Dear Friends,

When we were working on the strategic plan for 2020 to 2025, one metric of success was the extent to which our science would be embraced by the community as a beneficial resource for resilience. Another measure of our success was that I would be able to hand the next strategic planning process over to a new leadership team in 2024. After a fabulous 15-year journey enjoying the privilege of guiding this 2009 start-up focused on nature-based solutions for resilience, I’m proud to say that both measures of success have come to fruition, and it is time for me to pass the torch.

I’m so proud of the Pepperwood team and all of our accomplishments. I feel like we’re all united by the spell of Pepperwood – a spell woven by the rolling green to golden hills, the verdant springs, and the singing grasslands, with the ancient oaks and redwoods long-standing silent witnesses to the magic of this place. It’s the life and landscapes of Pepperwood that inspire us to reach out beyond our borders to advance landscape- and century-scale solutions for resilience.

I remember when Herb Dwight, co-founder of the Pepperwood Foundation with his wife Jane, gave me my first tour of the property back in 2009. I’d never seen anything like it – even after a decade of doing conservation work in Sonoma County. The Dwight Center for Conservation Science was under construction in 2009, and frankly, the sight was quite overwhelming as I’d never watched such an incredible structure coming to fruition. Accustomed to working in temporary World War II trailers for most of my career as a scientist, I will never forget the day Herb handed us the keys to the Gold LEED-certified research and education center. Upon occupying the Dwight Center, our programs started to grow.

On the science front, starting in 2010 and through 2023, we served as the backbone organization of an interdisciplinary applied climate science collaboration, sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. This lineup of impressive colleagues was co-chaired by me and David Ackerly, now Dean of the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources. It was called the Terrestrial Biodiversity and Climate Change Collaborative (TBC3), and it guided the development of our Sentinel Site on the preserve designed for coupled climate-ecosystem monitoring. It proved Pepperwood’s preserve to be an invaluable calibration, validation, and demonstration site for university and agency science partners and programs, providing a basis for scaling Pepperwood science up to the geography of California and beyond.

We published the first Adaptive Management Plan for the property, which tapped into the preserve management team’s lessons learned and guidance from our Indigenous education coordinator. In this process, based on a Western-style science assessment, our team determined that the biggest impact on Pepperwood’s ecology was the interruption of Indigenous land care. This plan launched efforts to pioneer co-stewardship on our private reserve and to restore traditional ecological practices wherever feasible, under the leadership of the Native Advisory Council at Pepperwood.

These strategies were complemented by our applied climate science estimating what the future may hold for our watersheds and ecosystems. This work included estimating the impact climate change would have on increased fire frequency and extent – work we expanded from Pepperwood to the region via collaborations with CAL FIRE, CDFW, Sonoma County’s natural resources agencies, Marin Municipal Water District, Napa County, the North Coast Resource Partnership, OneTam, the Bay Area Open Space Council (now Together Bay Area), the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network, the Golden Gate Biosphere Network, and others. These projections were published just in advance of the advent of mega-fires in our region.

In 2017, 90% of the preserve burned in the Tubbs Fire. In 2019, 60% of the preserve burned again in the Kincade Fire. Situated in the heart of a wildfire corridor, our ecologists pioneered methods for post-fire assessments, gathering a trove of data regarding fire impacts and the efficacy of previous forest treatments. Meanwhile, our private donors sponsored research and development projects that allowed us to demonstrate how to use new airborne laser data sets to locate hazardous fuels, now a statewide standard advanced via our Wildfire Fuel Mapper tool hosted by UCANR. Pepperwood became deeply engaged in advancing our community’s situational awareness around wildfires. This work is highlighted in the video below.

It’s impossible to capture all the highlights of this era and all the people involved in those triumphs without whom we would not have made this incredible progress. The biggest surprise to me was how important Pepperwood became in the wake of the megafires, and then the shadow of the pandemic, for community public health and personal healing from trauma. As these crises broke down the silos between different branches of community service, including environment, public health, emergency response, and the economic well-being of our local families, our team made Pepperwood a place where people could touch the earth and find new hope for the future. In particular, our educators went above and beyond flexing their creativity, and bilingual and technical skills to keep our local kids, and their teachers and parents, in connection with nature as a healing resource.

The new generation of science and education leaders at Pepperwood are ready to guide Pepperwood’s next stage of evolution. They will continue the tradition of responding to the needs of our community and building on your support, your creativity, and your passion for ensuring nature thrives in harmony with future generations. I stand by to serve as a champion and ally in this new chapter, promoting Pepperwood worldwide as a demonstration site for science- and community-based climate resilience.

With appreciation,

Lisa Micheli, PhD

Pepperwood Foundation
President and CEO, October 2009-April 2024



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