Past Recipients

Meet past recipients of the Gloria Barron Wilderness Society Scholarship.


Dominique M. Davíd-Chavez - Colorado State University

Climate adaptation and restoration strategies need to consider the influence of land management zones as species shift in response to climate change. As climate change reduces the total area of viable habitat, distribution of whitebark pine in designated wilderness is expected to nearly double.
In her research, Davíd-Chavez aim’s to develop a simple conceptual model that land managers can use when deciding what level of active restoration to perform in protected areas set aside to sustain “untrammeled” conditions. The results of Davíd-Chavez’s research will be presented in the context of ongoing and predicted whitebark pine decline, climate change, restoration, and wilderness character.
A significant part of the research will address the dilemma of climate adaptation for species in designated wilderness areas. This examination will provide a foundation for understanding the potential impacts of climate change on whitebark pine, and identify the appropriate areas for advocacy for active restoration and climate change adaptation strategies. Ultimately, this analysis will help land managers better conserve biodiversity and wilderness character across landscapes that support this keystone tree species.



Adriana Zuniga, the University of Arizona

From neighborhoods to wellbeing and conservation: optimizing the usage of natural open spaces through design

Adriana Zuniga studies different neighborhood designs and their impacts on the usage of natural open spaces (NOS) (e.g., parks, greenways) in cities, and how this affects the wellbeing of their residents and their level of conservation support for wilderness. NOS in cities may enhance wellbeing by providing recreational opportunities; reducing noise, overcrowding, and crime; and facilitating social interactions that may increase a sense of community. NOS in cities also provide contact with nature to urban residents, which may be linked to their level of conservation support. Throughout her study, Zuniga will use questionnaires and focus groups to measure the usage of NOS, conservation values, and perceived level of wellbeing in residents of different neighborhoods in Tucson, AZ. Such methods will allow answering questions such as: Which neighborhood design is associated with greater usage of NOS? Do people using NOS report higher levels of wellbeing and conservation support? Which neighborhood design is associated with higher levels of wellbeing and conservation support? Designing neighborhoods that preserve NOS within cities and encourage potential synergies that increase human utilization of NOS has the potential to enhance wellbeing and support the preservation of nature within cities and beyond. 



Johanna Varner, University of Utah 

Too hot to trot? Connecting urban youth to wilderness areas through a collaborative climate change research initiative 

Johanna Varner is studying the extent of climate change impacts in the High Uintas Wilderness Area by monitoring American Pika populations (Ochotona princeps). Pikas are small mammalian herbivores that live at high elevations in western North America. They are sensitive to changes in temperature and precipitation and therefore may be threatened by climate change. In parts of their range, pikas are moving up-slope to track their preferred climate. However, little is known about the status and distribution of pikas in the Uinta Mountains, which host a unique subspecies.  Student-scientists from Salt Lake City middle schools are helping to conduct the surveys, many of whom have never had an opportunity to experience the high mountains. These students are contributing valuable data while participating in an authentic scientific research experience. Varner believes that direct observation of charismatic animals like pikas, especially in a local context, can foster personal connections with nature and wilderness and effectively reduce distancing from climate change. 


Sarah Bisbing, Colorado State University

Conserving the Adaptive Potential of Western Forests: Using range-wide patterns of genetic population structure and niche modeling to predict the response of Pinus contorta to climatic change

Sarah Bisbing’s research utilized molecular lab work and empirical data modeling to investigate the ecological, biogeographic, and evolutionary processes driving the distribution of western North America’s most widespread conifer, Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine). To assess evolutionary history and potential adaptation across the species, she implemented range-wide research on the distribution of genetic variation and the potential for geographic range shifts across the subspecies of Pinus contorta. Sarah used landscape genetics to assess the extent of gene flow and connectivity across the range of the species and to identify potential postglacial migration patterns. She also utilized correlative and mechanistic species distribution models to predict suitable habitat under current and future climatic conditions. Information on genetic diversity across the range of the species provides a framework for testing the relative influence of landscape, climatic, and environmental characteristics on gene flow, connectivity, and genetic population structure. By assessing range-wide genetic variation, this research also provides both the means to generate a species-specific, biologically informative model and the potential to attain a better grasp on the adaptive capacity of one of our western forests’ most widespread and ecologically valuable tree species. The goal of this research was to evaluate how ongoing climatic change might alter the distribution of Pinus contorta and to provide sound scientific information for the conservation and management of forest ecosystems in light of rapidly changing climatic conditions.



Jennifer Thornhill, George Mason University

Can New Metrics Help Us Bridge the Gap? A case study in the measurement of scientific literature’s impact on decision making.

Jennifer Thornhill’s research focuses on the impact of science publications on wildlife management decisions. She is conducting a case study of Endangered Species Act decisions related to the delisting of wolves in two regions of the United States. She will conduct literature reviews as well as interviews with wildlife managers and academic researchers to answer the following questions: What are the major inputs to decision making?; Are the same scientific publications that are influential in the academic world, those that also influence decision making?; and Why does some science or scientists play a greater role in decision making than others?. The results of this research will help to define the characteristics of scientific literature and researchers that have the greatest impact on management decision making, and can serve as a first step in creating an alternative method of measuring the impact of scientific publications–a “management impact index.” A better understanding of the real world impacts could challenge academic institutions and publishers to reconsider the value placed on applied research and outreach, which in turn can provide much needed incentives for academic researchers to engage in research that can be directly applied to issues faced by decision makers, practitioners, and stakeholders.




Lauren Oakes, Stanford University

Managing Forest Communities in a Changing Climate: Social and Ecological Responses to Yellow-Cedar Decline in Southeast Alaska’s Coastal Rainforests

Yellow-cedar, a tree species that has a high cultural, economic and ecological value in southeast Alaska is in rapid decline due to climate change. Lauren Oakes’s research focuses on determining how the forest community responds to this change, and how ecosystem services (ex. carbon storage, deer habitat and timber) provided by this tree species are affected.  Knowing the ways in which forest communities change is important to decision-making regarding productive uses of public lands and biological conservation in protected areas.




Rose Graves, University of Vermont

Photo by Pat Williams

Re-Wilding the Northeast: Strategic Wilderness Reserve Design and Connectivity Conservation in the Northern Appalachian Ecoregion

Graves’ research is on re-connecting wilderness areas in the northeastern U.S. to better enable wildlife movement and survival in the face of threats from development and climate change. Her focus is on the proposed Split Rock Wildway in Essex, NY which connects the Adirondack Park, the nation’s oldest preserved wilderness, to the rest of the Northern Appalachian region. She will study the ecological importance of this wildlife corridor using GIS, and asses the threats and opportunities for wildland conservation including a strategic plan for community engagement and partnerships.




University of Michigan

Jesse Fernandes

Natalie Flynn

Samantha Gibbes

Matt Griffis

Takahiro Isshiki

Sean Killian

Laura Palombi

Nerissa Rujanavech

Sarah Tomsky 

Merry Tondro

Renewable Energy in the California Desert: Mechanisms for Evaluating Solar Development on Public Lands

This group project aims to provide the BLM, environmental organizations, and other engaged stakeholders with a systematic methodology and accompanying tools for evaluating proposed large-scale solar energy projects in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of California. The overall goal is to assist the BLM in efficiently selecting the best proposals in desert locations that allow for both effective generation of solar energy and the best possible conservation of ecosystems. Through development and application of a series of GIS screens, the project will integrate known relationships with new analytical tools to create a process for quantitative and qualitative analysis of solar projects across several focus areas: the flora and fauna in affected desert ecosystems, policy and management incentives and disincentives, resource and infrastructure needs of various solar technologies, net economic impact, and socioeconomic considerations.




Travis Belote, Virginia Tech

The Influence of Land Use on Ecosystem Carbon Capture and Biodiversity: The Role of Wilderness Areas in Maintaining Regional Productivity and Species Diversity

This research will provide a better understanding on what role wilderness areas play in regional carbon sequestration and protection of species diversity. Travis plans to investigate what environmental or biological mechanisms lead to differences in productivity-diversity relationships between wilderness and other management areas and what role does human appropriation of productivity (e.g., through plantation forestry or logging) and alteration of species distributions play in determining that relationship.


Crystal Krause, Northern Arizona University

Conservation Ecology of Endemic Plant Species within the Greater Colorado River Corridor: Potential Climate Change Impacts on Range Shifts

Climate change must be addressed in conservation strategies to protect biodiversity in the future. Some of the major challenges climate change modeling is addressing are species range shifts, change in abundance, geographic variation in magnitude of response to climate change. Advances in modeling climate change and ecological niches provide a powerful set of tools for protecting biodiversity under a global change scenario. Crystal’s research attempts to address these challenges and enable resource managers to take preemptive measures to protect biodiversity specifically in the Colorado Plateau ecoregion.




Stacey Schulte, University of Colorado

Environmental Implications of Benefits-based Management of BLM Lands

This project will examine the environmental impacts of value-driven management on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. As BLM increasingly manages for recreation, planners have begun focusing on providing certain benefits to users (i.e. family bonding or stress reduction). This project will compare the outcomes of benefits-based management with those of an ecosystem management framework in the planning and management of off-road vehicle riders. Data will be collected through user surveys, key information interviews and planning document review related to the agency’s current planning effort. Results will be used to inform future planning efforts and the evaluation of planning alternatives.




Peter Morgan, Stanford Law School

Creating Buffers and Connectors for Wilderness Reserves

Through the use of Conservation Reserves on the Working Landscape Land surrounding reserves has been converted to human use and is now best characterized as part of the “working landscape”. Although lacking in many of the qualities – aesthetic, spiritual, and ecological – that are normally associated with wilderness these lands many nevertheless retain crucial value for the ultimate health of surrounding wild areas. This research project will address all of the available techniques for protecting the working landscape, but will focus on new and emerging strategies, and in particular on those protections derived from the valuation of ecosystem services.




Pauline Gaden, John Hopkins University

An Initiative to Support the Proposed Expansion of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park by Demonstrating Economic and Ecological Benefits

This research project assesses the role of national parks in the economics of high amenity, non-metropolitan regions of the Canadian and American Flathead Valleys. The goal of this project is to show that it is possible to maintain small-town community character, grow a healthy economy, and conserve the natural treasures of the region.




Zack Holden, University of Idaho

Evaluating the Effects of 25 Years of Wildland Fire Use on Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests: Tree Mortality and Stand Structure

Field work will be conducted in the Gila-Aldo Leopold Wilderness Complex and Rincon Mountain Wilderness Area in New Mexico. Many ponderosa pine forests are severely degraded and there is a great need for restoration of these forests. Knowing the effects of multiple fires on tree mortality has important implications for future restoration and will help to determine the level of mechanical thinning that may be necessary before fire can be allowed to burn without high tree mortality. By measuring the effects of 25 years of naturally occurring fires this research project should be able to evaluate the potential use of fire and fire use programs as a tool for landscape-scale restoration.




Stacy Clark, Oklahoma State University

Restoration and Management Research for Ancient Cross Timbers Forest

These remnant stands of old-growth forests in central Oklahoma and northern Texas represent a mosaic of xeric oak woodlands scattered throughout patches of savanna and prairie openings. Historical evidence indicates that the cross timbers vegetation was historically shaped by disturbances such as fires and drought. They are important reserves for biodiversity as well as for providing opportunities for recreation, aesthetics, and scientific learning. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the old-growth cross timbers forests is privately owned and is increasingly threatened by resources extraction, urban sprawl, exotic pests, and air pollution. Understanding the forest’s attributes before management practices can be implemented is key.




Monique Rocca, Duke University

Incorporating Spatial Variability into Fire Restoration Plans: What Kinds of Heterogeneity Matter to Plants

This topic is extremely important in The Wilderness Society’s efforts to protect wildlands in the West. The outcome of this project may feed into TWS’s efforts to influence the National Fire Plan and forest restoration.




David Lewis, Oregon State University

Land Conservation and Economic Growth in the Northern Forest

This project examined the economic issues in the northern forests from Maine west through northern Minnesota. Several articles have been published from this work.

“Easements and conservation policy in the North Maine Woods”
“Public conservation land and economic growth in the Northern Forest Region”
“Public conservation land and employment growth in the Northern Forest Region”




Marcus Renner, University of Wisconsin-Madison

A Citizen's guide to Education and Outreach for Community-based Conservation Programs

This guide will be based on Mr. Renner’s Master’s thesis and could be used by local conservation groups to understand how they can organize effectively. Mr. Renner will work closely with The Wilderness Society staff to produce a well-crafted manuscript titled “Widening the Circle: education and outreach for community-based conservation.”




David Pilliod

Introduction of Fish to Wilderness Lakes without Existing Predatory Fish

The consequences of fish introductions on the survivorship of frogs will be examined. These frogs have evolved without such a predator and, consequently, have developed no defenses against them. Typically, the frogs disappear from lakes that now have predatory fish populations.

Christina Cromley

Learning from and Improving Bison Management in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

This research project centered on the social aspects of solving the Bison-Montana conflicts in Yellowstone National Park. The work was subsequently published as a chapter in a book, titled “Finding Common Ground: Governance and Natural Resources in the American West”. The chapter, “Bison management in Greater Yellowstone” presents the findings of her work.

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