Several years ago, ecologist Lauren E. Oakes set out from California for Alaska’s old-growth forests to hunt for a dying tree: the yellow-cedar. With climate change as the culprit, the death of this species meant loss for many Alaskans. Oakes and her research team wanted to chronicle how plants and people could cope with their rapidly changing world. Amidst the standing dead, she discovered the resiliency of forgotten forests, flourishing again in the wake of destruction, and a diverse community of people who persevered to create new relationships with the emerging environment. Eloquent, insightful, and deeply heartening, In Search of the Canary Tree is a case for hope in a warming world.
Basic Books, Hachette Book Group, Inc.
I became a scientist to learn new skills for environmental problem-solving. I write because I believe it’s not just the science but also the engaging delivery of discovery that inspires positive change. I am both intrigued and concerned by the ways in which people are rapidly transforming the planet and the feedbacks those changes have on people. I want my work to expose the complexities of environmental issues and help sustain the many benefits people derive from nature.
For nearly twenty years, the challenges between resource use and conservation have directed me from one place on this planet to another. I witnessed communities transformed by oil and gas development in the American West and confronted other changes, such as mining development in Alaska’s salmon-bearing watersheds and road development through Chile’s coastal rainforests. I spent six years studying the impacts of climate change to forests in Alaska and how people adapt to the changes occurring in their own local environments.
I hold a dual-degree in Environmental Studies and Visual Art from Brown University, and I earned my Ph.D. from the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program for Environment and Resources at Stanford University. I’m an ecologist and human-natural systems scientist by training, which means I consider people and “nature” as inherently linked. The ways in which our actions affect the environment inevitable affects us, or other people in a cascade of effects.
I value publishing through the peer-review process for many good reasons, but I do not believe that act alone is enough when it comes to environmental issues. I never did. Listening and understanding people’s perspectives are equally important to me as analyzing and predicting ecological changes. Alongside my graduate work, I wrote a series for The New York Times. I’ve co-produced environmental documentaries (for PBS/Frontline, Felt Soul Media). My research and creative ways of communicating science have been covered by media outlets like The Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic, Scientific American, and Outside (podcast and article). My first book, In Search of The Canary Tree, draws from my years of research in Alaska. It is a story of finding faith in our ability to cope with climate change.
Photo: Clayton Boyd 2017
I’m an interdisciplinary environmental scientist. I combine approaches from ecology and social science to understand the impacts of climate change and how people can adapt to climate change. I’ve worked predominantly in coastal forest ecosystems–from the Valdivian region of Chile, to California’s redwoods, to the temperate rainforests of Southeast Alaska.
In January of 2018, I joined the Wildlife Conservation Society as a Conservation Scientist. I’m working to build the organization’s Climate Change Adaptation Program across the Americas and helping manage The Climate Adaptation Fund, which supports on-the-ground adaptation efforts.
I am part of a team of scientists that received funding from NSF for the Summen Project, an interdisciplinary research project in California’s coastal redwoods. I continue to advise on the social and educational aspects of this research with Dr. Nicole Ardoin at Stanford University.
Bidlack, A., Bisbing, S., Buma, B., D’Amore, D., Hennon, P., Heautte, T., Krapek, J., Mulvey, R., and Oakes, L. (2017) Alternative interpretation and scale-based context for “No evidence of recent (1995-2013) decrease in yellow-cedar in Alaska” (Barrett and Pattison 2017). Canadian Journal of Forestry Research, 47:1-7.
Buma, B., Hennon, P.E., Harrington, C., Popkin, J.R., Krapek, J., Lamb, M., Oakes, L.E., Saunders, S., and S. Zeglen. (2017) Emerging climate-driven disturbance processes: Widespread mortality associated with snow to rain transitions across 10° of latitude and half the range of a climate-threatened conifer. Global Change Biology 23(7): 2903-2914
Oakes, L. E., N. M. Ardoin, and E. F. Lambin. (2016) “I know, therefore I adapt?” Complexities of individual adaptation to climate-induced forest dieback in Alaska. Ecology and Society 21(2): 40.
Oakes, L.E., P.E. Hennon, N.M. Ardoin, D. D’Amore, A. Ferguson, E.A. Steel, D. Wittwer, and E.F. Lambin. (2015) Conservation in a social-ecological system experiencing climate-induced tree mortality. Biological Conservation 192: 276-285.
Oakes, L.E., P.E. Hennon, K.L. O’Hara, and R. Dirzo. (2014) Long-term vegetation changes in a temperate forest impacted by climate change. Ecosphere 5:135.
Oakes, L.E. Forest ecosystems and human values of nature in a changing climate. In Beach, R., J. Share, and A. Webb, eds. (2017) Teaching Climate Change to Adolescents: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference. Routledge. London, United Kingdom.
Oakes, L.E., Kelsey, E., and M. J. Brody. (2016) The fate of nature: Rediscovering our ability to rescue the Earth. Journal of Environmental Education, DOI: 10.1080/00958964.2015.1102697.
Oakes, L.E., (2014) Where we draw lines: policy and wilderness. In D. Bloomfield, Wilderness, pp. 109–113. UNM Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Available on Amazon.
Motivated to share stories that can have a positive impact on human health and the environment, I have written opinion pieces, science blogs, and also worked as an associate producer on environmental documentaries. I aspire to dive further into science writing with long-form magazine writing about climate change and forest-related issues. My first book, In Search of The Canary Tree (Basic Books, Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2018), is about finding faith in the ability for humans to cope with climate change.
Podcasts and radio stories that have covered my work:
Before pursuing my PhD, I co-produced two environmental documentaries about mining development proposed at the headwaters of the world’s largest remaining sockeye salmon fishery in Alaska. I worked with filmmakers from feltsoulmedia.com and reporters from PBS/Frontline on these projects:
I’m available to speak at a variety of public and private events to help raise awareness for the issues I work on. Stay tuned for 2018/2019 book tour details.
A few recent highlights related to climate change, conservation, and writing:
Global Week – Climate Change, Castilleja High School | Palo Alto, CA
LitQuake | San Francisco, CA
Art and Science Education Series, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science | Albuquerque, NM
Moving Mountains Symposium | Telluride Mountainfilm Festival
Catherine Clark Gallery | San Francisco, CA
Communicating Local Impacts of Climate Change Training, National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation | Sitka, AK
Over the years, I’ve taught in both formal and informal contexts—from the University classroom in the sciences and science communications, to writing workshops, to field-based environmental courses and outdoor adventure trips for National Geographic Expeditions.
A sample of recent courses and workshops:
Coupled Human-Natural Ecosystems in Southeast Alaska—a 3-week field course at Stanford University focused on sustainability in fisheries, forests, energy, and tourism.
Interdisciplinary Environmental Science Writing Seminar—a PhD-level course at Stanford University focused on writing from empirical research for scientific publication.
Narrative Science and the Non-Fiction Book Proposal—a two-part workshop on the craft of non-fiction writing in the Environmental Science Communication Program at UC-Santa Cruz.
Portola Valley, CA & Bozeman, MT