Lauren E. Oakes

Scientist, Author, Educator.

I work at the interface of problem-solving environmental research, conservation
practice, and science writing. I am a Conservation Scientist with the Wildlife
Conservation Society and an Adjunct Professor in the Dept. of Earth System Science
at Stanford University. My first book, In Search of the Canary Tree, is a surprisingly
hopeful story of a search for resiliency in a warming world.

Reading with a class or a book group? Interested in reflecting on the story?

IN SEARCH OF THE CANARY TREE: The award-winning and surprisingly hopeful story of one woman’s search for resiliency in a warming world


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. In a cascade of effects, the ways that our actions affect the environment also affect us, or other people.

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 have written for various media outlets, such as Scientific American, The Los Angeles Times, and 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 (Basic Books, Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2018), 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

Science & Conservation Practice

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.


Peterson St. Laurent, G., Oakes, L.E., Cross, M., and Hagerman, S. (In review) From resistance to transformation: assessing the transition to a new paradigm for conservation.

Oakes, L.E. and Cross, M. (In review) To ensure delivery of expected outcomes, nature-based solutions need to be climate informed.

Peterson St. Laurent, G., Oakes, L.E., Cross, M., and Hagerman, S. (In prep) A novel framework for evaluating climate change adaptation success  for biodiversity and nature resource conservation. 

Bisbing, S., Buma, B., Oakes, L.E., Krapek, J., and Bidlack, A. (2019) From canopy to seed: loss of snow drives directional changes in forest composition. Ecology and Evolution 00:1-18. 

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 coniferGlobal 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 AlaskaEcology 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.

Writing & Science Communication

In my science writing, I focus on topics related to climate change, forest ecosystems, and solutions to environmental problems.

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 and reporters from PBS/Frontline on these projects:
  • Red Gold (2009). Winner of the Audience Choice Award, BANFF Mountain Film Festival; Audience Choice Award and Director’s Award, Telluride Film Fesitval. 
  • Alaska Gold (2012)

I’m available to speak at a variety of public and private events to help inspire climate action and address the more optimistic solution space for climate change.

Canary Book Tour Events:

(Virtual – Public) Lisle, Illinois | April 29, 2020 | Morton Arboretum

(Virtual – Public) Chico, California | April 22, 2020 | Book in Common

Telluride, Colorado | October 3-6, 2020 | Original Thinkers Festival

Three Rivers, California | October 24, 2019 | One Town One Book

Palo Alto, California | July 24, 2019 | Stanford Earth Summer Session Keynote

Chamonix, France | June 27, 2019 | CREA Mont-Blanc

Ennis, Montana | March 14, 2019 | Ennis Public Library

Seattle, Washington | February 21, 2019 | Third Place Books—Ravenna

New York, New York | January 17, 2019 | Trust for Mutual Understanding

San Francisco, California | December 5, 2018 | Book Passage

Palo Alto, California | December 4, 2018 | Stanford Bookstore

Bozeman, Montana | November 28, 2018 | Country Bookshelf

Other events 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


Upcoming Workshop: Interested in addressing the climate crisis with cutting-edge reporting and science writing? Join me, Dr. Emily Polk, and a community of scientists, journalists, practitioners and other professionals engaged in communications around the world. Chamonix, France | July 2021. (Postponed from 2020 due to COVID19.)

Co-hosted by Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science and CREA Mont-Blanc

I teach in both formal and informal contexts—from the University classroom in the sciences and science communications, to writing workshops, and field-based environmental courses. 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.


Research-related Media:



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Contact Me

Bozeman, MT & Portola Valley, CA