May 2016

With young Darwin in Galapagos.

With young Darwin in Galapagos.

Ever wonder how scientists operate in rural areas far away from research centers and academic institutions?  I have.  Often.  So I decided to find out.


 As a journalist I have been based in rural Plumas County my entire career.  For the last decade or so I've been focusing on science and the environment, topics that have taken me around the world to follow outstanding researchers and the fascinating work they do.  I bring it all home to my quiet second-floor office, where I continue the research and, eventually, complete the writing. 


I have a few colleagues locally – but very few.  Most of my neighbors have no idea what I do.  The isolation offers the advantage of very few distractions and the stimulation of a gorgeous natural environment.  Still, I work in isolation. 


That may be fine for a journalist but how does it affect a scientist?  I invited four Plumas County scientists to be on a panel describing their work and answering questions about how they manage so far from the synergy of other scientists.  I have had the good fortune to have worked with each of them. 

 David Arsenault, executive director at Plumas Audubon Society, is a Quincy resident whose research includes flammulated owls in the Lake Davis area and grebes at Almanor and other local lakes.

 Ryan Burnett, Sierra Nevada Group director for Point Blue Conservation Science, is an avian ecologist and resident of the Lake Almanor area who has spent 20 years studying birds and other wildlife in forest, meadows, and burned landscapes across the Sierra Nevada.

 Linda Cayot, science advisor for the Galapagos Conservancy, lives in Quincy when she is not participating in conservation efforts for giant tortoises in Galapagos. She has worked for Galapagos conservation for over 35 years.

 Darla DeRuiter, environmental studies instructor at Feather River College, is a Meadow Valley resident whose interests include environmental policy and conservation of local natural resources, especially endangered species. 

I think we were all a bit worried that the evening would be a pedantic recitation of works in progress.  Not to worry!  These engaging scientists soon began interacting with one another – and the audience that packed the community room at the Plumas County Library in Quincy.  The exchanges were lively.  Take a question from one brave woman: It's fine to report the birds that show up in your back yard, but how do you do that when they don't sit still?  Or this: How do you talk about climate change in a community largely resistant to even such scientific realities as evolution? 

Since then I've learned about local scientists in our rural midst I had never heard of.  Stay tuned for Science in the Sticks 2017!