USGS Forest Ecologist Receives National Honors from National Park Service

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Nathan Stephenson, a forest ecologist with the USGS Western Ecological Research Center, has been honored by the National Park Service with the Director's Natural Resource Award for Natural Resource Research.

The national recognition, which applauds resource stewards who go above and beyond in performance of their duties, resulted from nominations by employees from across the National Park Service. The nominees were chosen from an elite pool of regional submissions for their remarkable achievements this year and throughout their careers.

"I have a deep admiration for our partners at the National Park Service, so to receive this award from them is -- hands down -- the most tremendous honor I've ever received!" says Stephenson, who has been with USGS since 1997. "When I got the phone call announcing the award, I had to pinch myself a couple of times."

Working out of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Stephenson is a leader in research and long-term monitoring of western U.S. forest ecosystems, contributing to our knowledge of forestry science, climate change effects, parks management and more.

The National Park Service writes in its announcement: "...Stephenson has spent the majority of his life cultivating a broad and deep understanding of the Sierra Nevada ecosystems... He has developed the capacity to systematically measure long-term change, recognize the implications of observed change within a holistic context, and productively evaluate traditional assumptions about NPS natural resource management goals."

Nate Stephenson Hikes the Sierras

Stephenson hiking the landscape of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. (Credit USGS. Public domain.)

In particular, NPS lauded Stephenson's contributions to the USGS Western Mountain Initiative, a global change research project that he and his colleagues established, centered on national parks in the mountainous western U.S.

"Due to Nate’s commitment to the Sierra Nevada and his original research in forested ecosystems and their maintenance processes, he has become an internationally acknowledged expert on forest ecology," says the service.

Stephenson is one of many WERC scientists stationed at a NPS park unit, and exemplifies the collaborative research partnerships fostered between park managers and USGS scientists.

"I think a key to the success of our partnership with the National Park Service is a shared, deep-seated passion for conserving what's been called 'America's best idea' -- the national parks," Stephenson explains. "We are truly united in our efforts to ensure that these special places are conserved for the benefit of present and future generations."

Stephenson will receive his accolade at a ceremony later this year. This is his second nomination for this award, whose previous recipient was noted biologist E.O. Wilson in 2010.

"It's been a privilege to work for WERC over the last couple of decades," says Stephenson. "We're a diverse, far-flung group of people, and it's always rewarding when we get together and swap stories about the cool creatures we study -- or the particular chunks of land or water that are truly our offices!"

Read the press announcement from the National Park Service.

Learn about Nate Stephenson's research initiatives and browse his scientific publications.

Photos courtesy of Nate Stephenson.

-- Ben Young Landis

Nate Stephenson with Galapagos Iguana

Nathan Stephenson preaching the wonder of forest ecology to the scaly masses...