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Dr. McEachern received the award for her role in rare plant conservation on the California Channel Islands.

Dr. Kathryn McEachern

Dr. Kathryn McEachern, Research Ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center, is the recipient of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s prestigious 2021 Recovery Champion award for her leadership in the recovery of threatened and endangered plants on California’s Channel Islands. The award was presented to McEachern on Friday, May 20th—Endangered Species Day.

“[Dr. McEachern’s] scientific rigor and emphasis on collaborative partnerships has guided our understanding of island plant communities, contributed to their protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and helped prevent extinction of multiple listed species,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams. 

For three decades, McEachern has worked under challenging and inhospitable conditions to monitor, survey, and map rare Channel Island plants. Her research informed the Service’s listing of 13 species under the ESA, which accelerated ongoing conservation and restoration efforts following years of land-use change on the islands, from ranching and grazing to the eventual stewardship of the islands as a national park and conserved area. Following development of the Service’s recovery plan for those 13 rare plant species, McEachern helped implement numerous on-the-ground actions, from survival experiments to comparative mapping, to support their recovery. Due in part to McEachern’s efforts, the Service’s recent Species Status Assessments indicate strides towards recovery for several species, including the island bedstraw and Santa Cruz Island dudleya. A publication released earlier this year found that Santa Rosa Island’s flora is recovering after the removal of introduced ranch animals.

“We cannot achieve our mission of endangered species recovery without the pivotal scientific research that underpins conservation and management actions for rare species,” said Steve Henry, field supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Ventura.  “I am honored to present Dr. McEachern this national award on behalf of our agency for her lifelong contributions to Channel Islands plant conservation and for her role in inspiring new generations of women scientists.”

McEachern also played an instrumental role in conducting cloud forest restoration efforts on Santa Rosa Island, including outplanting and seedbanking to benefit Santa Rosa Island manzanita, Hoffmann’s rock cress, and island oak. Her collaborative efforts have forged long-lasting partnerships with the Service, Channel Islands National Park, The Nature Conservancy, University of California Santa Cruz Island Field Station, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, California State University Channel Islands, and others. Her passion for plant ecology has inspired hundreds of researchers and students within these institutions, and her work serves as a model for community-based conservation throughout California. 

Credit USGS and Brooks Institute Holding, LLC. Photo of USGS WERC research scientist Dr. Kathryn McEachern on Santa Rosa Island, Channel Islands National Park. Dr. McEachern stands beside an oak that was once part of a "fog forest," a body of trees that collected fog and distributed the moisture to smaller plants before the introduction of livestock.

“Each plant has a story to tell us about how it experiences its environment,” McEachern said earlier this year. “By looking at several different species in the same place over time, I can have them tell me what it is that they're missing in their environment and what about the environment is going well for them.”

Listening to the stories of the Channel Islands plants has paid off.

“[McEachern’s] contributions to the restoration of island ecosystems have left a lasting impact for future generations. I applaud Dr. McEachern for all that she has accomplished on behalf of listed plants on the Channel Islands, and I join the rest of the Service in extending my best wishes for your continuing success,” said Director Williams. 

The Service’s Recovery Champion awards are presented annually to partners and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff whose work is advancing the recovery of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals. This is the third time in the past five years that a scientist from the USGS Western Ecological Research Center has received a USFWS Recovery Champion Award. Dr. Barbara Kus received the 2017 award for her work with endangered birds, including the least Bell’s vireo, and Dr. Robert Klinger received the 2020 award as part of the multiagency Amargosa Vole Recovery Implementation Team.

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