Conservation scientist and Inverness resident Tom Gardali will assume the role of chief executive officer of Audubon Canyon Ranch at the end of November. He leaves behind a position as Pacific Coast and Central Valley Group Director at Point Blue Conservation Science and replaces John Peterson, who retired earlier this year after 35 years at A.C.R. Catherine Hickey, who worked for Mr. Gardali at Point Blue, will be assuming his old position next month.
“One of the many things Tom contributed to Point Blue was to embrace and build resilience, in systems, in our organization and individually. Our teams are stronger and more resilient now than ever and ready to embrace the change, challenges, and incredible conservation science opportunities ahead,” Ms. Hickey said.
Audubon Canyon Ranch stewards 5,000 acres of land across 26 preserves in Marin, Sonoma and Lake Counties, where its scientists conduct research and lead educational programs. The nonprofit was formed in 1962 to save a major heronry that was threatened by development on the Bolinas Lagoon. Today, its work includes tracking other coastal animal populations that are indicators of ecosystem health. Nils Warnock, Audubon Canyon’s outgoing interim director, will remain as the director of conservation.
“We chose Tom because he is a strong collaborator with many conservation groups, he has passion for our mission, and he comes from a strong conservation background,” Mr. Warnock said.
A.C.R. directs its work at some of the region’s most challenging environmental issues, Mr. Gardali told the Light. A new fire forward program centers on prescribed fires as a critical way to keep ecosystems healthy, working closely with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, for whom prescribed burns are a cultural practice.
“No organization can fulfill their mission in isolation. It takes partnerships, and I bring lots of those with me into this role,” he said.
Audubon Canyon approaches its work through a lens of science, making decisions based on data. One example of its work is the tagging of a dozen egrets, whose movements revealed how the birds do not exist in a single place. “This coastal ecosystem is linked with vastly different ecosystems, bringing an exciting scale to our work,” Mr. Gardali said.
After he accepted the role, Mr. Gardali said he wrote to many of his colleagues around the state with the news. He was blown away by how many responded with stories of visiting Audubon Canyon as a student and being inspired to enter careers in conservation. He said the nonprofit’s approach to place-based education gets students out into the field to see and experience the ecosystems around them.
“One thing that really excites me is learning how to have a healthy and reciprocal relationship with nature,” Mr. Gardali said. “Real connections to place, there’s no substitution for that.”
Mr. Warnock said the organization shares this passion for place. “Some education is science-based, but it doesn’t always have to be,” he said. “It can just be an experience in nature. We believe science is the best way to lead us forward.”