Evan Frost is a conservation biologist, ecologist, and botanist with over twenty-five years of experience working at the interface of science, land management, and conservation in the western United States. He is currently focused on wildlife/biodiversity connectivity planning–aka designing strategic wildlife-passage projects such as overpasses for animal crossing at highways and through other developed areas–in the Cascade-Siskiyou landscape of southwest Oregon and adjacent California.

Evan Frost, biologist. Photograph courtesy of Evan.

This month at PLAYA, Evan shared slides about projects he’s involved in. One of the other residents, a poet, remarked, “It’s wonderful to see a show that doesn’t just remind us of all the depressing things out there but says, ‘Look, we’re doing stuff’!”

Evan is indeed doing stuff. As PLAYA staff prepared for possible evacuation from the Watson Creek Fire burning to the southeast of our campus, Evan talked to fire managers and state police, looked up new fire outbreaks on Google Earth, and just generally supported PLAYA’s fire readiness. His biologist’s perspective on Watson Creek and most of the big forest fires in Oregon is that they are a reflection of several factors–more than a century of logging the older/more fire-resistant trees, fire suppression, increased human fire starts, and drought/climate change. “Together these are creating the ‘perfect storm’ scenario that’s playing out all across the West,” he emailed to PLAYA staff recently. “Unfortunately, fire/forest science is not consulted much to inform policy these days, so we’ll see how it plays out.” And we’ll look forward to Evan’s next visit, preferably when wildfire isn’t presenting frightening, nightly light shows.

Evan, what led you to Playa?

A colleague of mine in the Rogue Valley, ornithologist Pepper Trail, is on the board of PLAYA and has spoken enthusiastically about the residency opportunities here. In my experience, it’s quite rare for these kinds of residencies to be made available to scientists (in addition to artists and other creatives), so I’ve been hoping to be offered some time here for a while now. As a consulting biologist, I’m often working on detailed technical reports and research that can greatly benefit from a focused block of mental energy and time, and PLAYA has offered me the perfect setting to apply myself in this way.

Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?

I came here to work on an extensive literature review and synthesis paper regarding the importance of ecological connectivity and wildlife movement in the Cascade-Siskiyou landscape of southwest Oregon and adjacent California. This document is part of a multi-year project aimed at developing a better understanding of the threats and opportunities to conserve wildlife movement routes (or biological corridors) in this diverse landscape, which stretches from the eastern Siskiyou Mountains to the High Cascades on both sides of the Oregon-California border. The Cascade-Siskiyou “land bridge,” as this area is sometimes called, is one of the few places along the West Coast where many wide-ranging animal species can still potentially move from coastal to inland portions of our region. Many biologists believe it may be key to sustaining populations of several wildlife species in this era of rapid change. During my two-week residency at PLAYA, I was able to complete this review paper on ecological connectivity, which I hope will support future work in this area.

How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work?

I’m often drawn to and influenced by ecological transitions in Western landscapes. The Cascade-Siskiyou area I’ve been studying for many years is outstandingly biodiverse in large part because it lies at the crossroads or meeting point of several distinct ecoregions–principally the Klamath/Siskiyou and Cascade Mountain ranges, but also the Great Basin and inland California valleys.

PLAYA also occurs at the junction of very different ecologies, the forested Eastern Cascades and the wide open “Basin and Range” country that stretches east for hundreds of miles. Thinking about and researching ecological connections, I found it helpful in my work here to be in such close proximity to both desert and mountains. And it’s helpful to think about the long expanses of time over which landscapes change, which is in part why connectivity is so important–to help plants and animals adapt to change.

Describe a typical day at PLAYA.

One of the nice things about PLAYA is everyone is given the space to find their own optimal rhythm of work, self-care, and play. I often found myself doing reading and research in the morning, using this as a springboard for writing until mid-afternoon, and then getting out on the land for an excursion of some kind towards the end of the day. Without the constraints of appointments of other commitments, one can discover what feels most productive and balancing each day, which is a rare gift in our world.

What were some highlights for you?

I enjoyed a small group hike to view thousands-year-old petroglyphs around Picture Rock Pass and a vast natural spring hidden in the desert hills. The Summer Lake Wildlife Area and hot springs were also great local spots to experience. And I’ll not soon forget watching the Watson Creek Fire burn above Winter Ridge at night, quite a spectacular (and also scary) expression of nature’s power.

Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.