Photo courtesy of PBI
Phoebe Barnard

Barnard noted for climate change work, conservation research

By Ann McCreary

An internationally known climate change scientist and conservation leader has been chosen to lead Pacific Biodiversity Institute (PBI), a conservation research organization with headquarters in Winthrop.

Phoebe Barnard is the new executive director of PBI, replacing Peter Morrison, who founded PBI in 1993.

Morrison will continue working for PBI, focusing on research and writing. He remains on the PBI board of directors as the founding director.

Barnard was born and raised in the United States, but spent most of her career in Africa, primarily in Namibia and South Africa.

Barnard is a climate change ecologist, conservation biologist, sustainability strategist and environmental planner. She worked most recently at the South African National Biodiversity Institute as lead scientist.

While there, she conducted national and institutional strategic planning for biodiversity futures and climate vulnerability science — global change futures, climate vulnerability of endemic species, and roles of research, citizen science and partnerships in conservation.

As executive director of PBI, Barnard said, “my personal vision is aimed at really consolidating the strengths of PBI and streamlining around three themes.”

Those themes include wildlands, ocean health and training conservation leaders, Barnard said.

In terms of wildlands, Barnard said she will work to “secure tracts of wilderness, in the Pacific Northwest and further afield in North and South America” to facilitate “large-scale conservation assessments, support for public policy and targeted research.”

The focus on ocean health will involve “using keynote indicators of ocean health, particularly the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, to highlight the state of the environment,” Barnard said.

Expanded training

Her third theme, training conservation biologists, will build on training efforts already begun by PBI, Barnard said. “I would like to see us expand in training conservation leaders, both scientists and public policy specialists,” she said.

Barnard plans to continue work in the area of “biodiversity early warning systems … a concept I’ve been championing in South Africa for years,” she said

“We have early warning for tsunamis, disease, fires … we don’t have early warning for biodiversity and the state of the ecosystem,” Barnard said. Such a system helps guide the public and government in making decisions. 

Barnard plans to work at PBI’s office in Anacortes. She said PBI expects to maintain a presence in the Methow Valley.  PBI also has an office in Argentina to support research there.

Morrison said turning over the executive directorship frees him to focus on research, including ongoing studies in the Methow Valley on “the effect of climate change and wildfires on local ecosystems and wildlife.”

Morrison said he also intends to continue working on research in South America, where he sees big opportunities for conservation.

““We’ve gotten deeply committed to South America wildlands and biodiversity programs,” particularly in Argentina and Chile, where there is public and government support for conservation efforts, Morrison said.

“We’ve been looking for a while at where there are some global opportunities. South America has some of the greatest biodiversity,” he said.

When he’s home in the Methow Valley, Morrison said, “I’m looking forward to having time to do what we really came here to do — farming.”