Better Know an Educator: Ray Bransfield


In the grand web of environmental conservation, Ray Bransfield has found his niche. Bransfield is a Senior Biologist for the Palms Springs Department of Fish and Wildlife, where he has served for the past 33 years. He works under a specific section of the Endangered Species Act to assess the environmental impacts of and put holding actions on prospective development projects in order to keep threatened species from sliding past the point of return. Bransfield’s primary focus is the desert tortoise. When he thinks about the tortoise, whose population in the Mojave Desert is struggling to survive due in large part to industrial developments and collisions with highway and off-highway vehicles, he reflects on the importance of preserving a world where the tortoises are still there for the next generation. For Bransfield, it is not just about the desert tortoise though, but also about maintaining the biodiversity of the Mojave Desert and keeping wild places everywhere.

Bransfield focuses on the positive things he can do for the tortoise, and aims to best use biology, the law, and cooperation with people from all sides to protect ecosystems and endangered species. He affirms that at times the legal system is an important aspect of achieving conservation goals, and also believes that education is a critical piece to this puzzle. If the public appreciates and cares for their desert ecosystems they will decrease activities that threaten habitat and demand that companies take responsibility for protecting the environment. 

By Abby Popenoe

Meet Our Speakers: Susan Sorrelis

Surrounded by natural springs spilling from the hillsides, Susan Sorrelis grew up in a very different Shoshone California than she returned to. As a fourth generation Shoshoen, home called after her beginning her career in Europe as an international relations writer and photographer. Ever since returning, it has been her dream to restore Shoshone’s wetland and desert landscapes back to the pristine ones she grew up in. Living close to the land throughout her childhood, riding horses before she could walk, she has become an adamant supporter of restoring ecosystems. Her soft voice weaves reason into words as she proudly explains that she has always been environmentally committed. She believes that when people destroy their environment they are also destroying their future. By restoring ecosystems in Shoshone she has helped return the endangered Death Valley Pupfish to populations in the thousands. Her success is rooted in ensuring that an entire ecosystem is created, one that is good for all creatures, including humans. On her own property Susan has enthusiastically protected and opened up this place as a conservation model centered in community. She tells us about architect Richard Neutra’s thought that, “When humankind becomes disconnected from nature they begin to lose their humanity.” Enthusiastic and hopeful that there may one day be an Amargosa River National Monument to come visit, she is driven by the successes of this journey. Rooted in place, she has united the community in her drive to help their home thrive.

Meet Our Speakers: Doug Davis

The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is the largest concentrated solar facility in the world. Located in California’s Mojave Desert at the Nevada border, the solar plant helps meet California’s electricity needs and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 640,000 tons annually. While this transition to renewable energy sources is laudable, the context is more complicated: the site of the solar plant is prime habitat for the endangered desert tortoise and is part of the Pacific Flyway for migrating birds. Environmental manager Doug Davis of NRG Energy oversees the nation’s largest private-sector desert tortoise and bird protection programs to reduce the solar plant’s impact to the desert ecosystem.

Doug attributes his graying hair to the slew of unexpected issues that have increased the solar plant’s impact to local and endangered species.  Yet he is committed to maximizing the intactness of the ecosystem that now coexists with the solar plant. To do so, Doug’s team extends to federal agencies such as the BLM, USGS, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife; dozens of biologists working on longitudinal tortoise and bird survival studies; and conscientious solar plant employees. Though there is still much to do, Doug is dedicated to an intact desert ecosystem because he understands the value these species’ survival for the desert and the world: “There’s a reason I live in a rural small community—[so] that I can listen to the coyotes at night and see the stars. I don’t want that to go away.” 

By Elizabeth Greenfield


Meet Our Speakers: Tanya Henderson

In the town of Shoshone, California—population: 31—residents know conservation intimately. Shoshone is home to the Amargosa Conservancy, a small organization devoted to the conservation of the Amargosa River Basin and its biodiverse ecosystems. Spearheading this immense effort is Tanya Henderson, executive director of the Conservancy. After graduating from Whitman College in 2005, Henderson began to focus on conservation, eventually arriving in Shoshone and becoming the Amargosa Conservancy’s stewardship program manager. Over the summer, she transitioned into the role of executive director. Tanya Henderson and the Conservancy currently focus on the conservation of two endangered species in the area: the Amargosa vole and the desert pupfish. As their species names suggest, neither of these animals are charismatic megafauna, like wolves or bison. Henderson, however, still believes firmly in the need for conservation of all endangered species. She asks, “why not do what we can to save a species,” saying that such organisms are “life on the planet, and we should care about those things.”. However, one obstacle continues to make the Conservancy’s work difficult. Like many federal agencies focused on conservation, it’s difficult for the Amargosa Conservancy to find money to complete projects. Henderson recognizes this impediment to conservation, saying that “funding is crazy…it costs a lot do that kind of consistent work.”

By Fields Ford


Meet Our Speakers: Jim André

“Ultimately for me, I am in love with a natural ecosystem.” Jim Andre is the Director of the Granite Mountains Research Center through the University of California Riverside Biology Department and has been passionate about the environment for his whole career as a botanist. He is fighting an uphill battle in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, one of the most biodiverse and intact ecosystems in the state. Working with graduate students, Andre has come to terms with how little we actually know about the floristic world around us. In the Mojave, there are over 2500 known plant species and hundreds more that are unidentified. For Andre, a botanist by trade, these unknowns are exciting but also a reality check. Andre predicts that in the coming decades of climate change, we won’t know the names of countless species that will go extinct in the Mojave. Decreased funding for research on public lands as well as the political encroachment into the scientific world are obstacles Andre has encountered in his career advocating for the conservation of landscape and biodiversity. Now a trusted source in the field of desert botany, Andre says “it’s incredible humbling” to be treated as an expert, recounting his 20s as a green biologist like they were yesterday. Despite the challenges that come with fighting for an under-appreciated ecosystem, Andre finds inspiration in his landscape, and will continue to advocate for conservation because he believes “in its own right, it is worthy of existence”.

By Amanda Champion