How We Make a Difference To You

Community collaborationCongressional awareness | ArtSciConverge at Sagehen | Current projects

Our local field station [Sagehen] has made a huge difference in the life of our community’s children and adults. It provides an important connection with nature and science, for many an opportunity to immerse for the first time in the marvels and importance of the natural world.” — S. Lippuner (more reviews)

The mission of the University of California is Research, Education, and Public Service. As a part of the university, Sagehen works to fulfill these three goals, in roughly equal measure. That’s how we make a difference in the world…but what if no one cares?

60 Years at Sagehen Creek Field Station

In 2005, the Forest Service came to us and asked if we’d like them to designate the watershed as the Sagehen Experimental Forest. This would transfer management authority for the land under and surrounding the station to the research arm of the Forest Service (the Pacific Southwest Research Station). Though little would change in the day-to-day management of the basin, the highest priority would convert from multiple-use to research. This would ensure that future activities in the basin must not interfere with the research mission.

We were delighted and said, “Yes!”. However, after the designation, we learned that much of our community really couldn’t have cared less, and even felt that this designation was elitist. We were gob-smacked. Our science and education ultimately benefits them, so why didn’t we seem important to our own community?

Community collaboration

We immediately adopted a collaborative and inclusive attitude and began to ask what our community wanted, and to focus more attention on Public Service Outreach, beginning new community programs like Sagehen California Naturalist and iNaturalist and expanding GK-12 education programs like Trout Camp, KidZone Family CampAdventure-Risk-Challenge (ARC) and the Sagehen Outdoor Education Program (SOEP). These programs provide community jobs and open our doors to local parents and their kids, so they can learn to care about Sagehen, its forest, and our university science.

These outreach and education programs also provide new research opportunities, and vice-versa.

We feel that our three-pronged mission works best when science, education, and public service all feed into each other and provide new opportunities and deeper insights to each.

In 2005, we formed the Sagehen Program Planning Advisory Group to create a community-derived Vision document to direct future management and programs at the station. We began to focus research attention on holistic ecology–connecting and building on the disparate research of the past–and on issues important to the people of our region, like wildfire and water. We formed a community collaboration to plan the Sagehen Forest Project.

We took our dog-and-pony-show on the road, and invited groups in to visit the station. We published articles, created videos, archived a stock photography catalog, and talked about Sagehen programs to hundreds and hundreds of people through our Speaker Series, Rotary Clubs, Soroptimists, Sierra Club, and many other community groups. Jeff Brown was a founding Board member of the Truckee River Watershed Council in 2001, and in 2018 he continues to serve in order to help with restoration efforts in our larger watershed. Sagehen later joined with other related community efforts, like the National Forest Foundation’s Treasured Landscapes initiative, Lake Tahoe West, the Tahoe-Central Sierra Initiative, and California Naturalist.

Then in 2014, the National Academy of Sciences commissioned the National Research Council to do a report on the future of field stations and marine labs. The report patted us on the back for some things, but beat us up in the end. To explain the problem, the authors used a modified business model: the Knowledge-Value Chain.

This diagram illustrates how data eventually transforms into social action. Field stations like Sagehen are fantastically effective at the first two steps: collecting data and turning it into knowledge. But we completely fail to create the empathy needed to make society care enough about that knowledge to enact the policy that leads to change. Unfortunately, science just can’t do that–emotion is intentionally not part of the scientific process.

The authors cautioned us that if we don’t find a way to bridge the empathy gap, there is no future for us, and our already tight budgets will continue to shrink until we are eventually shut down. At about the same time, the US Forest Service produced a strategic vision for the Experimental Forest system that expressed similar themes.

Sagehen took the warnings to heart, and began two additional major initiatives to create emotional connection with our community and change within our society: Congressional Awareness, and ArtSciConverge at Sagehen.

Major partners in community collaboration: Tahoe National Forest, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Truckee River Watershed Council, Truckee-Tahoe Unified School District, University of Nevada – Reno Seismo Lab, Desert Research Institute, Sierra Forest Legacy, California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, Sierra Business Council, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Lake Tahoe Conservancy, Western Region Climate Center, Adventure-Risk-Challenge, California Naturalist, National Forest Foundation, Nevada Museum of Art – Center for Art + Environment, The Nature Conservancy, UC Natural Reserve System.

Congressional Awareness

Sagehen presents issues related to our projects to Congressional staffers during events, staffer training, site tours and office visits. Some highlights:

Activity highlights
  • We represented Sagehen at Congressional Visits Day in Washington DC with OBFS and AIBS in 2007, 2009, and 2018.
  • We hosted Rep. McClintock’s staff at Sagehen for Reverse Congressional Visits in 2014 (surprisingly for everyone, they loved the Sagehen Forest Project).
  • In summer 2015, we visited Washington DC with an OBFS contingent presenting briefings on field stations to House and Senate staffers. We also met with the Chief of Staff for Rep. LaMalfa.
  • In summer 2015, we hosted a Congressional briefing at Sagehen about issues surrounding our Sagehen Forest Project. Staff of 4 Senators and 4 Representatives from California and Nevada attended the event, as well as high-ranking officials from the Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Sierra Forest Legacy, Sierra Pacific Industries, and many more of our partner organizations.
  • In fall 2017, we hosted a California Legislative Staff Education Institute training session.
  • Also in fall 2017, we hosted a forest issues workshop for insurance industry executives from around the country.
  • We have attended the Tahoe Summit every year since 2014.
  • We engage with local politicians, especially partnering regularly with Richard Anderson (past Mayor, Town of Truckee; Nevada County Board of Supervisors) and Anna Klovstad (Sustainability Coordinator for the Truckee-Tahoe Unified School District; Truckee Town Council).

Major partners in Congressional Awareness: UC Berkeley’s Office of Government Affairs, American Institute of Biological Science (AIBS), the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), Truckee River Watershed Council, the US Forest Service and Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW).

ArtSciConverge at Sagehen

Science may not trade in emotion, but art certainly does.

Our first experience with cutting-edge artists and art museum opened our eyes to the potential of art to connect with new audiences, to get people thinking about their relationship to the environment, to detect hidden pattern, make fundamental discoveries, and to enhance scientific inquiry.

Since then, we’ve worked hard to connect with artists who are interested in the same ecological issues that our science is. We even marched at the 2015 San Francisco Pride parade with the Ecosexuals to officially add “E” to the already long acronym LGBTQIA…E. The artist’s concept is to reset the metaphor of Earth-as-mother to a more ecologically sustainable one of Earth-as-lover, since you can abuse your mother and she’ll still adore and take care of you, but try that with a romantic partner and you’ll be kicked to the curb.

Meanwhile, the concept engages huge swaths of society who have never before felt welcome at the Environmentalist table. It’s a light-hearted, fun approach that contrasts with the usual oppressive heaviness of Environmentalism. Controversial, engaging, and brilliant. Learn more here.

See more Sagehen art program examples in the page sections below.

Major partners in ArtSciConverge: Nevada Museum of Art – Center for Art + Environment, Sierra Nevada College, Nevada County Arts Council, stpmj, Harrison Studio, Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), Truckee Public Arts Commission, The Ecosexuals, Adams Legacy Foundation.

Helen and Newton Harrison and the Nevada Museum of Art

The Sagehen art program began in 2011, when the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno hired internationally-renowned environmental artists Helen and Newton Harrison to produce a 50-year art project addressing climate change in mountainous areas, and proposing a potential mitigation. Sagehen functions as the outdoor exhibit for this project, with additional sister sites in Europe and China. Sagehen featured in art exhibits by the Harrisons in New York City and at the Nevada Museum of Art in 2015. In 2015, the Center for Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art began a permanent archive of the Sagehen Art Program.

Dual Projections
Invisible Barn

The Harrison project is conceptual and difficult to wrap one’s head around. Looking for a more approachable artwork to lead people gently into questions about their relationship to the environment and how we should be managing our wild and built environments in the face of climate change and population pressure, Sagehen reached out to New York City design firm stpmj. The architects had produced a design for the annual “Folly” competition of the Architecture League of New York and the Socrates Sculpture Park, which did not win, but went viral. Sagehen built Invisible Barn in spring 2015, beating out proposals from New York, Paris, Chengdu, London and other cities. Over 600 people experienced the artwork in its first season, including station visitors and presentations to the American Institute of Architects – Northern Nevada Chapter, and the NSF ArtSciConverge Reno Workshop.

Again, this project triggered controversy leading to deeper thought.

Invisible Barn

In 2014, Jeff and Faerthen started a Committee on Art at Field Stations and Marine Laboratories within the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), and the National Association of Marine Laboratories (NAML).

Sagehen, the Nevada Museum of Art, and a subgroup of the new OBFS network put together a National Science Foundation Planning Grant (NSF Award #1543827) through the University of Alaska – Fairbanks, and hosted a meeting at the museum in Reno in June 2015 about art at sites of long-term environmental research. Attendees included major art funders, museums, artist/scientists, philosophers, STEM to STEAM educators, writers, and other significant players interested in this intersection.

Following up on the success of the Reno meeting, the organizing group developed an NSF proposal for a Research Coordination Network (RCN) to bring these two communities together as #ArtSciConverge, in service of fundamental discovery and intellectual merit. Though unsuccessful, the effort produced materials and momentum that continues through the Long-Term Environmental Research (LTER) network, OBFS, NAML, the Alliance of Artist Communities, and individual field stations.

Arts research

3 Ph.D. dissertation researchers (Laura Cassidy Roger, Stanford; Leslie Ryan, Oregon State University, and Elizabeth Stephens, UC Davis) have examined or are currently examining the Harrison Project at Sagehen, and our larger art program.  We hosted two student artists-in-residence in 2014 through a UCNRS partnership with the UC Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA). Sagehen works with Sierra Nevada College to present their new solutions-focused MFA program, including workshopping and installations at the field station.


Working since 2015 with the Nevada Museum of Art – Center for Art + Environment to identify important artists focused on environmental problem solving, Sagehen’s artist-in-residency program now has numerous significant artists exploring potential projects or already executing them in association with the field station.

Living Forests

Sagehen is a founding member of Living Forests (formerly, Saving The West), an artist-led initiative aiming to solve the crisis of catastrophic fire in California and the Intermountain West using a Whole Systems approach that combines environmentally informed forest thinning with creating a sustainable locally organized (distributed) wood products industry and market.

To help address this “crisis of despair” around the wildfire issue, STW was awarded a 2017 Forest Service grant to create a bi-state Wood Utilization Team for the Sierra Nevada in central California and Nevada. More info.

Saving the West from Kelly Skye on Vimeo.

Current & Ongoing Outreach Projects

View our calendar to read abstracts of more past, present and planned outreach projects at Sagehen, like those above on this page, and these: