Whitebark Institute is a nonprofit organization focused on improving the health of Eastern Sierra forests, surrounding landscapes and communities to ensure they can adapt and flourish in response to future wildfires and other impacts of our changing climate. Our expertise includes project development, partner coordination & collaboration, environmental planning, project implementation, community outreach, education, workforce development, and capacity planning. This breadth of work allows us to approach the wide range of opportunities and challenges for projects at both a local and landscape scale and to catalyze communities, partners, and local and federal agencies to get work done now in order to create a resilient future for Eastern Sierra communities and the landscapes that surround them.
Meet The Team
Whitebark Institute is a group of highly motivated individuals working to make a collective difference. We strive to do good work, pursue excellence, and foster partnerships rooted in integrity, teamwork, compassion and collaboration.
Laura Beardsley has dedicated her career to supporting and guiding nonprofit organizations that engage communities in caring for and exploring the natural world. A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, she spent seven years in Yosemite before moving to the Eastern Sierra full time in 2012. Since then, she has served in leadership roles at both Friends of the Inyo and Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra. A keen hiker, skier, biker, and lover of the outdoors, she lives in Crowley with her husband and their dog, Clyde.
Forest Health Program Manager
Janet grew up on the west side of the Sierra and first visited Mammoth in 1993 while working in nearby Tuolumne Meadows. Six years later she set anchor here and has never looked back. Janet spent 16 years working for the Department of Interior in both Wilderness and Fire Management across the Western US and Alaska. In 2011 she turned in her Red Bag for a laptop and began working for a local non-profit on watershed-related issues. Over the last decade, she has woven together a multitude of disciplines that have given her the guts to take on the Eastern Sierra Climate & Communities Project (ESCCRP) in partnership with the Inyo National Forest. Before launching the ESCCRP, Janet used to enjoy growing, building, and making things in addition to the typical mountain interests of standard eastside aficionados. Although her time for those hobbies has been temporarily placed on hold while she is building the team necessary to make the ESCCRP a success, Janet finds satisfaction in investing in the next generation of environmental leaders and knowing that despite all of the struggles that someday her work will have made a difference.
Rick provides some historical perspective to the Whitebark Institute team with more than four decades of experience in natural resource issues in the Sierra Nevada. He served two terms on the Mono County Planning Commission and was a founder of the Eastern Sierra Land Trust. Rick was the principal hydrologist for the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project and was the sole or lead author of more than a hundred scientific papers and reports. Roughly a tenth of his life has been in the mountains and highlands of Asia and the backcountry of the Sierra Nevada.
Senior Environmental Planner
Jessie joined the Whitebark Institute in June 2022 to work as an Environmental Planner on the NEPA Interdisciplinary Team for the ESCCRP. Jessie grew up right here in the Eastern Sierra and always had an inkling she would be drawn back to this special place. After experiencing the Round Fire in Swall Meadows in 2015 and watching her community recover, she developed an interest in the relationship between wildfire, communities, and climate change. Jessie worked in the consulting world as an environmental planner for a number of years, working on NEPA and CEQA compliance, and climate adaptation planning with a focus on creating equitable adaptation strategies. In her free time Jessie loves to ski, hang out on sailboats, and ramble in the mountains.
Melissa joined the Whitebark Institute in June 2022 to work as an Environmental Specialist on the NEPA Interdisciplinary Team for the ESCCRP. She first became captivated by the Eastern Sierra while working as an Outdoor Education Instructor for the Mono Lake Committee in 2014 and 2015. Following this position, Melissa earned a graduate degree in biology and worked as a Research Scientist at Northern Arizona University where she studied the impacts of climate change on high-latitude ecosystems. In her free time, she enjoys rock climbing, eating sushi, and hiking in the mountains with her two dachshunds.
Erin joined the Whitebark Institute in 2022 as the staff botanist supporting the interdisciplinary ESCCRP NEPA team. She has lived in the eastern Sierra Nevada since 2011 and worked with the BLM Bishop Field Office, Stanislaus Experimental Forest, Great Basin Institute, and most recently as a senior environmental scientist with a large consulting firm. She has experience completing regional protocol-level botanical and ecological inventories, small mammal and nesting bird surveys, desert tortoise field work, wetland field delineations and permitting, water quality monitoring, ecological restoration and stewardship projects, and recreation resource management. While she considers herself a Jane of all trades, plants are her passion and how she establishes her sense of place anywhere she goes. In her free time, she is known to ramble and run around in the out-of-doors with Dude (her canine side-kick), cook and eat yummy food with good friends and family, hunt, forage, garden, climb the occasional rock, slide around in the snow, what-have-you.
Sarah joined the Whitebark Institute in April 2022 as a Project Manager to support forest health implementation within the ESCCRP. When she first visited the Eastern Sierra in 2005 to spring ski, it was love at first site. After years of visiting, she finally moved to Mammoth Lakes in 2010 where she worked seasonally for USGS in Bishop, Sequoia and Kings National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Inyo National Forest conducting long term wetland and forest monitoring as well as timber management. Most recently, Sarah worked as a biologist for a large consulting firm, where she supported environmental compliance in the Eastern Sierra and throughout southern California. In her free time, you’ll find her skiing. When she finally has to hang up her skis, she enjoys backpacking, climbing, spending time in the mountains, and enjoying a cup (or two) of coffee.
Outreach & Education Coordinator
Heidi is a binational and bilingual conservation professional born in Mexico with extensive experience in outdoor environmental education. She has an academic background in marine resource management and has developed a deep knowledge of community dynamics and challenges through her work in marine conservation projects. Her passion for nature brought her to the Eastern Sierras where she has been living since 2020. As the Outreach and Education Coordinator at the Whitebark Institute, Heidi looks for opportunities to use her expertise to get the community engaged in learning more about the natural environment and ways to protect it. In her free time she enjoys exploring the natural beauty of the Sierra Nevada region.
Claire joined the Whitebark Institute in 2022 to work as a Wildlife Biologist on the NEPA Interdisciplinary Team for the ESCCRP. She completed her graduate degree in environmental studies and wildlife conservation in 2019 after studying the effects of anthropogenic activity on carnivorous marsupials in Tasmania. Her love for wildlife has taken her to work in Australia, southern California, and eastern Idaho, but after a summer of backpacking the John Muir Trail, Claire found home in the Eastern Sierra. In her spare time, Claire enjoys trail running, cycling, and finding the best swimming holes in the backcountry.
Outreach & Education Coordinator
Crystal is enchanted by wild places and people and her hippie-heart desires to create positive change in the world. She was guided to the Eastern Sierra in 2003 when a snowstorm detoured her during van-life travels to seek refuge in Mammoth Lakes. Having explored many remote miles in the High Sierra over the years, she found home and even her husband, in these mountains. Joining the Whitebark Institute has been a fulfilling way to live a life in stewardship, helping to protect these places and experiences we all enjoy. As an Outreach and Education Coordinator for wildfire safety, she hopes to build partnerships that will help carve a path to our becoming Fire Adapted Communities. Crystal shares this beautiful life with her brilliant husband, two adventurous kids and a loyal fluffy pup.
Rachel came to Whitebark Institute in August 2023 to support the Forest Health Implementation within the ESCCRP. Born and raised in the Northeast, she eventually found her way west to the Eastern Sierra working as a wilderness-based guide and outdoor educator. With a degree in Human Ecology, and nine years in the non-profit world in various roles, Rachel is excited to invest her energy and contribute to building our resilient landscape and community here in the Eastern Sierra. In her spare time, you can find her bounding about these mountains looking for large rocks, soft snow, and aesthetic views, or roasting coffee at home with her beloved mutt, “Miso”.