Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.
When Rose Piccinini first began her career as a wildlife biologist, she was genuinely a little disappointed by her assignment. The vast grasslands filled with short shrubs that stretch across central Washington state seemed devoid of life, or so she thought.
She began working in this landscape with Paul Ashley, a biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Regional Habitat Evaluation Procedure Team. He led the unit responsible for evaluating wildlife habitats in the area.
Piccinini learned about this ecoregion by studying every inch of it, from the smallest pebble up to the tallest sagebrush. From this hands-on research, the seemingly barren shrub-steppe came to life.
She began to respect the vegetation that survived and reproduced in these harsh conditions, “from the sweet smell of bitterbrush in the spring to the showy, yellow blooms of the arrowleaf balsamroot.” Pygmy rabbits, mule deer, badgers, lizards, and even the occasional moose and black bear made appearances.
While in the sagelands, Piccinini and her team began working with the Colville Reservation, a coalition of 12 different Indigenous peoples with 12 unique cultures. Later Piccinini began working for the Tribe as well as the wildlife organization Conservation Northwest. The tireless efforts of both groups protecting the land and biodiversity were “contagious and inspiring” to Piccinini.
The Confederated Colville tribes would then bring Piccinini on board to spearhead a wild lynx reintroduction program in central Washington that Conservation Northwest had been instrumental in developing.
While Canada lynx populations flourish in Alaska and Canada, they're considered threatened in the contingent US and endangered in Washington. This species is unique to its ecosystem, intertwined with the snowshoe hare. In a prey-predator cycle, both animals keep each other’s population numbers in check. Without the lynx, snowshoe hare numbers can multiply out of balance and consume too much surrounding vegetation.
The reintroduction program takes Canada lynx from up north, where they are legal to hunt, and releases them into protected areas in Washington, like the Kettles River Range. Piccinini coordinated this effort with the US Department of Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS), the US Department of Agriculture, the First Nations part of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and the British Columbia provincial government agency that oversees hunting and trapping.
She secured grants and funding from USFWS, Bureau of Indian Affairs, CREOi (Conservation, Research, and Education Opportunities International), Conservation Northwest, Volgenau Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Not only does Piccinini lead the effort behind a desk, but she is also out in the field for weeks on end away from her family. Her and her team’s steadfast work has proved successful as nine lynx have been released into the region from October 2021 to February 2022.
From shorts shrubs in the grasslands to majestic lynx in the snow, Piccinini’s efforts have helped protect lands and species in the Pacific Northwest for generations to come. Her work showcases the power of conservation efforts and the beauty that can be found in the most “mundane” surroundings.Support Lynx Conservation