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National Park System Advisory Board welcomes ASU professor


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June 23, 2023

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has appointed 15 new members to the National Park System Advisory Board; among them is Gwen Iacona, an assistant research professor in Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and the assistant director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes.

Headshot portrait of Gwen Iacona.
Gwen Iacona

As a member of the board, Iacona will advise the secretary and director of the National Park Service on matters relating to national parks. Her experience in conservation planning and decision support is what guided her to apply for the board. 

“I’ve worked with people and datasets from the park service before, and it felt like the type of work I do is very relevant for the types of problems and projects that the board advises on,” she said. “My work deals with supporting conservation decision-makers to make efficient and effective decisions, and that mindset is one of the things I want to bring to the board.”

Iacona said she shifted from her initial expertise in plant ecology and organism ecology to the decision-making space, where “the rubber meets the road.” 

“I’m an ecologist by training, and I bring that background to all of the thinking I do in decision support,” she said. “That often looks like taking data that is available to us and using the data we have to make good decisions about moving forward in the face of climate change and shifting threats and pressures to the ecological systems.”

In a newly implemented requirement, at least one member of the National Park System Advisory Board must be from a federally recognized tribe. According to a news release from the U.S. Department of the Interior, this requirement was put in place to reflect the importance of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives when making public land and water management decisions. 

In addition to advisory duties, board members will also recommend new national natural and historic landmarks. In addition to Iacona, other newly appointed board members come from a variety of backgrounds, including forestry, academic conservation, nonprofit work and environmental law. 

“I’d say some of the most pressing challenges we are facing today deal with climate change, in addition to balancing recreational access to public lands with the conservation needs of those same lands,” Iacona said. “It takes a wide range of voices and perspectives to find that balance, and I’m excited to see how that comes together with this board.”

In addition to Iacona, the new appointees are: 

  • Bowen Blair — writer; JD in environmental law, Lewis and Clark College.

  • Daniella Levine Cava — mayor, Miami-Dade County, Florida; JD, Columbia University.

  • Theresa Coble — professor, experimental and family education, University of Missouri; PhD in forest resources, University of Minnesota.

  • Aja DeCoteau — executive director, Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission; Master of Environmental Management, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Yakama Nation member.

  • Shane Douglas — general manager, AllTrails; board member, Outdoor Afro & Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

  • Victor Galan — PhD in anthropology and geoarcheology, Texas A&M University.

  • Robert Keiter — director, Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, S.J. Quinney College of Law, University of Utah.

  • Thomas Kiernan — president and CEO, American Rivers; former president, National Parks Conservation Association.

  • Breece Robertson — chief impact officer, One Tree Planted; MA in geography, Appalachian State University.

  • Lindsay Robertson — Chickasaw Nation Endowed Chair in Native American Law emeritus; University of Oklahoma College of Law.

  • Lisa Sumption — director, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

  • Jessica Thompson — professor, College of Business, University of Utah; PhD in environmental communication and conflict resolution.

  • Molly Ward — board member, Fort Monroe Foundation & Chesapeake Conservancy; former secretary of natural resources, Commonwealth of Virginia; former mayor, city of Hampton, Virginia; JD, William and Mary Law School.

  • Reid Wilson — secretary, North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

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