Members in Action: Laura Graham, Regional Director for Asia
Monday, May 4, 2020
Posted by: Keith MacCallum
Laura Graham is the newly-elected Regional Director for Asia on SER's Board of Directors. Her two-year term will begin in July. We reached out to her to learn more about how she got into the field of ecological restoration, and about some of her goals for her time on the Board of Directors.
How did you come to work in the field of ecological restoration?
When I was applying to universities for my undergraduate degree, I applied for biochemistry. I already volunteered in a conservation park at the weekends, but didn’t see how it could become a career. Fortunately, I got into Cambridge University, UK, where you register for Biological Sciences and only specialize in your 3rd year; by my second year the teaching had shown me that conservation and restoration ecology were legitimate, rigorous and critical sciences and I finally specialized in Plant Science: Conservation and Ecology—thank goodness!
Through the course I confirmed my love, passion and belief in the importance of tropical forests and landscapes. I was able to travel and work in Uganda, Panama and eventually Indonesia, where I completed my PhD entitled ‘Restoration from within: an interdisciplinary methodology for tropical peat swamp forest restoration in Indonesia’—exploring both ecological and social barriers that were preventing natural regeneration in a protected area. I also met my future husband in the peat swamps, a young Dayak research assistant.
As I was completing my thesis, a REDD+ demonstration project, the first and largest on tropical peatlands, was starting up down the road from my PhD study site, and I was offered a job in helping develop their environmental monitoring and reforestation programs. Through this, I also joined my present organization, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF), who were one of the larger partners in the project.
As I began my first job, and learned the ropes working with BOSF, I realized that all the courses I had taken and papers I had read as an undergraduate were real life for the organization I now worked for. Trade-offs and opportunities between local community and conservation priorities, working with government stakeholders, community land mapping, alternative livelihoods, incentive payments, translating the language of carbon markets—it was fascinating and exciting, and allowed me to develop a deep appreciation and understanding of conservation and restoration being so much more than measuring and growing trees.
Having said that, ecology remained my main focus. I am so proud of the BOSF Mawas Monitoring and Research Team that I now lead: a team of eleven—including eight from the province where we work, five from the villages bordering the protected forest, and two young women—and we continue to prioritize greater gender balance in a field culturally dominated by men. The team’s range of expertise and experience in tropical peatlands’ ecology, restoration and conservation spans 75 years and allows us to implement methodology and collect data on a wide range of vegetation, hydrology, peat, fire, and social characteristics that, together with our international project partners, can be used to develop and guide Indonesia’s environmental monitoring, restoration and carbon reduction efforts.
What are you most looking forward to in representing Asia on the SER Board of Directors?
Participating in SER’s conferences and webinars allows me to view peatlands through new perspectives of theory and practice, providing fresh insight into studying and implementing restoration in this ecosystem. I’m excited to step into my new role as Asia Representative to SER’s Board of Directors. There are so many enterprising, active and successful academic and implementing restoration practitioners, both GO and NGO across Asia. The region is dynamic and fast-growing, and the same can be said of the science and practice of restoration ecology and SER itself. I believe, moving forwards, it is essential that the two are more closely aligned.
Thank you for joining our Board of Directors, Laura!