Brad Andres spends a lot of time outside.
Considering that he’s the president of Evergreen Audubon, that’s only natural. But Andres’ rapport with the Great Outdoors goes much deeper than Evergreen Lake, and a whole lot farther. He made first introductions with Mother Nature as a boy growing up in the woody wilds of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
“We had a really active Boy Scout troop, so I spent a lot of time camping and going on nature trips,” says Andres, a genial man who brings the energy of genuine interest to any discussion of Earth’s quiet places. “But I did most of my exploring on my own, just getting on my bike and riding into the woods.”
On graduating from high school, Andres set his compass on a career that would keep him outside as much as possible. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Pennsylvania State University and went on to graduate from Ohio State University in Columbus with a doctorate in that field. It was a lot of work, but it got him where he wanted to go. He quickly netted a job with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and an open ticket to Alaska’s wide-open North Slope. It was 1986, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge loomed large in the public consciousness.
“We knew the oil fields were going to march westward, and my job was to get information on the value of those habitats,” Andres explains. “I documented the abundance and habitat usage of migrant shorebird populations.”
Sounds easy enough, right? The thing about mosquito-choked river deltas 50 miles west of Prudhoe Bay is that the only inside is the kind you bring yourself. And that was just fine with Andres, who spent May to September camped out on the waterlogged tundra for three years running.
“I was driving a Zodiac in the snow,” he recalls. “It was great.”
Andres was still under a midnight sun in 1991 when he was asked to catch up with the black oystercatchers of Alaska’s idyllic Prince William Sound. The ill-starred Exxon Valdez had run aground just two years earlier, dumping a half-million barrels of crude into the sound’s blue waters.
“I was studying the persistent effects of the spill on mussel-eaters. There was fear that there was still contamination in the food chain.”
Andres spent all of 10 years on the Last Frontier, leading the FWS’s effort to craft a national strategy for protecting the country’s wealth of fragile shorebird habitats. But his travels there represent only a fraction of the miles he covered chasing down data. While most birds tend to come and go as they please, Alaska’s feathered visitors are a particularly restless bunch.
“I’ve worked in Southern Chile, because that’s where a lot of those birds end up,” he smiles. “I’ve studied Alaskan birds in China, East Asia, and Russia. You’d be surprised how bird research connects you internationally.”
Andres was transferred to Washington, D.C., in 2001 and placed in charge of the FWS’s push to develop a national strategy for protecting fragile shorebird habitats nationwide. In 2004, his wife, Heather Johnson, who works with the agency’s private lands program, was transferred to its Denver office and Andres moved his own office west. He and Heather quickly found a welcoming nest in Evergreen.
“After living at the mouth of a river in northern Alaska, I couldn’t really see getting a house in the city. And Heather grew up in Wyoming. We wanted to get into the woods.”
Brad and Heather got into the green woods of Brook Forest, and were soon flying with birds of a similar feather at Evergreen Audubon. It turns out that studying birds for a living simply doesn’t satisfy Andres’ appetite for avians.
“I count birds professionally, and I count birds as a hobby,” Andres smiles. “I’m a birder.”
While everybody at Evergreen Audubon is conversant on the curious ways of swift and sapsucker, Andres training and experience as a wildlife biologist makes him uniquely valuable to the organization’s many worthy endeavors. His volunteer work on Audubon’s ongoing Bear Creek Watershed Breeding Bird Atlas is a good example.
“We document the breeding status and abundance of birds within the watershed. I did a five-year summary that we made available to land managers to make them aware of what’s going on in the area. Changes in the habitat, or even the climate, will be reflected in the bird population, and those land managers don’t always have the staff and resources to collect that kind of information. This kind of citizen science project takes birding to the next step.”
Kind of like Audubon’s popular Evergreen Lake Nature Center takes the nonprofit’s mission to a higher level. Besides applying his large store of official experience to grant-writing and general administration, Andres donated a solid 350 hours in just one year to help get the nature center off the ground, time he considers very well spent and amply rewarded.
“Evergreen Audubon has had an important role in the community, but when the nature center opened it became a true conservation and education organization.”
Anybody who thinks being outside for a living and being outside for a hobby is enough outside for anybody should think again. When Brad and Heather aren’t outside for work or Audubon, they’re usually just outside.
“We have a big gear room,” Brad laughs. “All of it self-powered. We’re big tennis people, and we mountain bike, fly fish, cross-country ski – we just like to be outdoors; and this community has a lot to offer.”