LOUISE MISZTAL: EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
What is your favorite place in the Sky Islands? Any swimming hole that I can dip into with a little flowing water is my favorite place. And there are a few really specials spots in Cave Creek Canyon in the Chiricahua Mountains, an amazing oasis in one of the largest Sky Islands in the U.S. When I first moved to Tucson from my childhood home at 8,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies, I was a bit skeptical of the size and robustness of the mountains here. The Chiricahua Mountains convinced me the Sky Islands are just as mighty and beautiful and quickly became my second home. I fell in love with the majesty of Cave Creek Canyon, rugged peaks rising around it, a beautiful view up to the high elevation pine and conifer forests, and the flowing creek. I’ve enjoyed some pretty exciting mammal and bird viewing there, and the best insect viewing of my life.
What is your favorite animal? Lately, skunks are my favorite animal and I’m a real sucker for the western spotted skunk (on the right). They’re smart, cute, industrious, and curious creatures. I’ve encountered dozens of skunks during hikes and fieldwork in the Sky Islands, as well as the occasional skunk munching down insects near a camp lantern. I once saw all four species of skunk in one night while driving around in the Chiricahuas after dark. It’s delightful to see skunks waddling along with their fluffy, fancy tails. It always makes me chuckle! And it is interesting to find their poop which can be full of brightly colored insect exoskeletons from the amazing diversity of insects they eat in the Sky Islands.
What is your favorite plant? I love our native sage plants – Salvia species. They are aromatic and produce lovely blooms that attract hummingbirds, bees and other insects. They just have a magical medicinal quality to them. After years of trying, I finally nurtured a Salvia greggii to thriving health in my back yard last year. It brings me joy in the morning to sniff the fragrant leaves and spy on Anna’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds as they grab breakfast.
What is your favorite part of your job? Learning about the Sky Islands. I’m a curious scientist through and through and I love to learn how to identify plants and animals, how the people and places of the Sky Islands are interconnected, how precipitation patterns are changing, how plants are responding to climate change, how many different species of jumping spiders are here, and so on. I’ve been living, working, and exploring in the Sky Islands for nearly two decades and I’m still learning something new, or seeing something new nearly every day. It never ceases to amaze me when we locate a previously unmapped spring, encounter a plant that’s never been recorded in the area, or meet a new conservation partner ready to work with us.
Describe a cool wildlife encounter: I’ve had many interesting wildlife encounters over the course of years of fieldwork across at least 20 different Sky Islands. One night, shortly out of college, I was doing fieldwork in the Chiricahua Mountains surveying for bats. Trying to locate a lesser long-nosed bat roost, we had hiked to the top of a hill in the dark with telemetry equipment to see if we could get a signal from the bats as they flew from their day roost to their feeding grounds below. Standing there in the dark I had a funny urge to turn around and flicked my headlamp on. I was startled to see a ringtail perched on a rock about 3 feet from me looking at me curiously. I think they were trying to figure out what we humans were up to in the dark with all that equipment. It was the best look I’ve ever gotten at a ringtail!
Work Phone: (520)624-7080 ext. 19
To learn more about Louise, read about her in the Field Guide to Staff page.