Meet an SIA Staff Member: Sarah Truebe

We are delighted to welcome Sarah Truebe, our new Habitat Conservation Manager, to Sky Island Alliance. Sarah started in July 2021 and comes to us with over two decades of experience.

Please take this time to welcome Sarah and get to know her a little!

Caption: Sarah doing cave research on a laptop. Taken by Jansen Cardy.

Tell us about your background

I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. My parents were both scientists (archaeology and geology), so very early on I spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying and being curious about nature. Some of that exploration involved heading underground and getting to experience water in the desert in caves.

Of course, living through Arizona summers meant hoping for a good monsoon every year! That attention to weather and water as a kid turned into a fascination with climate change and the way people and the environment interact and interface for resource use and stewardship. Eventually that led me to pursue a Ph.D. in climate science at the University of Arizona. I studied past climate reconstruction from speleothems, or cave formations, but soon realized my personal conservation ethic conflicted with the methods used to collect data from speleothems.

After that experience, I shifted into spaces where I can contribute to the health of our planet. I spent a few years working at a university to develop a community engaged learning program focused on environmental sustainability and then another few years managing natural resources at Kartchner Caverns State Park in Arizona.

In my spare time, I volunteer with the Southern Arizona Rescue Association (SARA). Sometimes when people head out into the Sky Islands, they’re unprepared or circumstances align to deliver a very bad day where they get lost or injured. With SARA, I help bring people home so that they can enjoy our mountains another day.

What brought you to Sky Island Alliance?

I remember escaping the Tucson heat during the summer by heading uphill into the mountains, back before the Catalina Highway was paved! My family would camp under ponderosa pine and aspen trees in the Catalina mountains. But, even within my lifetime, these landscapes have been forever changed.

In 2003, the Aspen fire torched a lot of Mount Lemmon, and in the ensuing years, debris flows and landslides continued to affect the land. In 2020, the Bighorn Fire further devastated the ecosystems in the Catalinas with more changes to come.

When reading about the work Sky Island Alliance (SIA) is already doing / planning to do to restore these ecosystems and conserve water and life throughout the Sky Islands, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to become a part of that work. I am honored that I will be helping restore the ecosystems I remember from my childhood and that I will be involved in binational, collaborative conservation work as a part of my role with SIA.

What’s your favorite thing about the Sky Island region?

Sarah canyoneering in California. Credit: David Angel

I had a friend tell me a story about his sister who went to college back East—the first question her new roommate asked her was “wow, you’re from Arizona? Is it really sandy there? Do you ride to school on horses?”

I thought it was so funny that people don’t know about the incredible biodiversity here in the Sonoran Desert—more species of bats than almost anywhere else in the U.S.! More species of hummingbirds! More rattlesnakes! And we have saguaros! And coatis! And jaguars! Any time I go outside, I see some unique plant or animal that folks outside of the Sonoran Desert don’t get to see.

My second favorite thing to do in the Sky Island region is wander around water, wading in sandy bottom washes as they wind through cottonwoods, watching birds and wildlife use water as they make massive migrations every year. Water is so important to plants, animals, and people (and is comparatively rare in the desert) that it feels almost magical to encounter water sources when wandering the mountains.

Do you have a fun wildlife encounter you could share with us?

I always joke that I like to explore “above and below Arizona’s mountains,” referencing all the time I spend in caves for fun. Turns out a lot of other animals use cave entrances to escape the surface heat! Most often, I seem to run into black-tailed rattlesnakes (Crotalus molossus molossus).

I remember one time where I was accessing a cave for research with a grad school colleague. We were done with our water sampling and getting suited up in our rope gear to be able to climb the rope out of the cave. We were chit-chatting, and I remember looking up and seeing a rope that didn’t quite look like a rope next to where my friend was sitting. It took me a second, but I quickly indicated to her she needed to get up and move because she had sat down right next to a four-foot Northern black-tailed rattlesnake!

Caption: A Northern black-tailed rattlesnake. Taken by Sarah Truebe.

It was not moving much, but it was aware of us. We realized it would have quite a climb in front of it (about 30 feet back up the cave entrance pit). The cave was ~63°F — no sun makes it inside because the entrance opening is quite small. We weren’t sure if the snake would get the energy it needed to make the climb. So we carefully coaxed it into a backpack* and tied it to the end of the rope.

Once we had both safely exited the cave, we slowly pulled up the snake and released it a safe distance away from the pit entrance. It never once rattled at us. I hope it had a long life in a sunnier environment after that!

On another Huachucas cave research trip, I remember seeing a group of four bears crossing the road. I was glad I was in the truck instead of hiking for that encounter!

* Please do not try this at home! If you don’t know how to relocate snakes, it can be dangerous.

It’s time to play two truths and a lie. :)

  • I play flute and piccolo.
  • I am a contra dancer.
  • I have some really cool rocks around my house.


EMAIL: [email protected]
To learn more about Sarah, check out our Field Guide to Staff page.