Meet an SIA Staff Member: Zoe Fullem

Have you met our Community Science Manager Zoe Fullem? Zoe joined the team in March 2020, just before the pandemic hit, to help lead our Border Wildlife Study. We’ve loved having her as a part of our organization and recently realized we’ve never highlighted her as a staff member — so today, we’re here to rectify that.

Please take this time to get to know Zoe a little better!

Caption: Zoe as a Peace Corps volunteer, standing at the main canal entrance to Cerro Brujo where she lived, accessible only by dugout canoe. (c) Zoe Fullem

Tell us a little about your background! 

I grew up in Albany, N.Y., but since graduating high school I’ve lived in Ecuador, Minnesota, Colorado, Panama, Chicago, and Michigan. That means I’ve lived with gray skies, endless winters, beautiful winters, polar vertexes, snowy and mild winters, heat and humidity, and then some more humidity. Needless to say, the southeastern Arizona climate is a welcomed change, and I can truly attest to the pleasure of a “dry heat!”  

I’ve worked in many different fields but have always seemed to find a common thread in connecting with communities, whether that be working with entrepreneurs in Chicago neighborhoods that have been historically excluded from economic development or partnering with community-led organizations in Costa Rica to protect sea turtles from poaching and development encroachment. As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama for 3 years, I lived and worked on the Ngäbe Comarca (Indigenous reservation), supporting cocoa and coffee farmers and acting as a liaison for the Panamanian Ministry of Agriculture and a local cocoa cooperative. There I also met my spouse Dawid, and his new job on the Tohono O’odham Nation ultimately brought us to the Sky Island region… so a win-win-win!  

What brought you to Sky Island Alliance? 

After finishing my graduate studies in Conservation Ecology & GIS, I was eager to find an organization that valued conservation science and the importance of people and their communities. I knew I wanted a role where I could combine fieldwork, community outreach, program development, and some mapping here and there too. I had heard that sort of role would be tough to find and that I’d have to specialize… but then I learned about Sky Island Alliance and knew it would be a great fit!  

What is your favorite thing about the Sky Island region? 

I love the ecosystem variation as you drive or hike up in elevation. I’ve always appreciated microclimates at higher elevation where I’ve lived in the past, but I’ve never seen anything as dramatic as the Sky Island region. I continue to be fascinated by a drive to the summit of Mt. Lemmon in the Santa Catalinas—admiring the beloved saguaro and ocotillo in the desert scrub and desert grassland, to the woodlands filled with oaks like nothing akin to the oaks from the East, to the towering stands of ponderosa pine, and finally to see Douglas fir, one of my favorite species from Northern Michigan that I never thought I’d see again.   

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

When I first moved to Tucson, I was determined to explore as many of the Sky Island mountain ranges as possible. Every weekend I was out hiking but often on crowded trails with minimal wildlife sightings.

One Saturday morning, my partner and I were hiking up Wasson Peak, the tallest peak in the Tucson Mountains and just a short drive from our home. We’d gotten an early start to beat the heat and were headed back down, planning where we’d go for breakfast, when we heard wailing that sounded like a woman or child in serious distress.

Every turn we made on the trail it was getting louder, and we started to get nervous—who and what was being attacked or eaten!? With one last turn, we made it to the sound, but we couldn’t see anything. And then we looked up—a long, black-tipped tan tail swaying in the wind. Our first mountain lion! And, just a few miles from home, where we didn’t think we’d see anything more than a lizard. 

Finally, what’s one fun fact about you?

I’ve never had a hamburger or hotdog!

(Not that fun, but it always wins in a game of Never Have I Ever.) 


EMAIL: [email protected]


Meet Our Other Staff Members: