Andrea Pickart, Kin to the Earth


by Annie Eicher and Linda Miller


We are pleased to offer this tribute to our dear friend and colleague, Andrea Pickart, a true Kin to the Earth. For nearly forty years, we’ve enjoyed Andrea’s friendship and we’ve had the privilege of assisting her with research on north coast dunes and wetlands. In the pursuit of science, we’ve faced sand-blasting winds, waded into icy winter waves, and carried heavy survey equipment up and down dunes. In reward, we’ve been able to listen to the chorus of treefrogs in the dune hollows after a spring rain, watch the dance of Sanderlings in flight as they swoop and turn in unison, and witness the glory of dunemat ablaze with blooming Menzies’ wallflowers. (Andrea still gets excited every year when the first wallflowers bloom!) A fun weekend outing with Andrea is a hike across dunes in a rainstorm to watch king tide storm waves crash against the foredunes. Life doesn’t get much better than that!


Andrea is an ecologist at the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge), which includes the Lanphere and Ma-le’l Dunes Units on the North Spit of Humboldt Bay. She began at Lanphere in 1984, working for The Nature Conservancy until stewardship of the dunes was transferred to the Refuge in 1997. Andrea’s love and appreciation of these unique dunes as an integral part of the Humboldt Bay ecosystem have guided her over the past four decades. She has become a leader in the development and implementation of innovative coastal dune restoration techniques. Her work serves as an inspiration and model for other restorationists locally and at other west coast locations. Andrea has shared her findings in numerous scientific publications and at professional conferences, community meetings, and field tours. Recently retired Refuge Manager Eric Nelson says, “No mention of dune ecology and/or restoration on the North Coast, or indeed California, is complete without including Andrea’s name. Andrea has put monumental study and effort into dune conservation for decades, and her passion for this amazingly unique and rare coastal ecosystem has benefited everything that is part of it.”

An appreciation of nature that goes beyond science, evident in Andrea’s stunning photography and artwork, was sparked at an early age. As a child in rural Maryland, she explored wild places with her two sisters and four brothers, and she identified wildflowers with her mother. In high school, Andrea backpacked and explored caves in Maryland’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley. She completed her B.A. in Geology in 1979 at the University of Rhode Island, where her father was Chairman of the Physics Department. 

Painting of Lanphere Dunes by Andrea Pickart. (Photo courtesy of Eric Nelson)

Andrea has lived in Arcata since 1982, and she raised two children here. In 1988, she completed her M.A. in Biology at Humboldt State University (HSU), with thesis research on the biology of selected local coastal dune plant species. Andrea’s major professor, the late Dr. John Sawyer, became a lifelong friend and colleague. Andrea and John co-authored a book on the ecology and restoration of northern California coastal dunes, and she illustrated a field guide to the trees and shrubs of California that John wrote with HSU forestry professor Dr. John Stuart. 

Andrea has been instrumental in local dune restoration. Her work at the Refuge’s Lanphere and Ma-le’l Dunes Units demonstrated how natural dune processes such as sand movement, essential for proper ecosystem function, could be restored following the removal of invasive plants. Invasive European beachgrass, yellow bush lupine, and iceplant have effectively been removed from the Refuge’s dunes — an impressive feat that many people thought was impossible at the onset. Today the restored dunes support a diverse and colorful community of native dune plants, including thriving populations of two federally endangered plants: Menzies’ wallflower and beach layia. 

A two-decade effort by multiple public agencies and community partners, of which Andrea was an integral part, led to formation of the Ma-le’l Dunes Cooperative Management Area. The northern portion of the management area is the Refuge’s Ma-le’l Dunes Unit, and the southern portion is owned by the Bureau of Land Management. This wonderful place provides public access to coastal dunes, forests, and tidal sloughs, with ample opportunities for hiking, botanizing, or birdwatching. 

In January 2021, Lanphere and Ma-le’l Dunes were designated a National Natural Landmark, an honor bestowed by the National Park Service in recognition of the dunes’ “outstanding biological and geological resources.” Andrea has long known how special these dunes are and she is delighted to see their national significance recognized.

Andrea’s love of the dunes shines through in her paintings and photography. Photo by Andrea Pickart

Coastal dunes are not the only habitat to benefit from Andrea’s work. Her research and development of effective control methods to remove the invasive grass Spartina from salt marshes has been adopted by an on-going region-wide Spartina eradication program. Marshes treated thus far show an astounding natural recovery by native salt marsh plants, including rare plants.

For the last five years, Andrea has been working on the Humboldt Coastal Resiliency Project, an effort to better understand sand dynamics as it relates to the dunes and to predict the effects of sea level rise. The study covers the coastline from Trinidad to Centerville, with multiple local agency partners and collaborators.

Andrea loves to invoke the phrase “it takes a village….” She collaborates with researchers from around the world and community members alike, and she is quick to give thanks and praise. She has hosted countless potlucks to welcome out-of-town researchers and to foster collaboration. Andrea is well known and loved by budding scientists for her mentorship. Laurel Goldsmith, botanist with the Arcata office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says, “Andrea takes time to teach people and connect with them on a personal level. It made all the difference in the world for me.”  

We know that we’re not alone in expressing deep gratitude to Andrea for the gifts she has given us personally and the gifts she has given to the earth through restoration and protection of fragile coastal dunes and wetlands, a legacy that will endure for years to come.