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Exit interview with Ryan Swanson, our 2022 – 2023 Climate Fellow

Our inaugural Parks California Climate Fellow, Ryan Swanson, recently wrapped up his fellowship where, for the last year, he has been providing scientific expertise and assistance to several departments across California State Parks, such as the Natural Resource Division, Districts, Service Centers, and other Divisions to support climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

Before he left to start his new job, Ryan reflected on the past year and where he thought he made the most significant contributions. “Incorporating climate change into key planning processes is something State Parks is prioritizing, and in my role, I was happy to have the opportunity to boost this effort. We made great progress over the year and created new statewide guidelines for integrating climate planning into State Parks documents,” Ryan said.

Becky Rittenburg, who oversees the Climate Fellowship program, had this to say about working with Ryan: “A core component of our Resource Stewardship Program is to equip State Parks’ leaders with the best tools and information necessary to plan for climate change and develop adaptation strategies to prepare these impacts. What impressed me most about Ryan is how he jumped right in, led research efforts, and brought thoughtful recommendations  to State Park decisionmakers. Ryan coordinated a statewide Climate Change Working Group comprised of scientists, managers, engineers, interpreters – to name a few – to share research and to develop tools. These critical resources will aid park managers to make climate-informed decisions to address today and tomorrow’s threats of sea level rise, catastrophic wildfire, flooding, and extreme heat. We all loved working with Ryan, and we know future Parks California Climate Fellows will benefit from the resources he developed.”

Ryan also noted, “Before this fellowship, I didn’t know a whole lot about working within state parks and didn’t think about it as a career path. Now I see so many interesting opportunities. I’d be interested in having a job someday with California State Parks, such as in coastal planning to deal with the climate impacts of sea level rise. This fellowship helped me to think deeply about climate policy and program implementation.”

As a bridge between State Parks and Parks California, I enjoyed having the opportunity to help. This was a meaningful position, and I think we created a solid foundation so that the next climate fellow can take things even further,” Ryan added.

Parks California launched its Climate Fellowship in 2022 as a unique opportunity to work with California State Park leadership, scientists, and planners to shape how climate change is considered in future state park planning and stewardship efforts.

Ryan came to Parks California last year following his graduate program at the University of California, Davis, where he studied environmental science and policy, graduating with a Master of Science degree. His research primarily included investigating the factors that shape cities’ decisions to develop climate adaptation and resiliency plans and incorporating climate change into their natural hazard planning efforts. This included a project centered on sustainability, interviewing local government officials about their decision-making in response to recycling, market disruptions, and increased micro-mobility use such as dock-less e-scooters and e-bikes. Prior to attending UC Davis, Ryan earned a Master’s in Marine Affairs from the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle, as well as studying abroad for a tropical and marine ecology and conservation semester in Ecuador.

When it was time to consider the next step in his career path, Ryan said he may not have gotten his next job without this experience. “My new employer told me that I stood out because of my background working on implementing climate protocols into planning documents. I’ll be taking what I learned when I start my new job to help develop climate adaptation planning services for small cities and organizations.”

All of us at Parks California thank Ryan and wish him all the best in his future endeavors. And we have a feeling our paths will cross again…in the parks.


(We’re currently accepting applications for our next Climate Fellow, and this year we are looking for two people to join us! Take a look at the details here.)