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Meet Shirley Innecken of Local Ecologist

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shirley Innecken.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am the daughter of immigrants from Costa Rica. My parents arrived in the US in the sixties – first my father, and then my mother and sister. I was born in Mission Hills and raised in Clairemont. My family life was challenging for many reasons, and I was both an outspoken and insecure child.

I have always found nature fascinating and nurturing. However, although I did well in science and math, my inherent talents center more around the arts… which was clear from an early age. Nonetheless, I pursued science as a direct rebellion from my perceived Catholic School repression. In the second grade, I refused to attend Holy Family anymore and told my mother that she would be enrolling me in a science-based magnet school program as soon as I hit middle school. In the interim, I attended a local elementary school in a neighborhood strife with dysfunction and drug dealers.

Thus, although I knew that art and design was my true calling, I pursued science as a personal ambition that would prove my intellectual capabilities, and disprove my nagging thoughts of self-doubt. In the meantime, my true times of solace were spent drawing at a drafting table that had been a gift from my engineer step-father.

In college at a small town in Northern California, I found myself drawn toward ethnobotany and ecology. I was endlessly fascinated by the intersection between humans and our natural environment. I began to discover a love of sociology, anthropology and the world of plants and habitats. I found mentors in the world of botany and restoration ecology, and have been there ever since. I spent time on the Hawaiian Islands, where I really began to understand the richness inherent in the kingdom of plants.

Today I work as an ecologist for the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy whose vision is “a world where biodiversity is preserved and people act to conserve nature and embrace it as central to a healthy community.” The Conservancy is really more of a family, where we strive to do the best science, while always learning, teaching and engaging our local communities. I really enjoy my job, yet still have fantasies of side projects in graphic and interior design, xeriscaping and photography.

Has it been a smooth road?
I would say it has not been a smooth road. My mother, escaping the sadness of having left her family in Costa Rica and her divorce from my father, became a heavy drinker. My brother, sharing in her grief, turned to drug use. I was the youngest child, trying not only to understand my distant heritage but also how to navigate a home-life that felt unsafe.

On top of that, my mother and I had a communication disconnect on both a language and culture level. As I mentioned previously, I suffered deep insecurity as a side-effect of living among what felt like emotional chaos. I think my precocious nature served as a survival mechanism, but it also contributed to the build-up of walls of rage and defense.

I turned to friends as a balm for my fear and loneliness. And, lucky for me, I’ve always had incredible friends.

However, I’ve had to learn to rely on myself, rather than others, to fulfill myself. This wasn’t always easy. But now, as a 44-year old woman, I look back and find myself grateful for all the harsh and beautiful lessons. This life has taught me deep empathy, love and compassion for all things living. I truly feel we are part of a global community that includes other humans as well as our natural-world companions. I hope to contribute to our evolution as a species by modeling the value and joy of connection.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Local Ecologist story. Tell us more about the business.
I can speak to my work, as I do not currently own a business. I am a restoration ecologist whose job it is to work on behalf of local ecological health and biodiversity. I am currently most proud of where I work, and with whom I work.

I am surrounded by the most talented and down-to-earth staff of scientists, educators, artists, and communicators. What sets us apart are our values and intentions. With passion and commitment, we are working toward rebuilding and protecting habitat and species, while instilling the same ethics into the communities around us. This includes conserving beautiful and calming outdoor space for human use. Our approach is integrative and future-thinking.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Considering our shifting environments, and limited open space and water resources, I see us continually evolving to meet the needs of both our human and natural communities. Shifts and trends will progress along a trajectory that looks at ecological and urban threats such as increases in fire, drought and mean temperature, and how to manage such threats.


Image Credit:

Shirley Innecken; Joe DeWolf

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Jessica Rios

    July 16, 2018 at 11:09 am

    What a rich piece about one bright person’s curiosity and challenges, and how they have led to work that is a gift for all of humanity. Thank you for your work Shirley! Plants really are remarkable and they have so much to teach. You are listening.

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