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Irvine Ranch Conservancy Staff Spotlight: Robert Freese, Ph.D., Senior Project Manager

​​Innovation in science, research and monitoring is central to Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s commitment to long-term land stewardship and restoration. The Conservancy collaborates with partners on the land to implement large-scale habitat restoration, remove invasive plant and animal species, monitor sensitive natural resources, and conduct scientific research to improve management over time.
As a Senior Project Manager for Irvine Ranch Conservancy, Robert Freese is an integral part of the short- and long-term planning of restoration efforts on the Landmarks. With a background in restoration planning, design, monitoring, and adaptive management, Robert oversees the restoration of upland and riparian habitats throughout the open space.
Before joining the Irvine Ranch Conservancy team, Robert earned a Ph.D. and MS degrees in Soil Science from North Carolina State University and a BA in Anthropology from Vassar College. Throughout his career, Robert has had opportunities to work as a restoration ecologist in California and Florida, a soil scientist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and as a hydro-ecologist for the St. Johns River Water Management District.
“Restoration projects are long-term endeavors that last several years,” said Robert. “I like those moments when I get surprised by the resilience of nature and its ability to rebound from disturbance.”
Robert typically manages about three or four major projects throughout the year, along with a few minor projects. His choice to pursue a career in restoration work was driven by the tangible sense of accomplishment that he experiences when a restoration project succeeds. Robert also enjoys getting to know one piece of land and what it has to offer, despite the challenges that some areas often present.
One of the most challenging projects Robert has worked on for Irvine Ranch Conservancy was the restoration of Bee Flat Canyon. Due to the scale of the project and complexity of a historic drought, it became difficult to access, maintain and monitor the numerous, widely scattered restoration sites. However, Robert and his team took these challenges as learning opportunities for a successful project.
Robert is currently preparing for the next big project, which will be in partnership with OC Waste and Recycling and OC Parks. The project will take place in Orange County’s Trabuco Canyon and focus on restoring the riparian habitats along Trabuco Creek.
As an outdoor enthusiast and nature lover, Robert is passionate about anything involving the outdoors. In his free time, Robert enjoys volunteering with the homeless community in downtown Long Beach.
“I have a fondness for a place in Limestone Canyon called Mustard Road, just east of Agua Chinon,” said Freese. “It’s a pretty badly degraded habitat and hardly anyone goes there. It has a forlorn and lonely quality, but I like to imagine what it might be like if it were restored.”
The success of Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s habitat restoration efforts to improve the health of the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks is thanks to the knowledge and dedication of project managers like Robert and his team members.
To learn more about restoration projects throughout the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks and how you can get involved, visit