Staff Associates

Kwiaht is a scientific cooperative that employs local scientists and students part-time on a project basis.  This enables us to draw on a wide variety of technical skills and experience without a large, costly permanent workforce or full-time administrative staff.  The quality of Kwiaht’s work reflects the exceptional people of the San Juan Islands, from the young professionals that have chosen to raise families here, or to conduct research in the islands between advanced degrees, to well-established researchers that have retired to the islands after a successful career in academia or industry.  Featured here are some of the scientific associates currently working at Kwiaht.

Kwiaht offers excellent opportunities for recent university graduates to devote themselves full-time to research and conservation in the unique marine and terrestrial ecosystems of the San Juan Islands.  Two-month paid trial associateships are often available in a variety of fields.  Send your resumé and a sample of your research or teaching (written or video) to

Madrona Murphy is a Reed graduate in botany and political science who worked as a technician at the University of Washington’s Center for Cell Dynamics at Friday Harbor Laboratories before establishing and managing Kwiaht’s genotyping laboratory.  As Kwiaht's botanist she also conducts botanical surveys, designs re-vegetation plans for restoration projects, and grows native food plants and heritage apple varieties in Kwiaht's research garden.  Born and raised on Lopez, Madrona is currently pursuing studies of native food plants, local populations of salmon, heritage fruit trees, black-tailed deer, and island bats.

Christian Oldham graduated from Davidson College with a B.S. in Biology, where he worked in the Southeastern US as a technician conducting research focused on herpetofauna and freshwater ecology. He received his M.S. in Forestry and Natural Resource Sciences from the University of Kentucky, where he continued pursuing his research interests throughout the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. As a recent transplant to Orcas Island, Christian has assisted with several of the ongoing research projects being conducted by Kwiaht and is excited to become further involved in research in the San Juan Islands.

Brett Jensen, a native of the Pacific Northwest and a proud "Mossback" Brett grew up in and around Olympia as well as the pacific coast. An avid fisher, forager, and gardener Brett has been volunteering with Kwiaht since 2010 and formally started working for Kwiaht  in the summer of 2021. Brett has helped with reptile and plant surveys and taken the lead on organizing Kwiaht's oyster breakwater project in fisherman's Bay on Lopez. He's currently working on our heritage cider project. Brett is also the gardener at the Lopez school, where teaches the students about grow food and raising animals. When not work he can usually be found kayaking fishing or foraging around the islands. 

Rosie Cayou James is Kwiaht's traditional foods specialist and spiritual advisor. She describes herself  "I am of many heritages, Samish, Swinomish , Lummi ,
Tulalip, Tswout, and French and Hawaiian. My passion is to share my knowledge of the teachings of my ancestors.  I have a dream, to one day, be a inspiration to new inspirators.
One of my goals is to have more on hands on classes in indigenous foods and knowledge.
My mission will be to share my knowledge with all tied to San Juan islands, the surrounding tribes, and interested public of San Juan islands."
Leah Johnson holds a B.A.S. from The Evergreen State College. Her undergraduate work centered on quantum optics and she later conducted research on the interaction of atmospheric plasma on thin metals at a private laboratory. 
Leah currently works as an applied statistician and assistant field technician for Kwiaht. Recent projects include Pacific sand lance population genetics and navigating acoustic data concerning island bat populations.
She enjoys spending her time tutoring university students and disentangling complex research questions.
She lives on Orcas Island in a house full of people, cats, and chickens.
Joe Behnke studied seabirds at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology participated in a research apprenticeship at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs where he surveyed sea birds and marine mammals in San Juan Channel. He also worked as a Marbled Murrelet surveyor in the North Cascade Foothills, spying on the inland-nesting seabirds whose documented presence preserves old growth habitat and surrounding forestland.  Joe lives on Lopez Island and teaches science at Lopez School as well as working as a field biologist for Kwiáht.
Nathan Hodges received his B.S. from Portland State University with a research focus on urban hydrology and the ecology of terrestrial mollusks, then completed a Masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of California-Berkeley.  Nathan has extensive practical experience in green building and design, including rainwater harvesting and bioremediation, as well as use of GIS for mapping and modeling landscape processes. He designs shoreline restorations and maps habitat change for Kwiaht, builds bat and bird boxes, and teaches studios on green design in local schools.
Julia Mira has a rusty BA in mathematics from Pomona College and a well-used MA in education from Claremont Graduate School. In recent decades she’s been teaching on an off-the-grid island in a two-room schoolhouse, and painting and drawing on the side. She’s currently working on drawings of pollinators for Kwiaht. She has a strong intuitive understanding of gardening and, as Kwiaht’s research gardener, hopes to bring that skill towards rigor. As a result of training from Russel Barsh, Julia will now pit her ability to make a juvenile salmon vomit against anyone’s in the world.