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Directors' Biographies FY24
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Dr. Tara McHugh 

Dr. McHugh received her B.S. from Cornell University and her Ph.D. from U.C. Davis, both in Food Science.  She is an internationally recognized expert in innovative food processing, edible films and nanoscience and a leader in high impact technology transfer. Her and her team’s cuttin​​g-edge science have positively impacted the food industry and rural economies, adding value to specialty crops and co-products, while creating jobs and improving human health and food safety. She authored 215 peer-reviewed publications and patents, many of which have been licensed, and led over 50 extramurally funded research projects.  She received a multitude of awards, including ARS’ Senior Scientist Award, two USDA Secretary Honors Awards, Arthur S. Flemming Award, three Federal Laboratory Consortium Awards and is a Fellow of the Institute of Food Technologists. Her research has an h-index of 57 and her manuscripts have received over 12,500 citations. Dr. McHugh has served multiple times in interim appointments for the Pacific West Area office including two acting assignments as Assistant Area Director and a recent appointment as Acting Area Director from April 1 to June 30, 2022.   

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Associate Director

Dr. John Dyer

Dr. Dyer joined the ARS in 1996 as a Research Chemist working at the Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans, Louisiana. He received a BA in Chemistry from Louisiana Tech University, PhD in Biochemistry from Louisiana State University, and post-doctoral training in cell biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. At SRRC, he developed a research program focused on the bioconversion of low-cost oils into value-added industrial oils. He discovered numerous genes and molecular mechanisms that enabled production of high-value oils in engineered microbes and plants. In 2007, he joined the ARS lab in Maricopa, Arizona, where he expanded research to include development of approaches for dramatically increasing oil content in biofuel crop plants. In 2014, he became Research Leader, leading a multidisciplinary team in development of methods for field-based, high-throughput phenotyping of crop plants.  

Dr. Dyer is internationally recognized for his work in production of industrially important oils and biofuels in plants, providing numerous lectures, organizing international scientific symposia, and serving on advisory boards for domestic and international institutions. He served as Co-Lead for an international consortium of scientists and policy makers focused on production of industrial lubricants in plants. He was PI or Co-PI on competitive grants totaling $17.5M, published over 130 research articles (>90 peer-reviewed), and served as an editor for Biotechnology for Biofuels. In 2019 he was accepted into the Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program, which included a 10-month detail working with REE Deputy Under Secretary Scott Hutchins as the U.S. Ag Innovation Strategy Coordinator. In September 2020, he joined the Pacific West Area Office as Associate Director, where he provides administrative oversight and support for project execution in an 8-state area. John and his wife have been married for over 30 years, have two college-aged girls, and love spending time together with family, traveling, and seeing the world. 

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Associate Director

Dr. Fredrick (Fred) Pierson

Dr. Fred Pierson is the Research Leader at the Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, ID. He received his B.S. degree in Range Management from Humboldt State University in 1983, his M.S. in Forest and Range Science in 1985 and Ph.D. in Soil Physics in 1988 from Washington State University. He began his career with ARS as a Post Doc in 1988 at the Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, ID. Dr. Pierson has conducted research on the ecohydrological impacts of changing plant community attributes associated with expansion of juniper woodlands, wild and prescribed fire, and implementation of rangeland conservation practices. He has been a leader in developing the Rangeland Hydrology and Erosion Model (RHEM), the first and only erosion model developed specifically for rangeland applications. RHEM is now in widespread use across the US and in many foreign countries. Dr. Pierson became Research Leader in 2007 and leads six scientists in efforts to improve predictions of water supplies held in mountainous snowpacks, water, energy and carbon balances of dryland ecosystems, and management, utilization and restoration of sagebrush plant communities. His Unit operates the ARS Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in southwest Idaho with over 60 years of historical data and information that now provides the foundation for the ARS Great Basin Long-Term Agroecosystem Research (LTAR) Network site, the NSF funded Critical Zone Observatory, and countless regional, national and international research collaborations. Dr. Pierson has over 200 publications, served for three years as a PWA Research Leader Advisory Council representative during the Year of the RL, and currently serves on the Leadership Team for the LTAR Network.