2024 NPSNM Speaker Biographies


Keynote Speaker

William deBuys is the author of ten books, the most recent of which, The Trail to Kanjiroba: Rediscovering Earth in an Age of Loss (2021), completes a trilogy that includes The Last Unicorn: A Search for One of Earth’s Rarest Creatures (2015) and A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (2011). His River of Traps (with photographer Alex Harris) was a Pulitzer Prize nonfiction finalist in 1991. In the early years of his career he worked in land conservation for The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund in various states, especially New Mexico and Arizona. More recently, he co-wrote the feature documentary, The Colorado, with director Murat Eyuboglu. He has been a Kluge Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Library of Congress (2018), a Guggenheim Fellow (2008-2009), and a Lyndhurst Fellow (1986-1988). He chaired the Valles Caldera Trust in the first four years of its administration of the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve (2001-2004). He lives on the farm he has tended since 1976 in the remote village of El Valle in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Speakers and Activity Leaders

Erin Berkowitz received a BA in biology at Ursuline College followed by several seasons of vegetation surveys for Cleveland Metroparks and working field botany jobs around the country. She was herbarium workroom manager and curatorial assistant at California Botanic Garden, the 10th largest U.S. herbarium. Erin has been pursuing an MS at UNM Herbarium Albuquerque and hopes to work in botanical collections management after she graduates in Fall, 2024. Her thesis investigates the effects of climate change on alpine plant phenology using over 150 years of herbarium specimen data and two decades of iNaturalist data.

Olivia Carril has been studying wild bees for over 25 years in environments throughout the West.  She studied the bees of Pinnacles National Monument for her BS, and bees of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument for her MSc.  Olivia’s PhD tracked the evolution of host plant preference in a specialist bee, Diadasia.  Recently, she has studied the pollinators of New Mexico’s rare plants and has conducted surveys of bee communities  on public lands to establish baseline population information.  She authored three books on bees:  The Bees in Your BackyardThe Common Bees of the Eastern U.S., and The Common Bees of the Western U.S. 

Roberta Chambers has been a resident of Ranchos de Taos for five years, designing and developing her own native plant garden. She is the Taos Chapter’s liaison with UNM-Taos, assisting the staff in planning a native plant area near the bee hives on campus, using grant funds from the Bee Campus USA Designation. Roberta is also involved as a community member in the plans for the new UNM Observatory as well as more trails, including an art walk highlighting sculptures and plants.

Paul Cross founded Charybda Farms in Arroyo Hondo NM in 1998, originally producing organic herb and vegetable starts, microgreens, floriculture, and fresh vegetables for the wholesale market. The farm’s 3,000 square foot greenhouse is exclusively irrigated from rain and snow catchment, with a 17,000 gallon water storage system. Paul has spoken nationally on sustainable agriculture at national conferences. He recently scaled down the farm to pursue lifelong learning about the native plants of the southwest, and supply plant materials for regional restoration projects and home gardeners while pretending he is retired.

Sam DesGeorges has deep roots in Northern New Mexico, continuing in his ancestors’ footsteps, farming lands that have been in his family for generations.  His educational background is in wildlife and plant sciences, with his BS in Wildlife Biology.  Sam worked as a public lands resources manager with the BLM until his retirement in 2015. After serving on the Board of the Taos Valley Acequia Association (TVAA) for nine years, he is the current President.  The TVAA works on implementing the Taos Valley Water Rights Settlement of 1988, serves to advocate for the centuries old Acequias throughout the Taos Valley, and strives to educate the public about Acequias and the need for enhanced water conservation actions.

Sage Dunn, originally from northern New Mexico, has worked as a wildlife biologist since she received her BA from Evergreen State College. After graduating from the University of Oxford with an MS, focusing on Conservation Biology and Wildlife Management, she returned to NM as wildlife biologist at Valles Caldera. Sage then worked for two years collecting evidence for the federal government against British Petroleum after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She now works at the BLM Taos Field Office, building an extensive aquatic habitat program, where she is planning a five-year push to identify priority riparian sites for restoration.

Melanie Gisler is the Branch Director for the Institute of Applied Ecology’s Southwest Office in Santa Fe, NM.  Since 1993, her career has focused on native plant materials development, including native seed collection, seed cleaning and handling, assessing appropriate seed transfer zones, seed predation, nursery and farm production of native plants, and using native seed in restoration and research projects.  She established two regional native seed partnerships, including the Southwest Seed Partnership, and co-developed the Native Seed Network, an interactive website that connects buyers and sellers of native seed.

Rachel Jankowitz has degrees in Biology and Wildlife Management and has lived in northern New Mexico since 1999. She recently retired from a career that included construction project quality control, industrial hygiene, and wildlife habitat conservation. Most recently, she worked as an environmental scientist with the NMED Surface Water Quality Bureau. Rachel served as state Conservation Chair of the NPSNM from 2014 to 2023, keeping all chapters informed of conservation issues, legislation, liaising with federal and state services and advocating for conservation positions and outcomes on behalf of the state NPSNM.  She is currently a member of the Taos Chapter.

Jan-Willem Jansens is the owner and principal of Ecotone Landscape Planning in Santa Fe, NM. Based on formal training in agricultural sciences, landscape architecture, forest ecology, and soil and water conservation in The Netherlands, he has built a career as an ecological restoration planner. In his business, Jan-Willem works in collaborative endeavors to improve soil health, heal plant communities, and restore ecological functions in wetlands and watersheds, from a site scale to a landscape scale. He aims to organize and inspire landowners and users to care for the evolving health, productivity, and beauty of the land.

Dan Jones lives a life of intentions, including an innate passion for sustainability and following the principles of permaculture. His design philosophy is rooted in learning from and mimicking Mother Nature. Dan’s SpiriTaos Gardens demonstrate a creative blending of true New Mexico natives with other climate-appropriate plants and a few garden favorites The gardens are set in lowland meadows with berms necessary to achieve the drainage for many natives to thrive. The gardens’ pathways lead you through the whimsical garden structure, by several water features and the eclectic, nature-inspired additions of tree trunks and boulders.

Joseph Kleinkopf is a PhD student at the University of New Mexico and the Museum of Southwestern Biology advised by Dr. Hannah Marx. He previously completed his BA at the University of Colorado and an MS at Washington State University. He taught science to middle and high school students before starting his PhD program studying the ecology and evolution of alpine plants across North America. Additionally, he is particularly interested in understanding the evolution of Erigeron, many species of which are found across alpine and arctic environments, to learn about when and where tolerance to alpine habitats evolved.

Catherine Langley has a BA in Geology and is currently studying  art at UNM-Taos. She has worked with the cyanotype process for the past two years incorporating it into her art.

Shelby Leonard has been hiking and admiring the wildflowers of northern New Mexico for more than 25 years. With our changing environmental conditions, each season reveals familiar faces in the plant world and brings new surprises as well.

Jan Martenson moved to Taos with her husband after both had retired from laboratory research positions with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. She joined the Taos Chapter of NPSNM in 2008, became the Chapter Rep to the State board in 2012, and took on the presidency of the chapter in 2015, which she held for seven years. Jan purchased her first native plant seedlings from the Taos chapter’s greenhouse in the summer of 2008 and some of their progeny are now wide-spread throughout her property.

Cameron Martinez is an enrolled tribal member of Taos Pueblo and is also half Laguna Pueblo.  He grew up at Taos Pueblo and currently lives there. Cameron completed a degree in Forest Management Science at Colorado State University followed by working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in NM.  He later returned to CSU in the specialized field of Silviculture, the study of forest ecosystems. In 2003 he was selected to attend the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as a Senior Executive Fellow in Public Policy and Administration. Currently Cameron is retired, but does consulting whenever possible in the area of natural resources management and planning.

Judith Phillips is a landscape designer, garden writer, and teacher with 35 years’ experience designing gardens in the high desert. She loves working with native and xeric plants because they are beautiful, conserve water, and support wildlife. Her design projects include thousands of home gardens in the Southwest, as well as a hospital healing garden, habitat gardens at two national wildlife refuges and a pollinator garden in an Albuquerque city park. In addition to her design books, she is currently working on a book of strategies for coping with climate extremes in southwestern gardens and teaches an arid-adapted plants class in the landscape architecture master’s degree program at UNM-ABQ.

Renee Galeano-Popp is a semi-retired Botanist/Forest Ecologist also known as the "Pine Cone Lady." She did her graduate and undergraduate work in Flagstaff at NAU. Her MS thesis was titled "Ordination and Classification of Plant Communities on the North Kaibab Ranger District, Arizona." She spent 20 years in the Forest Service including three years as Regional Botanist in Albuquerque. She currently resides in Santa Fe, NM.

Southwest Seed Partnership Seed Collection Crew
The Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) is a non-profit organization that conserves species and habitats through restoration, research, and education. Because restoration work often starts with seed, IAE founded and continues to lead the Southwest Seed Partnership, a collaborative group that is seeking to develop locally sourced and genetically diverse native plants for restoration. Since 2015, the SWSP has coordinated more than 2,000 native seed collections throughout New Mexico and Arizona. Each year, the SWSP trains early career conservationists who work seasonally to identify, map, track, and collect seed from diverse forbs and grasses.

Dean Swift was a couple of years out of college when he moved to a small property with water rights in Jaroso, CO. Since then he has been wholesaling conifer trees from seeds collected in NM, CO, AZ and SD, used for landscaping and in Christmas tree production in the U.S., Europe and China. With mixed success, Dean is also growing native forbs for use in reclamation projects. He will discuss why natives do not lend themselves to mechanical harvesting, thus complicating his production process. From trials with over 100 forb species, Dean Swift Seed Co. also grows and sells about a dozen wildflowers, with a few others in the pipeline.

Photo credit Dean Swift