2017 Texas Land Conservation Conference

Austin, Texas
Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Texas Land Conservation Conference 2017 Speaker Bios

Bob Ayres

Owner and Managing Partner, Shield Ranch

Robert A. Ayres is the Managing Partner of the Shield Ranch, located on Barton Creek southwest of Austin.  The ranch is protected by conservation easements held by the City of Austin and the Nature Conservancy of Texas.  He is also the President of El Ranchito, a nature immersion summer camp for inner-city youth located on the Shield Ranch. Ayres currently serves on the Board of the Land Trust Alliance. He has served on the Board of the Nature Conservancy of Texas as well as the founding Board of the Hill Country Conservancy. 


Toby Baker

Commissioner, Texas commission on Environmental Equality

Along with his two fellow full-time commissioners, Baker establishes overall agency direction and policy, and makes final determinations on contested permitting and enforcement matters.  Baker also serves as Governor Abbott's appointee to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, represents Texas as the chair on the Gulf of Mexico Alliance Management Team, and serves on the Coastal Land Advisory Board.

Prior to his appointment, Baker was a policy and budget advisor on energy, natural resources and agriculture issues for the Governor’s Office, where he was also the liaison between the office and members of the Legislature, constituents, the Railroad Commission of Texas, the TCEQ, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Animal Health Commission. He is a past natural resource policy advisor to Sen. Craig Estes, and the former director and clerk of the Texas Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Coastal Resources.

Baker received a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University, where he was a member of the Corps of Cadets, and a Master of Public Service and Administration from the Texas A&M George Bush School of Government and Public Service. He is also a graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School and the Governor’s Executive Development Program at the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Affairs.


Elizabeth Barber

Coordinator, Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation

Liz Barber of Flora Mississippi is a certified wildlife biologist and conservation planner.  Since 2010 she has served as a coordinator the Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation, a  regional coalition of 26 local, state, regional and national land trusts and conservancies whose collective mission is to increase the pace, quality and permanence of voluntary land and water conservation in the Gulf coast region. The Gulf Partnership was formed under the auspices of the Land Trust Alliance in 2010, and is patterned after successful land trust coalitions in other regions of the country.

Liz is also Vice President of Barber & Mann, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in conservation easements, land planning, real estate and environmental consulting. In addition to her work for Gulf Partnership, assists NGOs, public agencies and private landowners with plans, projects and programs focused on land conservation and wetlands, coastal and wildlife habitat restoration.

She holds an undergraduate degree in Forestry and Wildlife from Mississippi State University and a Master of Science in Communication from Mississippi College. She was recently named Mississippi State University’s 2017 Alumnus of the Year for the College of Forest Resources.


Jim Bradbury

Attorney, James D Bradbury PLLC

After spending many years in large law firms, Jim Bradbury left to form his own practice focused on land, environmental, water and regulatory matters, including the imminent water policy issues facing rural Texas.  His firm has offices in Fort Worth and Austin. Mr. Bradbury advises clients on land use and permitting as well as enforcement matters before state authorities, EPA and the Department of Justice and handles civil litigation that arises out of environmental issues.  Jim has a focus on the legal and policy issues facing Texas landowners and producers, working with statewide agricultural associations on legislative and regulatory matters.  His firm also prepares and submits appellate amicus briefing to the Texas Supreme Court on issues of statewide importance to the agriculture industry.  Mr. Bradbury also has significant experience in the environmental aspects of hydraulic fracturing production, eminent domain and pipelines. Mr. Bradbury is an adjunct Professor at Texas A&M Law School, currently teaching Ag Law and Eminent Domain.  He regularly speaks on landowner rights and water issues as they affect Texas public policy and serves as Chair of the Board of the Texas Land Trust Council and is a member of the Texas Agriculture Land Trust working to conserve working farms and ranches.


Don Canaday

Principal, Valbridge Property Advisors

R. Don Canaday, MAI, SRA is a Certified Appraiser and Broker in the State of Texas.  He is a principal of the firm of Dugger, Canaday, Grafe, Inc./Valbridge Property Advisors.  He is a graduate of Southwest Texas State University and has been a real property appraiser since 1975 having appraised most property types including commercial, industrial, farm and ranch, residential, retail, special purpose, and mixed-use developments.  He is qualified as an expert witness in federal, state, and county courts and has had considerable experience in testifying as an expert witness in eminent domain matters and civil litigation.  He is a past president of the San Antonio Board of Realtors, a past president of the Appraisal Institute-South Texas Chapter, and past chairman of the regulatory board which certifies and licenses appraisers in the State of Texas.


Peggy Cole

Program Manager, Holistic Management International

Peggy Cole has been involved with Holistic Management since 1989, producing Holistic Management educational and outreach materials and educational programming in Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and California. In her days of yore, she was a professional journalist and photographer, as well as a breeder of Arabian horses and German Shorthaired Pointers. She now lives in Wimberley, Texas where she has developed techniques and strategies for managing horses on a very rocky small-acreage ranchette. Peggy Cole loves everything about the natural world. She is an intrepid explorer of internal as well as external landscapes. In her spare time she is working on her first novel.


Chase Curry

Natural Resources/General Manager, San Pedro Ranch

Chase Currie, Ph.D. graduated with his Ph.D. in Range and Wildlife Management from The Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He was the Natural Resources Manager for the San Pedro Ranch from 2012-2015, where he focused primarily on restoring land damaged by oilfield and pipeline activity in the Eagle Ford Shale, as well as watershed management and forage enhancement. In January of 2016, Chase became the General Manager for the San Pedro Ranch. The San Pedro Ranch has been under a conservation easement since December of 2009, and practiced HMI since the late 90s. The San Pedro Ranch currently uses cattle as a tool to create a more sustainable rangeland.   


Frank Davis

Director of Conservation, Hill Country Conservancy

Frank Davis grew up in Texas and came to Austin in 1997, where he fell in love with the parks and natural areas of the Texas Hill Country.  He is the Director of Land Conservation at Hill Country Conservancy and recently completed a six-year tenure as a board member for the Texas Land Trust Council.  Since 2005, Frank has managed conservation easement acquisition and stewardship at HCC, including several acquisitions using funding from the NRCS Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP, now ACEP), to conserve over 7,900 acres of critical Hill Country properties.  Frank’s responsibilities include grant writing and administration, landowner relations, conservation easement drafting and negotiation, overseeing the drafting of baseline reports, land project management and easement stewardship.  Frank has a Bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master’s in wildlife ecology from Texas State University, where his thesis work analyzed the effects of growing season fire on the exotic invasive grass, King Ranch Bluestem.  Frank and his wife Jenny care for the water and wildlife at their family place in Mason County.   


Allison Elder

Director of Legal Services, San Antonio River Authority

Allison Elder is the Director of Legal Services for the San Antonio River Authority.  In this capacity she manages the legal needs of SARA and serves on the executive team.  Her career has focused on private land conservation and historic preservation.  Prior to joining SARA, Allison was the Vice-President and General Counsel of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, a statewide private land conservation organization.  She has also served as a Senior Attorney at the law firm of Braun & Gresham, and as Executive Director of the Bexar Land Trust.  She currently serves on the Texas Land Trust Council and the Board of Directors of Los Compadres, and has been a member of the long-time member of the Board of Directors for the San Antonio Conservation Society.  Allison has a finance degree and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.


Joseph Fitzsimons

Co-owner, San Pedro Ranch/Attorney, UFJB Law

                Joseph B.C. Fitzsimons is a third-generation South Texas rancher.  He has been involved in wildlife conservation for over 30 years, most recently serving as Chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.  Mr. Fitzsimons is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law. He is a partner at the law firm of Uhl, Fitzsimons, Jewett & Burton, PLLC.  He has served as Vice-President of the Texas Wildlife Association and is a Director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.  He is a former Chairman of the Parks and Wildlife Department’s Private Lands Advisory Board and, in 1999, was named by then Governor George W. Bush to serve on the Governor’s Task Force on Conservation.  In May of 2001, Governor Rick Perry appointed Mr. Fitzsimons to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission for a six year term, and Mr. Fitzsimons is now a Past Chairman of that agency.  In January of 2002, he was named to represent the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission on the Texas Water Advisory Council, which has the statutory responsibility to advise the Office of the Governor, Speaker of the House and the Lieutenant Governor on issues affecting Texas water policy. 


Larry French

Director, Groundwater Division, Texas Water Development Board

Larry French is the Director of the Groundwater Division at the Texas Water Development Board.  The Division staff conduct basic research and monitoring of the characteristics and conditions of the state's aquifers, develops and uses specialized models to predict groundwater availability, and provides technical assistance to organizations working to manage groundwater in Texas. Prior to joining the Texas Water Development Board in 2011, he was a consulting hydrogeologist on groundwater projects throughout the United States and Europe. Mr. French is licensed as a Professional Geologist in Texas, California, and Arkansas.  He received a B.S. in Geological Sciences from the University of California at Riverside and a M.A. in Geological Sciences from The University of Texas at Austin.

Marc Friberg

Executive Director - External and Regulatory Affairs Department, Edwards Aquifer Authority

Marc Friberg is the Executive Director of External & Regulatory Affairs for the Edwards Aquifer Authority.  In his role, Marc manages the EAA’s permitting, conservation, regulatory, and community outreach programs while providing support to the EAA in its legislative activities. Prior to joining the Authority, he worked for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in the Office of Legal Services.  Marc is a graduate of Baylor University and the Baylor University School of Law. 

Merrill Gregg

Conservation Finance Director, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation

Merrill Gregg joined Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation in March 2016 where she holds a dual role of Legacy Giving Director and Conservation Finance Director. Prior to joining the Foundation, Ms. Gregg was a Vice President of Marketing for Texas and the Southeast at Brigade Capital Management, a $16 billion dollar asset manager based in New York City. While at Brigade, Ms. Gregg raised capital for the firm’s long/short and long biased credit funds, which invest in leveraged capital structures of companies globally. A component of Brigade’s investment strategy includes making direct loans to companies in need of private financing. Ms. Gregg started her career at Goldman Sachs, where she worked in New York City and Hong Kong for eight years consulting hedge funds on capital raising. In this capacity, she worked closely with a number of direct lending platforms providing her with knowledge on the evaluation and extension of private loans. Ms. Gregg holds an A.B. in History from Princeton University and attended Columbia University Earth Institute’s Masters Program in Sustainability Management. 

Reggie Hall

Director of Land Conservation Loan Program, The Conservation Fund

Reggie Hall grew up and was educated in New England attending Williams College and Vermont Law School where he received his JD and MSEL degrees. For 3 years, he served as the Director of Land Protection at the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in Hendersonville, NC. He currently is the Director of TCF’s $50 million dollar Land Conservation Loan Program which provides financing and technical assistance to conservation groups across the United States and Canada.


Burgess Jackson

Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Burgess Jackson

Burgess Jackson is an Austin attorney specializing in conservation law, representing nonprofit organizations and public agencies.  In 2007, he completed a 20-year tenure in the National Resources Division of the Texas Attorney General’s office, where he practiced environmental and real estate transactions and litigation. Mr. Jackson was a founding board member of the Texas Land Trust Council and has been a speaker at the TLTC conference every year since 1997. He has served on the Land Trust Alliance Conservation Defense Advisory Council and Policy Advisory Council, and currently serves on the LTA Rally Program Committee.  Mr. Jackson has authored several publications in the field of conservation law, including Legal Steps to Starting a Land Trust in Texas, Eminent Domain and Conservation Properties, and Guiding Land Trusts through Political Season: The Prohibition on Political Campaign Activity by Charities.  He is a graduate of Louisiana State University and the University of Texas School of Law.


Jim Jefferies

Owner, Jeffries Appraisal Services

Jim has been a real estate appraiser who has for the last 25 years specialized in rural and ecologically significant properties.  He holds the professional appraisal designations, MAI – Member of the Appraisal Institute, and ARA – Accredited Rural Appraiser.  He has extensive valuation experience with Conservation Easements, Other Partial Interest Value Questions, Wetlands, Endangered Species and more typical Ranches and Rural Acreage.  Jim has taught the Conservation Easement Valuation Course for the Appraisal Institute as well as the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.  He has also taught the “Yellow Book” Appraisal Course for the Rural Appraiser organization.  Jim currently serves as a Board Member of the Texas Appraiser Licensing and Certification Board.  He is a past Chair and Board Member of the Texas Land Trust Council.  Jim is a self-employed appraiser with offices in Georgetown, Texas


Steve Jester

Executive Director, Partners for Conservation

Steve Jester is the Executive Director for Partners for Conservation (PFC) a national landowner-led group that works to further public-private partnerships to conserve working landscapes for people and nature. Prior to joining PFC, Steve was the Executive Director of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Trust. Steve was on the staff of The Nature Conservancy for a decade leading first in Texas and later in Wyoming after working for with state fish and wildlife agencies in Florida and Texas.  Steve has worked with private landowners throughout his career and deeply appreciates their critical importance in conserving working landscapes that provide food, fiber, water as well as fish and wildlife habitats that sustain our Nation. Steve earned a B.S. degree in Agriculture from Texas State University – San Marcos and a M.S. degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University.  He is a sixth generation Texan and resides in Blanco with his wife Suzanne and daughters Shelby and Shae.


George Kelly

Chief Markets Officer, Resource Environmental Solutions

Mr. Kelly is a graduate of Tulane University (B.A.) and a cum laude JD and MSL (Masters in Environmental Law) graduate of the Vermont Law School.  As the Chief Markets Officer for Resource Environmental Solutions, he has permitted and sold over $120m of environmental credits in the United States relating to water quality, wetlands, streams, and endangered species.  He has worked with numerous resource agencies, landowners, municipalities, investors and private and public credit buyers in the implementation of mitigation projects.  He has worked on resource mitigation projects and negotiated and implemented mitigation banking instruments in Maryland, Idaho, Montana, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, California and Florida as well has drafted and negotiated land deals with over 100 landowners for resource mitigation projects.  He has been a leader in promoting new polices at the federal, state and international levels relating to market-based solutions to achieve environmental objectives, including working on the recently promulgated US wetland mitigation rules enacted in June 2008. 

Mr. Kelly served on the Board for almost ten years and was elected as the President of the National Mitigation Banking Association (US) in 2009.  Additionally, he was appointed to serve on the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP), the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Nutrient Trading Task Force, the Advisory Committee to the Water Quality Fund for the Chesapeake Bay, the National Water Quality Trading Alliance.

Prior to joining RES in 2014, Mr. Kelly was the founder and director for Environmental Banc & Exchange, LLC from 1997 to 2014.  In addition, he served as partner and member of the Environmental Law Group at the firm, Ober, Kaler, Grimes and Shriver from 1987 to 1997.


Jeremiah Leibowitz

Program Director, Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources

Jeremiah Leibowitz joined the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources in March 2015 as the program director for the Program of Private Lands Stewardship (PPLS) in San Antonio. He oversees the development of all facets of PPLS to include managing the program’s contribution to the Center for Private Land Stewardship, which was established between the institute, the Noble Foundation and East Foundation. He works with stakeholder groups to advance the discipline, resources and dialogue of the many public benefits derived from private lands stewardship.

 Prior to joining the institute, Leibowitz was the strategic initiatives manager for the Texas Agricultural Land Trust and ran his own solo law practice. Leibowitz earned a bachelor of science in agricultural development from Texas A&M University and a juris doctor degree from St. Mary’s University School of Law.


Shannon Meyer

Senior SW/CA Program Manager, Land Trust Alliance

Shannon Meyer is the Land Trust Alliance’s Southwest Program Manager. Based in Colorado, she delivers Alliance services to land trusts in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Texas, and California to enhance their capacity and effectiveness.  Shannon works with land trust board and staff to help them advance their organizational sustainability and conservation impact. She also collaborates with state and regional associations of land trusts and specific landscape level initiatives.  She has over 15 years’ experience in private land conservation including Associate Director of Aspen Valley Land Trust, Executive Director of the Western Colorado Agricultural Heritage Fund and as a consultant working with landowners and land trusts throughout the west. Shannon has a master’s degree from the University of Montana in Environmental Law and Policy and a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies and Government from Bowdoin College.

The Honorable S. Reed Morian

Commissioner, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission

S. Reed Morian was appointed to the Commission by Governor Greg Abbott on November 18, 2015, to a six-year term which will expire on February 1, 2021. Morian serves as Chairman/CEO of DX Service Company, Inc. in Houston. He is very active in the Houston community, serving on the Board of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and past Chairman of the Houston Parks Board and the Houston Museum of Natural Science. He received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Oklahoma. Commissioner Morian also serves as Chair of the Texas Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program Council.

Kristy Oates

State Resource Conservationist

Kristy serves as the State Resource Conservationist for USDA-NRCS in Temple, Texas. She began her career with the agency in 1995. During her tenure, she has served as a Soil Conservation Technician, Soil Conservationist, Resource Conservationist, District Conservationist, and Resource Team Leader. Kristy holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Sam Houston State University and she is a graduate of the US Department of Agriculture Emerging Leaders Development Program. As part of her career experiences, she completed details as the Acting Area Conservationist in Palmetto, FL, served as the Acting Performance Lead for Strategic and Performance Planning Division, and completed an assignment as Acting Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations for Zone 1 in Lubbock, TX.

As state resource conservationist, Kristy leads the ecological sciences department to assist customers in addressing natural resource concerns through sound conservation planning, provides technical leadership in quality assurance, works on policy development and implementation, oversees training, serves as liaison with other state and federal agencies, and develops technical information for a variety of clientele.


Lori Olson

Executive Director, Texas Land Trust Council

Lori Olson has served as the Executive Director of the Texas Land Trust Council since July of 2011, coordinating a coalition of over 30 land trusts from across the state of Texas, focusing on efforts to enhance, sustain, and ensure the continued success of the conservation movement. Lori has over 15 years of experience in the field of land conservation, working with land trusts in Oregon, North Carolina, Georgia and Texas. A native Texan, Lori is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with a B.S. in Biology, and a graduate of the University of Oregon with a Master's degree in Community and Regional Planning, as well as a Master of Science degree in Public Affairs.


Tiffany Osburn

Regional Archeologist/Project Reviewer, Archeology Division, Texas Historical Commission

Tiffany Osburn serves as the regional archeologist for central and west Texas with the Texas Historical Commission (THC) where she is focused on the preservation of historic Texas landscapes.  In her current role with the state she has the privilege of working with private landowners and communities to record and preserve important places in Texas for future generations.  In addition, as a project reviewer for state and federal compliance under preservation law, she balances the development needs of Texas with our responsibility to retain the significant historic character of our state.  Prior to joining the THC, Tiffany earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Denver where she conducted archeological research with a specialization in near-surface geophysics and worked for 10 years in the private sectors of cultural resource management and environmental compliance. Tiffany focuses her career on responsible stewardship of historic resources and land conservation as a means of preserving our heritage. 


Melissa Parker

River Conservation Program Leader, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Melissa Parker is the River Conservation Program Leader for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).  She received her Bachelor of Science in Forestry from Stephen F. Austin State University with a minor in Soil Science from Texas A&M University, and earned a Master of Science in Forestry from Clemson University.  In her current role, Ms. Parker works with private landowners and other conservation entities to conduct assessments, implement workshops, and make conservation recommendations to landowners for the implementation of best management practices that will positively affect stream and riparian resources.  She is a founding member of the TPWD Texas Paddling Trails Team, and is a member of TPWD’s River Access and Conservation Area team, which secures angling access leases through partnerships with private landowners.  Both of these programs provide guidance and recommendations to ensure that healthy riparian areas are maintained for the enhancement of fish habitat and overall stream health and stability.  Ms. Parker has served as Vice President of the Texas Riparian Association for the past 5 years, and has been a partner and an instructor in the Texas Stream and Riparian Ecosystem Education Program since its inception in 2013. 


Mary Ann Piacentini

Executive Director, Katy Prairie Conservancy

Mary Anne Piacentini, Executive Director, Katy Prairie Conservancy, is responsible for coordinating the Conservancy’s land protection programs and conservation assistance to private landowners, establishing community partnerships and relationships with diverse stakeholders, and overseeing the operations and programs of the agency.  She expanded the land protection program from 1,300 acres in 1999 to more than 20,000 acres today; implemented a conservation buyer program to support additional conservation through private land purchases; developed the Headwaters to Baywaters Initiative to protect riparian corridor in the San Jacinto Watershed; and formed joint venture partnerships to restore habitat while also increasing earned income using stream and wetlands mitigation projects.

Ms. Piacentini received a Master of City Planning from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of New Hampshire.  Previously she served as Executive Director of various nonprofit organizations, including Friends of Hermann Park where she helped develop a new master plan for the park and oversaw the initial implementation of the plan; the Massachusetts Cultural Council where she helped revise the grants process and implemented a broad outreach program; and the Cultural Arts Council of Houston where she oversaw support to major and smaller cultural institutions using hotel occupancy tax funds and spearheaded the development of an economic impact analysis on the importance of the arts to the City of Houston.  She also served as the Senior Policy Planner for the Community Development Division of the Mayor’s Office of the City of Houston.

In 2014 Ms. Piacentini was named one of four women in Texas to receive the inaugural Terry Hershey Texas Women in Conservation award.  In 2005 she received the Army and Sarah Emmott Conservation Award from the Citizens' Environmental Coalition.  She currently serves on the Waller County Strategic Planning Steering Committee, the Waller County Mobility Study, the Harris County Flood Control District’s Cypress Creek Overflow Committee, the Land Trust Accreditation Commission Accreditation Advisory Group, and the Texas Land Trust Council Advocacy Committee. She is the past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Texas Land Trust Council and past President of the Municipal Arts Federation.


Jon Porthouse

Senior Manager, Coastal Habitat Restoration

Jon Porthouse has nearly twenty years of experience in coastal ecosystem planning, research, and management in coastal ecosystems, and is currently a Senior Manager with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.  His responsibilities include providing technical review and oversight of projects requesting and receiving funding from the $2.5 billion Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.  He is also responsible for developing, communicating, and ensuring compliance with project monitoring requirements for the program.  Mr. Porthouse previously worked for the State of Louisiana to develop basin-level assessments and restoration plans for the State’s vanishing coast, including the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Program (an authorized $2 billion partnership with the Army Corps of Engineers) and the State’s first Comprehensive Master Plan for hurricane protection and coastal restoration.  He also spent six years as a consultant working on coastal ecosystem restoration projects and programs in Louisiana, California, and the Caribbean.  He has extensive expertise in multi-objective environmental planning, adaptive management planning, development of science-based decision support systems, program development, and project management.  Jon earned his B.S. in Biology from the State University of New York, Stony Brook in 1993 and earned his M.S. in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina, Columbia in 1996. 


Robert Potts

President and CEO, Dixon Water Foundation

Robert J. Potts is President and CEO of the Dixon Water Foundation, a private foundation supporting healthy watersheds through good land management – with a particular emphasis on grazing and range management issues.  From 2004 to 2007, Potts was the General Manager of the Edwards Aquifer Authority. From 1993 to 2004, Potts worked at The Nature Conservancy where he held several positions including State Director of Texas and Vice President for the South Central Division, managing the conservation work in Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.  Potts previously practiced law with the firm of Baker & Botts in Houston where he focused on international and corporate issues.  He earned a Juris Doctor degree from Columbia University in 1984 and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Baylor University in 1980.   Potts grew up in Corsicana, Texas.


Vanessa Puig Williams

Attorney, Puig Willams Law

Vanessa Puig-Williams is Executive Director and General Counsel for the Trinity Edwards Springs Protection Association (TESPA) and is an affiliated fellow with the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy Law and Business where she researches and writes on water policy issues.

Vanessa received her J.D. from The University of Texas School of Law in 2006. After graduating, Vanessa practiced in the environmental division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Vanessa is currently a board member of the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association.


Stephen Ramirez

Stewardship Director, Texas Land Conservancy

Stephen Ramirez is Stewardship Director for the Texas Land Conservancy and a graduate from Texas State University with a B.S. in Geographic Information Science. His work and volunteer experience includes the Save Our Springs Alliance, San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance, San Marcos River Foundation and Hays County Master Naturalists. He is currently serving as the board president of the San Marcos River Foundation.

Stephen carries a wide range of experience from cartography, field work, surveys, photography, guided hikes, and community outreach, all of which lend well to leveraging the latest drone technologies for land conservation. His drive for conservation is rooted in his love for the San Marcos River and sharing the natural world with others. Stephen enjoys outdoor recreation such as swimming, bird watching, and mountain unicycling.


Ray Renner

Manager of Surveying, Mapping, and GIS Department, Lower Colorado River Authority

Ray began his career in surveying with the State Department of Highways and Public Transportation (now TxDOT) in 1975 as a Rodman/Chainman on a survey crew.  From 1975 until 1990 Ray worked for private sector surveying, engineering, and aerial mapping firms in Houston, Albuquerque, Denver, and the Central Texas area.  In 1990 Ray joined the Lower Colorado River Authority “Field Engineering” group which later became Surveying, Mapping, and GIS.  Along with his roles in surveying, Ray worked in the Project Management Office at LCRA for seven years.  Within Surveying, Mapping, and GIS Ray has held position of Project Surveyor, Supervisor of Survey Operations, and Manager of Surveying, Mapping, and GIS. 

The UAS Program was started in early 2015 with the acquisition of the first aircraft in July 2015.  The LCRA UAS Team has flown projects for Corporate Communications, Transmission Engineering, Parks Development and, Water Resource Engineering and Construction.

Ray enjoys woodworking and the outdoors especially hunting and fishing.  Ray has been married to his wife Cathy for 32 years and they have two sons. 


Claude Ross

Natural Resource Specialist, USDA-NRCS

Claude Ross is a 27-year employee of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Claude began his career with NRCS (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) at the Quanah Field Office in Hardeman County in 1988. He then served on the Corsicana Field Office staff prior to becoming the Coordinator of the Wes-Tex Resource Conservation & Development Area in Morton. Claude joined the NRCS Program Staff at the State Office in January of 2003. He has served multiple detail assignments at the NRCS National Headquarters in Washington, DC. He currently provides leadership and support for the agency’s easement programs which have been reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill as the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). He currently supervises a team of three that assists with easement acquisitions and restoration. During his tenure, he has administered over $175 million in NRCS Farm Bill program funds for easements that protects over 65,000 acres of farmland, grazing land and wetlands in Texas. He maintains personal memberships with the Texas Land Trust Council, Ducks Unlimited and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.


Andrew Sansom

Executive Director of Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University

Dr. Andrew Sansom is one of Texas’ leading conservationists. He is the Executive Director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University. He is a former Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Executive Director of the Texas Nature Conservancy.

Under his leadership at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Dr. Sansom spearheaded a number of significant programs, including leading the successful creation of consensus water planning in Texas among the three principal water related agencies, Texas Parks and Wildlife, The Texas Water Development Board, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. He is founder of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation which has raised over $100 Million for conservation in Texas. During his tenure at Parks and Wildlife, he added more than 500,000 acres of land to wildlife refuges and parks across the State.

Sansom and his team administer the most extensive freshwater research and environmental education program in Texas and supervise the training and coordination of more than 1000 volunteer water monitors in rivers and streams throughout the State.

Through the past decade, Andrew Sansom has been called to facilitate consensus on several of the most daunting water issues of our time including protection of environmental flows provision in Senate Bill 3, management of recreational tubing on the Comal River, and Groundwater Management in Western Hays County.

He is the author of numerous articles and six books, including Water in Texas, published by The University of Texas Press.


Ben Scaggs

Acting Executive Director, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council

Ben Scaggs serves as Director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico Program (GMP) which is a non-regulatory, geographically-focused organization whose mission is to protect, restore and maintain the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico and the communities that rely on this national resource.

Mr. Scaggs is also currently serving as Acting Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The Council was created by the RESTORE Act of 2012 and comprised of the Governors of the five Gulf Coast States and Secretaries from six federal agencies. It is responsible for restoring and protecting the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine and wildlife habitats, beaches, coastal wetlands and economy of the Gulf Coast.

Prior to his current roles, Ben served as EPA’s Associate Deputy Administrator in Washington, DC 2015-2016, while on a one-year detail from GMP. In that role he oversaw a broad portfolio of Agency management and leadership functions in support of EPA’s over-arching mission of protecting public health and the environment.

Mr. Scaggs came to EPA in 1991 from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and over his 25-year career at the Agency has worked in the offices of Air and Radiation and Administration and Resources Management in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and in EPA’s Enforcement office in Atlanta, Georgia.

He holds degrees in International Studies and Public Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Hughes Simpson

Water Resource Coordinator, Texas A&M Forest Service

Hughes Simpson coordinates the agency’s Water Resources and Ecosystem Services programs.  In this position, he provides statewide leadership on water resource, environmental and forest policy, forest sustainability, native forest restoration, and market-based conservation initiatives for the agency. Hughes earned a Bachelor of Science in Forest Resource Management from Clemson University. 


Paula Smith

Owner, Dobbs Run

Paula Smith retired from the practice of law and her Boston consulting practice in 2010.  She is a member of theTexas Master Naturalist-Hill Country Chapter and for many years served on the board of the Hill Country Land Trust.  Paula and her family own Dobbs Run Ranch in Edwards County, Texas.  The ranch, under conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy, is home to four endangered species and has been the site of numerous educational and recreational activities.  The owners maintain an ever-expanding census of birds, butterflies, plants and the occasional reptile.  Current projects include snowbell restoration with J. David Bamberger and a study of Montezuma Quail with the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas A&M-Kingsville.


Carter Smith

Executive Director, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Carter Smith serves as the executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), a position he has held since January 2008. A native of central Texas, Smith developed his passion for wildlife and the out of doors at a young age while roaming his family’s farm and ranch land interests in Gonzales, Williamson, and Edwards Counties.  He has a wildlife management degree from Texas Tech and a master’s degree in conservation biology from Yale University.  He began his professional career in 1992 as a management intern at TPWD, assisting in the Private Lands and Public Hunting programs.   As a biologist, he has worked on a variety of research projects ranging from studying moose in the boreal forests of Saskatchewan to mule deer and pronghorn antelope in far west Texas to waterfowl in the Laguna Madre of Texas and Tamaulipas, Mexico.

He serves on a number of conservation-related boards of directors and advisory councils, including the Texas Land Trust Council, and the Katy Prairie Conservancy. He has served as past President of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Chair of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, and as Chair of the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.  He is also a Professional member of the Boone & Crockett Club and a lifetime member of the Texas Bighorn Society, The Dallas Safari Club, and the Houston Safari Club.  Smith was recently named an outstanding alumnus by Yale University and Texas Tech, and was honored by the Audubon Society with their Victor Emmanuel Conservation Award, and the Texas Wildlife Association with the Sam Beasom Conservation Leader Award.

Prior to his selection as TPWD executive director, Smith was with The Nature Conservancy of Texas, serving as state director.

At Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, he is responsible for overseeing an agency of 3,100 professionals in 11 different divisions, including Wildlife, Law Enforcement, State Parks, Coastal Fisheries, and Inland Fisheries.  Smith has been particularly active in the realms of private lands stewardship, coastal issues relating to the state’s involvement with the Deepwater Horizon incident, children in nature initiatives, invasive species issues, expanded outreach to the state’s urban populace, and most recently acquisition of new state park and wildlife management areas and the state’s response to the chronic wasting disease situation in captive cervid facilities. Carter and his wife, Stacy, and their son, Ryland, reside in Austin. 


Romey Swanson

Conservation Project Manager, Hill Country Conservancy

Romey Swanson is the Conservation Project Manager at Hill Country Conservancy where he promotes land conservation with private landowners, public officials, and organizational leaders. Guided by a strategic conservation plan and stewardship-led initiatives, HCC plans to preserve 10% of our Hill Country for the benefit of all Texans. Romey pulls from nearly 8 years as a Senior Wildlife Biologist with Plateau Land and Wildlife Management to relate to the challenges Hill Country landowners face. Romey graduated from Texas State University - San Marcos with a B.S. in wildlife biology (2007) and an M.S. in wildlife ecology (2009). He is active with the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society and currently serves as Co-Chair of the Conservation Affairs Committee. Romey is a Certified Wildlife Biologist through The Wildlife Society and a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the James G. Teer Conservation Leadership Institute’s Early Professional Training program. He currently serves on the board of directors for Hill Country Land Trust where he Co-Chairs the Lands and Easements Committee. During his free time, Romey continues to travel and study the natural history of Texas’ plants and animals while contributing to popular and scientific publications including his blog, www.moderntexasnaturalist.com.


Melinda Taylor

Senior Lecturer, Executive Director - Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business, UT School of Law

Taylor is a Senior Lecturer and Executive Director of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business at the University of Texas.  At the law school, she teaches courses on environmental law and oversees the Center, which publishes policy and legal analyses, offers interdisciplinary courses to law and business students, and sponsors symposia and conferences. Prior to joining the faculty of the Law School in 2006, Taylor was the Director of the Ecosystem Restoration Program for the Environmental Defense Fund, a national, nonprofit conservation organization.  Taylor was a partner at the law firm Henry, Lowerre, Kelly & Taylor from 1991-1993.  She served as Deputy General Counsel of the National Audubon Society from 1988-1991.  At Audubon, she was responsible for managing the organization’s litigation docket and supervising a project aimed at reducing pollution from oil and gas drilling. She was an associate at Bracewell & Patterson in Washington, DC from 1986-1988, where she specialized in energy and environmental law.  Taylor graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1986.  She also holds a B.A. from the University (Plan II, cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) (1983).


Richard Teague

Associate Resident Director and Professor, Texas A&M AgriLife Research

My philosophy is that research and service must provide the linkage that enables managers to base decisions for sustainable land use on the principles of ecosystem function. I have used four key elements to enhance this linkage: a systems research program, resource accounting, long-term assessment and partnering with rancher clientele. My goal is to use a systems approach in developing land and livestock management practices that sustain natural rangeland resources and the well-being of the people depending on the land. The purpose of my research is to conduct a ranch-scale, multi-county assessment that addresses three related objectives in the context of the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation:

  1. Determine the extent that grazing strategies influence key ecosystem services (especially soil and vegetation carbon sequestration), soil fertility and stability, water quality, net primary and secondary production, and the economic viability of working ranches that contribute to the retention of open space and rural community health in the Southern Plains of the USA.
  2. Determine the extent that different grazing management strategies can be used by livestock producers to mitigate and adapt to alternative climate change scenarios.
  3. Evaluate the long-term economic consequences of using alternative grazing management strategies to achieve rangeland restoration and production goals.


Casey Wade

General Manager, Dixon Water Foundation

Casey Wade is the President of Ranching Operations with the Dixon Water Foundation. He is a husband and father of three young sons. Casey has a love of the land and has enjoyed caring for wildlife and livestock for many years. He is a graduate of Hardin Simmons University. Casey has spent most of his career managing hunting and wildlife operations as well as livestock                                                                         

While working with a wildlife management consulting firm, after a two year stay in Kenya, Africa, Casey was introduced to holistic land management. He was drawn to the idea of using livestock to improve degraded landscapes. At that point Casey began searching out further education and eventually a career in regenerative land management through ranching.


In 2010 Casey began working for the Dixon Water Foundation in Marfa, Texas as the Mimms Ranch Manager. As of 2014 Casey was now manages both the North Texas ranches as well as the West Texas ranches.


Casey feels strongly that plains ecosystems were designed to function in a sustainable and regenerative way. He believes it is our job to carefully study the land and wildlife, in order to work with, rather than against, these systems. In this way, people and livestock can be part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem.


Jeff Walker

Executive Administrator, Texas Water Development Board

Jeff Walker was named Executive Administrator of the TWDB on May 19, 2016. He has served in various positions at the TWDB for more than 25 years, including as an agricultural conservation specialist, a financial analyst, a non-point source coordinator, and director of Project Development. In his most recent role as deputy executive administrator of Water Supply and Infrastructure, his areas of responsibility included state water planning, project development, financial assistance, project funds disbursement, financial program administration, water use and population projections, facility needs assessment, project inspection, and reporting. Walker holds a master of business administration from Texas State University and a bachelor of science in agricultural economics from Texas A&M University.


Wayne Walker

Principal, Common Ground Capital LLC

Wayne has had extensive and successful careers in three important sectors of the US economy in the last twenty years:  semiconductors, wind energy, and electric utility.  He started his conservation banking company, Common Ground Capital, LLC in April 2012 after following the ecosystem service mitigation industry for many years.  During his stint in the wind energy and electric utility industry, and now as a conservation banker, Wayne continues to pursue positive solutions at meaningful scales in the energy/environment intersection. 

Common Ground Capital (“CGC”) and its investment and landowner partners have successfully executed numerous transactions for two species in the ESA market over the past four years.  CGC’s, project specific company, LPC Conservation LLC, received full approval of the first landscape scale mitigation bank for Lesser Prairie Chicken (“LPC”) in May of 2014 and currently has 90,000 acres under option agreement (30,000 fully approved for credit sales) in three out of the four ecosystems for the LPC. Wayne currently lives in Edmond, Oklahoma with this wife, Leslie, and daughter, Ellie. 


Darrell Wood

President,  Western Grasslands Beef Inc., dba Panorama Meats and Western Grassfed Beef 

Darrell is a sixth-generation full-time rancher and owner of Leavitt Lake Ranches in Susanville and Vina, California, with his wife Callie, son Ramsey and daughter Dallice. In 2001 they began raising grass-fed cattle on their 40,000 acres of family-owned and leased rangelands in Northern California. As a founder of Western Grasslands Beef, Darrell created environmental stewardship protocols that are now practiced by many of Western Grasslands Beef’s family ranchers across the western United States.

A national leader in rangeland preservation, Darrell currently serves as a board member for the Land Trust Alliance in Washington DC. He was a founding member, 14-year board member and past president of the California Rangeland Trust. He also served as former chairman, past president and is currently a board member of the Partnership of Rangeland Trusts.

Darrell was honored for grassland stewardship by the Society for Range Management in 1999, received the 2010 California Beef Cattle Improvement Association’s Outstanding Seedstock and

Commercial Producer of the Year Award, and won the 2009 National Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

He received one of three 2006 National Wetlands Conservation Awards from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Darrell also served as Vice President of the California Cattlemen’s Association and President of the Lassen County Cattleman’s Association.


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