Meet Our Conservation Team

November 20, 2018

We want to introduce you to the people who make our conservation work possible — the team that writes the fine print of our conservation easements, restores habitat for native flora and fauna and helps landowners tackle all sorts of land management challenges, from invasive species management to the implementation of Carbon Farm Plans (which are as good for the land and the air as they are for the livestock and wildlife they support).

Helping landowners take good care of over 52,000 acres is a big job, and all of our successes are thanks to an incredible conservation team.

You too can personally lend a hand to our conservation team by making a special donation today.

First up, meet Jim Jensen. MALT’s Stewardship Program Manager, Jim is a Tomales native and sixth generation sheep rancher (his young son will be the seventh, assuming he takes to the family business). Jim’s parents partnered with MALT to place a conservation easement on their ranch when Jim was just a sixth-grader.

After leaving the area to earn a B.S. in Forestry and Natural Resources and a minor in Rangeland Resources Management, Jim returned home to the ranch and joined MALT’s staff as a field associate in 2013. He has worked with landowners and partner organizations to design and implement many stewardship assistance projects throughout West Marin.

He is known in the agricultural community to be a positive and practical problem-solver who understands the many complexities that today’s farmers and ranchers face.

Jim is always working on multiple projects, but one that has him particularly excited right now is the ongoing collaboration to enhance Walker Creek and the farms and ranches that lie within the 76-square-mile watershed. He has been supporting MALT landowners in their efforts to reduce sediment in the creek and develop off-stream water troughs for livestock and wildlife, all while protecting bird habitat. Jim has loved watching steelhead trout swim in this clear, cold stream since he was a kid and is excited to be helping protect this local watershed for the next generation.

Stewardship Project Managers Zach Mendes, Eric Rubenstahl and Kristin Guy are also critical members of the conservation team.

Zach has a B.A. in Urban Planning and nearly a decade of experience in land conservation; Eric holds a M.S. in Conservation Leadership; and Kristin is an NRCS-certified Conservation Planner with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and more than 10 years of conservation-planning experience. Together Zach, Eric and Kristin monitor all of our 85 conservation easements, a task that, like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, takes a year to complete just in time to start all over again.

In what little spare time they have, the three project managers are also responsible for helping to evaluate applicants for future conservation easements. Every day, our landowners count on Zach, Eric and Kristin for technical assistance in addressing resource concerns and developing practical solutions to further MALT’s mission.

These three are always working on many stewardship assistance projects, but they are particularly thrilled about a few specific ones right now. They are helping one of our landowners restore a stretch of lower Lagunitas Creek — planting willows, buckeyes and native grasses to reduce erosion on the creek’s banks during winter rains. They’re also working with the longtime owners of a ranch in Chileno Valley to ensure that the land will remain in agricultural use forever and to develop a plan to protect their creek. Finally, they are providing support to the lessees of a MALT-protected ranch as they navigate raising laying hens and beef cattle in a sustainable way.

One of the newer members of the conservation team is Conservation Project Planner Jonathan Wachter, our in-house soil science Ph.D. He lives in Oakland and spends his days out here in West Marin helping MALT ranches become more resilient to climate change and reduce their own carbon footprint.

In partnership with MALT landowners, he is using native vegetation to improve soil health, increase ranch productivity, lock up more carbon and help the land hold on to more water.

This work could not be more timely or important, given the many wildfires currently raging in California.

Stephanie Tavares-Buhler, or Steph as we call her around the office, is our Acquisitions Manager. A California licensed attorney with a master’s degree in Environmental Law and Policy, she works closely with all of MALT’s easement applicants from the start. Conservation easements are complex legal agreements, and Steph runs this intricate process with humor and expertise.

In the past year alone, Steph has worked with 39 landowners on 18 different projects, not to mention all of their attorneys and accountants.

She is also a grant-writer extraordinaire, and in her four and a half years at MALT has personally secured more than $11.5 million in grant funding to make conservation easement financially possible for all involved.

Finally, our conservation team is fortunate to have our Director of Conservation Jeff Stump as a teacher and leader. Jeff, who lives in Inverness just across the water from MALT’s offices, has been working at MALT for 12 years.

With a B.S. in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning and 25 years of experience in land conservation, Jeff helps landowners find the right way and the right time to partner with MALT to protect their land for farming forever.

Jeff will tell you that when he looks across the water from the ridge above his house, toward the eastern shore of Tomales Bay, the dark and starry night sky — devoid of man-made lights — feels like a visual representation of his life’s work. It is not an overstatement to say that the spectacular views and open space we all enjoy in West Marin are in large part due to Jeff’s many years of hard work here at MALT.

When local landowners first express interest in protecting their farmland forever through a conservation easement with MALT, it is this team that guides them through the application process and then, for qualifying applicants, through the complex legal process that follows. Once a conservation easement is in place, our conservation team really goes to work, supporting landowners with the many challenges of stewarding their land and making a living at the same time. We could not be more proud of this team, or of their work for West Marin’s watersheds, landscapes and agricultural community.

Thank you for all that you do to support our conservation team’s work. Together, we’re protecting the land that sustains us.

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