Alex Von Feldt, Executive Director

Alex joined Acterra in 2010 as the Stewardship Program Director after serving on the Board of Directors.  She became the Executive Director of Grassroots Ecology when it was spun off from Acterra in 2016. Alex oversaw the expansion of the Stewardship Program by more than doubling the revenue while quadrupling the impact to the community.  Alex is an experienced project manager in the fields of business consulting and software development. Alex has a degree in Industrial Engineering from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. 


Junko Bryant, Assistant Director

Junko has a special interest in how cities intersect with nature, particularly along creeks. She joined Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) to launch the Redwood Grove restoration project in 2009, and currently oversees multiple projects and partnerships. Her prior work at the Urban Creeks Council, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, and MIG, Inc. focused on stream restoration, watershed management, and community planning. Junko holds a B.S. in Earth Systems from Stanford University and a Master of Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


Claire Elliott, Senior Ecologist / Associate Director

Claire joined Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2006 and works on a wide variety of restoration, watershed, and urban ecology projects. Claire has 30 years of experience as an environmental scientist and engineer, including positions with the USEPA and EOA, Inc. working on industrial and stormwater pollution. In other non-profit positions, she developed a volunteer monitoring program for the Stevens Creek Watershed, wrote pollution prevention procedures for coffee processors in Nicaragua, and was an environmental educator at Hidden Villa Farm and Wilderness Preserve. Claire has a B.S. in biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, one year of freshwater ecology studies at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering and Science from Stanford University.

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Deanna Giuliano, Nursery Director / Botanical Consultant

Deanna has nurtured thousands of native plants since taking the reigns of the Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) Native Plant Nursery in 2006, and has overseen the application of new protocols to ensure pathogen-free nursery stock. Deanna has served as president of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and remains active in CNPS initiatives such as Rare Plant Treasure Hunts. She previously worked for Central Coast Wilds and the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum. Deanna has an A.S. in Horticulture from Cabrillo College and a B.A. in Environmental Studies/Biology with an emphasis in Plant Ecology from UC Santa Cruz.


Erin Banks Rusby, Project Manager

Erin manages habitat restoration projects as well as the water quality monitoring program for the San Francisquito and Matadero watersheds. She also coordinates the K-7 Pollution Prevention Program. Erin joined Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) as a member of the Americorps Watershed Stewards Program in 2013. Raised in Seattle, Erin developed a passion for the outdoors playing outside and hiking in the Cascade Mountains. While earning her B.A. in Biology and Spanish at Willamette University, she developed a curiosity about plants that led her to the field of habitat restoration.


Paul Bergkamp, Restoration Specialist

Paul loves being active outdoors whether he is hiking, biking, swimming, or restoring habitat. Before joining Grassroots Ecology in 2017, Paul worked for a variety of other Bay Area environmental non-profits including the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, CommunityGrows, and Our City Forest. He holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Planning from Sonoma State University. Paul feels truly lucky to be able to spend his days working with others to help create a healthy and happy planet.

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Rachel Clemons, AmeriCorps WSP Member

Before joining Grassroots Ecology, Rachel served as an AmeriCorps VISTA on an urban educational farm in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Here, she developed a deep passion for environmental justice, community organizing, and outdoor education. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Rachel graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Science and a B.A. in Biology from Bellarmine University. During her undergraduate career, Rachel was part of two research projects focused on water quality of Ohio River tributary streams and the biodiversity of Louisville's urban community gardens. Through her work with WSP and Grassroots Ecology, she hopes to explore her interest in restoring native habitat and fostering social equity through environmental action.


Melisa Cambron Perez, Restoration Specialist

Prior to joining Grassroots Ecology in 2016 through the AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Program, Melisa studied habitat fragmentation in Costa Rica. She has worked with various environmental organizations including the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Friends of the Chicago Rivers, and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. These experiences ignited her passion for habitat conservation, with a particular interest in riparian habitats and community-based restoration. She has a B.A. in Biology from Lake Forest College in Illinois.


Stacey Dixon, Project Manager

Stacey joined Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2015. She graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S. in Society and Environment and a minor in Forestry. She went on to serve as an Americorps member with the Student Conservation Association, delivering environmental education to rural schools and building hiking and multi-use trails in Massachusetts. Stacey has also interned with the Department of the Interior in San Francisco, built hiking trails with the Appalachian Mountain Club in Maine, and worked for Chile Ambiete, an environmental non-profit in the southern Patagonia region of Chile. After much exploring, she is excited to help restore the ecology of her home state of California.

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Dani Hanson, Nursery Assistant

Dani grew up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, spending most of her time outside in the woods or working with animals on her family’s ranch. She can be found doing odd jobs around the nursery as well as whatever detailed work needs a pair of patient hands. Beyond her love of plants, Dani is a singer/song-writer and has a deep passion for music and the arts. She has an Associates in Art degree from Foothill College. Dani loves spending her time outside nurturing the plants and guiding our wonderful volunteers through their projects.


Nikki Hanson, Nursery Manager

Nikki has been working in native plant nurseries since 2004, starting off as a nursery volunteer at Yerba Buena and Acterra. She was soon after hired as a nursery assistant at Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra), where she worked while earning an A.S. in Biology from Foothill College. Nikki went on to obtain a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, during which time she worked at their Arboretum and Invasive Plant Lab. She subsequently received a graduate fellowship to research native milkweed propagation at the University of Idaho, and worked at native plant nurseries in Idaho and Washington before returning to Grassroots Ecology in 2016.


Paul Heiple, Botanist

Paul is a naturalist, interested in all aspects of science in the natural world. He loves sharing his knowledge with volunteers while tackling invasive plants at Arastradero and Byrne Preserves. He is an active member of the California Native Plant Society Santa Clara Valley Chapter, San Mateo County Weed Management Area, and Portola Valley Conservation Committee. He also volunteers as head Friday weeder at Edgewood County Park and at Jasper Ridge where he participates in the biannual ant survey. A geologist by training, Paul worked for Getty Oil Company exploring for oil in the Williston Basin of North Dakota. Understanding the connection between plants and rocks was very useful when mapping the geology in the east.

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Devon Jackson, AmeriCorps WSP Member

Before joining Grassroots Ecology in 2017, Devon studied Environmental Management and Protection at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. While earning his degree he was involved in a few student run organizations including Sprout Up and The Real Food Collaborative. Devon also has experience working for the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department as a Nature Camp counselor. These experiences have shaped Devon's desire to work in environmental education and increase community involvement in natural resources decisions.


Alisa Kim, Restoration Specialist

Alisa joined Grassroots Ecology in 2016. After earning her B.S. in Environment & Resources Science at UC Davis, she started her career at a pollination lab restoring native plant communities. She has worked with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy and many other interesting places including a zoo, a yarn warehouse, and a children's museum. Her interests include how to increase access, diversity, and community in conservation, native bees, and plant interactions in invaded communities.


Talia Kirschner, Grants and Development Manager

Talia has worked with Bay Area nonprofits promoting community health and sustainability for over a decade. While she is currently focusing on grants and development, Talia also has extensive field experience having managed restoration projects in East Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills since joining Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2013. Prior to that, Talia worked as development manager at Slide Ranch, an environmental education center in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. During her time there, she also volunteered as a wildlife monitor at Point Reyes National Seashore. She has a B.A. in Psychology from UC Davis.


Valerie Lee, Restoration Specialist

Val joined Grassroots Ecology in 2016. Her love of the outdoors was sparked early on, exploring national parks with her family since the age of five. Her curiosity and spirited enthusiasm were further kindled while earning her B.S. in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Barbara. Val has previously helped recover coastal dunes, grasslands, and slough habitat for the endangered Western Snowy Plover at the UC Reserve, Coal Oil Point. She is particularly interested in the interrelationships of our natural and developed landscapes, an interest ignited by her field studies in South Africa.


Jeremy Merckling, Project Manager

Jeremy supports the Stevens Creek project, restoring habitat at McClellan Ranch Preserve and leading volunteers on water quality testing and macroinvertebrate surveys. He is also a classroom instructor with the K-7 Pollution Prevention Program. Jeremy joined Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) as a member of the Americorps Watershed Stewards Program in 2014. He graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a B.S. in Earth Sciences and a concentration in Environmental Science. After graduating, he examined coastal groundwater discharge at the U.S. Geological Survey, and became interested in conservation and restoration work.


Shelley Pneh, Restoration Specialist

Shelley joined Grassroots Ecology in 2017 to support its creek monitoring, aquatic insect research, and habitat restoration programs. She is concurrently an aquatic entomologist at UC Berkeley assisting researchers studying food web interactions in the South Fork Eel River and its tributaries. She holds a degree in Molecular Environmental Biology with a concentration in Entomology from UC Berkeley.


Kristen Williams, Project and Operations Manager

Kristen first developed her love of the outdoors growing up in the North Coast town of Mendocino. She is currently the project manager at Redwood Grove Nature Preserve, Los Altos Hills Open Space Preserves, and Midpen’s Hawthorns (Windy Hill) and Russian Ridge open spaces. Prior to joining Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2013, she was a nursery assistant at Flowers by the Sea in Mendocino County and an intern at the Filoli gardens in Woodside. While earning her degree in Geography/Environmental Studies from UCLA, Kristen interned at the non-profit TreePeople and worked with the Department of Geography to begin restoring the last remaining plot of native vegetation on campus.


Sara Witt, Project Manager / Ecologist

Sara became fascinated with native plants and pollinators while working at an urban native bee garden as a student at UC Berkeley where she earned a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Science. She shares her enthusiasm for bugs with students and volunteers as a classroom instructor for the High School Watershed Education Program and various restoration sites. Prior to joining Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2010, she was a volunteer coordinator and bird banding intern with non-profits focused on urban forestry and biological monitoring.