Alex Von Feldt, Executive Director

Alex joined Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2010 after serving on the Board of Directors. She has years of experience in community organization and local government, including the spearheading of Portola Valley Town Center’s Sausal Creek daylighting project. She currently serves on the Town of Portola Valley's Planning Commission. Alex enjoys applying her management skills, honed during years in business consulting and software development, to the nonprofit sector. She 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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Joanne McFarlin, Senior Ecologist / Associate Director

Prior to joining Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2012, Joanne was the Programs Director for the Stevens & Permanente Creeks Watershed Council, conducting watershed education outreach and overseeing volunteers in water quality monitoring, biological monitoring using benthic macroinvertebrates, and habitat restoration. A longtime community volunteer herself, Joanne has a firm belief in the power of volunteers to bring about the institutional change needed to protect and restore local habitats. Joanne has a B.S. in Biology from UC Davis and an A.A. in Environmental Stewardship from De Anza College.

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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.


Melisa Cambron Perez, Watershed Stewards Program Member

Prior to joining Grassroots Ecology in 2016, Melisa studied habitat fragmentation in Costa Rica and 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 is extremely excited to be able to continue working within a non-profit. She has a B.A. in Biology from Lake Forest College in Illinois.


Chris Corvetti, Watershed Stewards Program Member

Before joining Grassroots Ecology in 2016, Chris served in the Peace Corps in Mongolia, where she worked with students on English, environmental, and leadership education programs. Prior to that, Chris conveyed environmental lessons to guests at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Growing up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York and interning with the Park Service in Virginia has given Chris a passion for habitat restoration and conservation. Chris has a B.S. in Mathematics and Environmental Studies from Saint Lawrence University. She is very excited to expand her natural knowledge with California flora.


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 work towards restoring the ecology of her home state of California.


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 Acterra (now Grassroots Ecology), 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 (UCSC), during which time she worked at the UCSC Arboretum and in Dr. Parker’s Invasive Plant Lab. She subsequently received a graduate fellowship to research native milkweed propagation at the University of Idaho. Nikki then worked at native plant nurseries in Idaho and Washington before returning to Grassroots Ecology in 2016.

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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.


Ryan Kessler, Restoration Specialist

Ryan became a staff member in 2016 after many years as a dedicated volunteer. His volunteer service at Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) focused on restoration of the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, including completion of the college summer internship program. Ryan has a B.A. in Biology from Lawrence University in Wisconsin. He has worked as a linguist for the Xaadas Kíl Kuyáas Foundation in Alaska doing volunteer outreach, coordination, and education. Ryan is an avid hiker, naturalist, musician, and language learner.


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 curiosity for 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.


Avi Starr-Glass, Project Manager

Avi joined Grassroots Ecology (then Acterra) in 2014 to oversee restoration at the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve. While earning degrees in Environmental Studies and Business Administration from Sonoma State University, Avi interned at the environmental nonprofit Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, participated in various ecology research studies, and gained hands-on experience with habitat restoration as a volunteer. Upon graduation, Avi interned with the nonprofit Watsonville Wetlands Watch on slough restoration; and subsequently spent six months touring different habitat restoration projects across Europe. These experiences inspired Avi to return home to contribute to restoration efforts in his local watershed.


Kristen Williams, Project 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 with a focus in Restoration Ecology/Conservation Biology. She shares her enthusiasm for bugs with students and volunteers as a classroom instructor for the High School Watershed Education Program and at restoration sites at McClellan Ranch, Permanente Creek, Stulsaft Park, and the East Palo Alto Baylands. 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.