MELISSA BAFFA, Executive Director, joined Ventura Land Trust in 2021. She served on VLT’s Advisory Council and Development and Marketing Committee since 2019. Previous to joining VLT, she was the Development Officer in charge of Foundation and Corporate Relations at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and an instructor with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University, Channel Islands. Her nonprofit management experience prior to that gave her insight into operations at several different Ventura County nonprofit organizations, from top to bottom. Baffa also taught middle school science in Simi Valley and marine biology in the Upward Bound program at California Lutheran University, and worked as a research associate at Amgen.
In 2015, Melissa was selected as a Science Communication Fellow with the Ocean Exploration Trust, exploring the deep sea as part of Dr. Robert Ballard’s Corps of Exploration in 2015, 2016, and 2018. She is also active in her community, serving as an advisor to KidSTREAM Children’s Museum and Leap Lab Ventura. Previously, she served on the Board of Directors of the Ventura County Leadership Academy, the Ventura County Women’s Economic Roundtable, the Ventura County Women’s Political Council, the California League of Park Associations, and Oxnard Downtown Management District. Melissa graduated from California Lutheran University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and lives in Ventura, walking distance from Ventura Land Trust's Big Rock Preserve. When she is not working or volunteering, you are likely to find her outdoors, either in her garden or exploring the rich natural world that surrounds us, with camera in hand. You can reach Melissa at [email protected]
ANNETTE BALDWIN, Deputy Director, joined the Land Trust in July, 2017. Annette grew up in Ventura and can’t imagine a better place to call home. Her love of the outdoors arose out of a childhood spent exploring California’s many campgrounds, lakes, and National Forests from her family’s station wagon, winding through the state’s most scenic areas and pitching a tent wherever the road took them. Her favorite local adventures include trail running and backpacking; she even became engaged while exploring the Ojai back-country. After graduating from Cal State Northridge with a BS in Family and Consumer Sciences, Annette’s passion for visual arts led to a career that merged her design background with event production. Annette comes to the Land Trust with eight years of graphic design and marketing experience. Having commuted to work out of town for over a decade, Annette is thrilled to now both live and work in Ventura, share her environmental passion with others and be a responsible steward of Ventura’s natural resources. In her free time, you can find Annette taking photographs, spending time with family, or gardening with her husband, Ron. [email protected]
CHRIS CHALEUNRATH, Development Director, joined VLT in March 2022. Born in Washington DC to Lao and French parents, Chris gained an early awareness of serving one’s community as he witnessed the impact of the grassroot non-profit founded by his father. He also greatly appreciated opportunities to step out of the city and enjoy public natural spaces particularly Shenandoah National Park.
After receiving his finance degree at the University of Mary Washington, Chris worked in investment banking in New York City before swiftly returning to his true calling, supporting nonprofits. His career now spans over 20 years where he has served in various development and consulting roles in New York, Washington DC, the Bay Area and Southern California. Prior to VLT, Chris had the privilege to serve leading organizations in their respective fields including Heifer International, New Tech Network, the International Campaign for Tibet, and most recently Earthjustice. Additionally, Chris serves as a board member for the Newcomers Community Service Center, council member for the Culinary Institute of America, and consultant for Ocular Associates.
As a Ventura resident with his wife Ana-Maria, their dog Scotty, and cat Jordi, Chris is honored to have the opportunity to improve and preserve natural spaces in his community. He spends most of his free time outdoors hiking, camping, cycling, snowboarding, on motorcycle rides, or cooking for friends. [email protected]
HEATHER BURTON, Development Coordinator, grew up in Napa Valley working on her family’s ranch and spent every minute outside exploring. She attended CSUCI and received a degree in Environmental Science and Resource Management with a minor in Art. After graduation, she worked at Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency as an Open Space Technician managing volunteer groups, developing and building trail systems, working on invasive species removal projects, running educational programs, and maintaining open space facilities. After moving back to Napa, Heather volunteered with Napa County Regional Park & Open Space District maintaining their open space areas. She was also a founding member of Women Stand Up–St. Helena and put on Women Summit Napa Valley, an event created to inspire women to get involved in the political process. Heather has worked on environmental projects worldwide, including mangrove forest and rocky reef preservation in Jalisco, mapping and removing invasive species in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and reviewing sustainable environmental policies in Japan. In her spare time, she is an avid trail runner and backpacker. [email protected]
EMILY HOLLAND, Grant Officer, joined Ventura Land Trust in August 2023. She is native to the Texas Hill country and holds immense gratitude and fondness for the strong foundation her community fostered for civic engagement and a love of being connected to the environment. Her commitment to conservation started early, through countless hours of exploring her grandparents' ranchland, creek beds, and treetops, camping along the Llano River, and the innumerable hours spent exploring county roads for the sake of an adventure.
She solidified her love of service work during her time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia. She worked on several grant projects addressing literacy, health education, and waste management here. Following her service, she received her Master's in Public Administration, where she focused her studies on Nonprofit Management and Environmental Planning at Texas A&M University. Emily has worked on a variety of development projects spanning federal, private, and local opportunities.
Today, Emily can be found trail running up in the Ventura foothills, camping in the mountains, or spending time with the beautiful community Ventura has allowed her to build. She is an active member of Runners for Public Lands and hopes to continue to expand and improve access to public lands. [email protected]
DAN HULST, Stewardship Director, joined the VLT team in August 2018. In addition to managing public access across VLT preserves, Dan works to develop trails, manage fuel loads, and carry out restoration projects across VLT properties. The youngest of 9 siblings, Dan grew up in Northern California, in the small town of Waterford. (pop. 8,000), attended Central Catholic High School in Modesto and went on to graduate from San Diego State University in 2014 with a B.S. in Business Administration, with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship. In 2016, Dan moved to Ventura and began volunteering with Ventura Land Trust. Dan is passionate about land conservation and the preservation of land for public use. He enjoys spending time in the ocean, the mountains, and just generally being outside. Dan is thrilled to finally align his job with his passion for the outdoors. Say hello to Dan at [email protected]
LAURA PAVLISCAK, Conservation Director, Laura has worked as a field biologist, consultant, and land manager in the southwestern U.S. and abroad since 2000, specializing in ecological research, restoration, and biological mitigation. She has a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Agroecology from the University of California Santa Cruz, and a M.S. in Aridland Ecology and Management from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the VLT team she managed the stewardship and restoration efforts of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy in Kern County and the Santa Clara River Conservancy in Ventura County. She is eager to support the scientific foundation of land management and natural resource monitoring in VLT's wildland preserves.
BRYAN GONZALES, Preserve Manager, joined the Land Trust in June, 2020. Though he didn’t grow up here, Bryan has Ventura in his blood (his grandfather grew up in Ventura over 100 years ago in a house off “The Avenue”). Annual childhood trips to Yosemite Valley and many horse packing trips to Yosemite’s back-country fostered Bryan’s strong connection to the natural world around us; Bryan’s earliest memories include wonder-filled interactions with Yosemite’s Forest Rangers, bears, and cathedral of granite. Bryan was born and raised in California’s Central Valley where he continued to live until 2008 when he accepted a job in Ventura. He and his wife (Carole), and their five children quickly knew Ventura would be their home for good. Bryan spent 20+ years as the Chief Financial Officer for the Human Services Agencies (social services) in the counties of Kern and Ventura and assumed he would continue on this path. However, losing his house in the 2017 Thomas Fire had the effect of helping Bryan decide to take steps to redirect his life back to his earliest passions for the environment. As the Preserve Assistant assigned to Harmon Canyon, Bryan looks forward to protecting, developing, and being inspired by (and helping others be inspired by) the beauty and wonder that the preserve holds for our community. If the surf is up you can find Bryan in the lineup, otherwise he can be reached at [email protected]
KATIE DANIELS, Conservation Specialist, joined VLT in November 2020, formerly serving as Land Steward and Volunteer Coordinator. Katie's current role is to support land management and stewardship in VLT’s wildland preserves, by monitoring biological resources, managing invasive species, implementing restoration projects, and organizing and managing data.
After moving to Ventura from the East coast, Katie quickly discovered a passion for conservation, thanks to routine weekend wilderness adventures across the state and a field biology class at Moorpark College. While serving local small businesses through managerial roles in Customer Service, Purchasing, and Operations, Katie worked to obtain a BS in Biology, with an emphasis in Ecology. During her final years at Cal State Channel Islands, Katie interned with the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology (WFVZ) and the Student Conservation Association (SCA). As an SCA intern, she was responsible for producing and executing spontaneous environmental education opportunities for visitors, as well as assisting with land stewardship on Duke Farms’ 2,000+ acre property in New Jersey. More recently, Katie volunteered with Ventura Audubon Society to provide Western Snowy Plover information to Ormond Beach visitors, and worked with a local environmental consulting firm to monitor cowbird populations in the Santa Clara River.
When not at work, you’ll find Katie spending time with loved ones, roller skating, enjoying downtown, and exploring the great outdoors. [email protected]
QUILL YATES, Field Technician, was born and raised in Georgia, followed by college in Maine, and capped off with four years in New Zealand, Quill has been on the move. A constant, however, across the geographical diversity has been his passion for conservation. Georgia fostered a love for all things growing in muggy yet vibrant ecosystems. In Maine, Quill got his B.S. in Environmental Policy and US Government from Colby College while skiing icy mountains and hiking evergreen trails. New Zealand provided never-ending conservation opportunities ranging from endangered mudfish tracking to river bird habitat protection. Most recently, Quill was working at the UCSB Marine Science Institute as a lab and field technician. He is excited to bring his skills and experience from a conservation and science-based background to help further VLT’s ongoing commitment to best steward the lands we look after.
JAISON QUILANTANG, Land Steward, joined the VLT team in July 2023 where he monitors the Willoughby Preserve in the Ventura River Estuary, keeping the area clean and safe. He works alongside VLT staff, volunteers, and community partners to remove invasive species and trash from the property, prepare and submit reports on VLT's restoration activities, and coordinate with other community organizations to compassionately manage homeless activity and keep land along the river as natural and safe as possible. Jaison was born and raised in Ventura County, where he spent much time exploring the outdoors through camping and hiking trips. After graduating with a B.S. in Environmental Science from Cal State Channel Islands, he interned at the Walker Basin Conservancy in Nevada, where he learned I wanted to pursue a career in conservation.
In Jaison's free time, you can find him hiking local trails, relaxing at the beach, and reading books at home.
CAROLE COMSTOCK GONZALEZ, Accounting Manager, joined Ventura Land Trust in October 2020. With over 25 years of accounting and bookkeeping experience, Carole has quickly immersed herself in the full accounting functions of the organization.
Carole grew up in the Santa Clarita Valley and spent her childhood summers camping, hiking and exploring the expansive outdoor playground of California and neighboring states. Gini, Carole’s mom, was a Docent Naturalist in LA County at Placerita Canyon Nature Center. From an early age, she instilled in her a strong work ethic, a love of nature’s beauty, and a deep respect for the harmonious balance between humans and the natural world.
Carole’s insatiable quest for adventure has taken her to numerous National Parks, most recently completing the Rim 2 Rim trek across the Grand Canyon. When not planning new adventures, Carole leads an active lifestyle full of running, cycling, hiking, yoga, cooking and spending time with her family.
AMANDA BRUNNERT, Administrative Coordinator, joined the VLT team in September 2022. A native Texan, Amanda developed an appreciation for nature through childhood trips to Big Bend and local state parks, stargazing at Fort Davis, and summers spent at the Fort Worth Nature Center. Amanda started her professional career at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, first as a teacher’s assistant for their Museum School program and working her way up to store manager for their two gift stores. Having traveled across the country – seeing Yellowstone, Arches, and the Grand Canyon along the way – Amanda moved to California in 2017, putting roots down in Ventura by April. With professional experience in sales, IT, and office management in the for-profit sector, Amanda is excited to return to her non-profit roots with Ventura Land Trust.
In addition to being a fan of road trips, in her free time, Amanda enjoys hiking, reading on her porch, and snuggling with her dog, Scout, and cat, Luna. Amanda can be reached at [email protected].
BROOKE ASHWORTH, Senior Conservation Advisor, was the founding president of the organization and served on the Board of Trustees for eleven years. Brooke holds a BSc in Environmental Planning & Management from UC Davis with an emphasis in urban planning. She has worked in government as a planner, as an environmental consultant, and for international law firms as an environmental analyst specializing in environmental due diligence in real estate transactions and client compliance/enforcement defense. Brooke also served for seven years on the City of Ventura Parks & Recreation Commission. Her interests in the natural environment and land use planning principles have come together in her passion for preserving Ventura’s wild places. Brooke plays a key role in negotiating VLT’s land acquisitions, serves as liaison with our real estate counsel, and advises on planning matters related to VLT’s land holdings. Brooke and her husband, Everard, can’t think of a better place than Ventura to have raised their two children. Brooke’s favorite hobbies include mixing up craft cocktails, body boarding, birdwatching, and gathering friends and family for a fine meal. For nearly 20 years she has walked Ventura’s hillside neighborhoods with her “walking group.” You can reach Brooke at [email protected]
TRUDY (SARAH TRUDEAU), Education Manager, was raised in the Ojai Valley, finding growth within herself deep beneath the mud that swallowed her bare feet. She believes one of the greatest gifts in her life was the support from her family, to trail off into the field, following her curiosities even at a very young age. Closely accompanied by her two goats, she’d travel to the pond to search for tadpoles or carve tunnels within the fields of mustard or follow the bees around the garden. With this freedom to discover, her youthful curiosity and confidence was able to flourish. This admiration and respect for her environment continued into her playful adulthood. She headed North into the PNW, where she earned her B.S. in Biology while building a career in wildlife conservation and rehabilitation. During this time, she found the love and gift of education through her focus on public outreach. After 10 years working with wildlife for various Veterinary Hospitals and Conservancies, she decided to turn her efforts fully towards nourishing the connection between our youth and the preservation of our environment. She has since returned to Ojai, where she is happily educating, climbing, birding, gardening, backpacking, and continuing to play. With awareness, comes understanding. Respect and conservation quickly follow. You can reach Trudy at [email protected]
AMY DAVIS, Education Coordinator & Senior Educator, has been a naturalist, educator, and guide for most of her career. Her love of nature started in the Southeast in Charleston, South Carolina, as she was earning a B.S. in Geology. Following graduation, she began working at a Nature Center leading canoeing, kayaking, biking, and birding tours, along with working with wildlife in the nature center. After 6 years, she relocated to California to work as a naturalist educator teaching environmental education, and she continued to be a kayak guide on the side. Guiding led her to remote places such as Belize, Panama, San Juan Islands, Wyoming, Baja, Mexico, and the Channel Islands. Ventura became her home in 2011 in order to work on the Channel Islands and at a local school. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, biking, birding, or just being in nature. Her mission is to share nature with others in order for them to develop a deeper appreciation and love of the outdoors in hopes of protecting and conserving it. At Ventura Land Trust, she holds many roles. She is the Education Coordinator, a lead educator for Ventura Wild, and a coordinator for school programs through Nature by Design - all in addition to leading guided hikes. You can reach Amy at [email protected].
JENNY JACOBS, Bilingual Programs Coordinator & Senior Educator, grew up in west Sonoma County and spent most of her childhood outdoors, running around with chickens and sheep and adventuring in a nearby creek. She studied environmental science and music at UC Santa Cruz, and after taking an entomology class and spending the last quarter of her undergrad degree in a tropical biology course in Costa Rica, she fell in love with tropical biology and speaking Spanish. She spent many years studying tropical insects and biodiversity, obtaining her M.S. and then embarking on a doctoral program. Part-way into a PhD program, she realized that she preferred exploring nature and teaching, rather than studying nature in an academic context. Jenny recently moved back to California with her husband and young children, after living in Michigan for four years where she had the opportunity to develop a parent-child nature exploration class through Ann Arbor public schools. Upon returning to CA, she was so delighted to find Ventura Wild and is super excited to help connect more children and families to nature! She is also very passionate about bringing more nature connection and education programs to local Spanish speaking communities.
SARA MACCRACKEN, Senior Educator, has been passionate about children and nature as far back as she can remember. She has an M.A. in Somatic Psychology from Naropa University. It was here that she first heard about Wilderness Therapy and took the idea with her into the different settings she worked. She helped develop and run a program for at-risk youth in Longmont, Co. and took young adults to Central America doing service projects throughout the area. Sara has studied edible and medicinal plants for the past 25 years. She currently lives in Ojai with her two sons and husband. She is very happy to be bringing education to the schools about our precious watershed.
TESSA WOMACK, Senior Educator, weaves her understanding of human development, ecological systems, and the power of play to design and facilitate experiential learning opportunities in the field, garden, and classroom. She is a nurturer of nature and lover of language. Her playful approach and adaptable tools invite practices of self- and environmental-inquiry, expression, and balance in an ever-shifting world. She is a Masters student at Antioch University, and is pursuing a Certificate in Ecopsychology through Pacifica Graduate Institute. Tessa has a BA in psychology and education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has over ten years of experience working with children, teens, and families through local organizations committed to self-awareness and nature connection. Her current paths of service include: Environmental Educator with Food for Thought, Birth Doula with Kindling Connection… and Lead Field Staff with Ventura Wild! Tessa operates with a “systems mentality,” honoring all experiences as invitations to explore relationships within this interwoven reality.
DAYANA HUERTA, Intern Coordinator, was born and raised in the Southern California. In between Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino National Forest. The memory that began her love for nature is when her parents took her out to the nearest creeks while her dad fished and her mom collected black berries and cleaned them with a spaghetti strainer in the creek. While studying Environmental Science and Resource Management at Cal State Channel Island she has been able to travel with her class to New Orleans and do tree surveys and go to the Santa Rosa Research station to conduct GIS research. During the summers she typically takes on trail maintenance jobs at national parks and national forest. She has done work at Sequoia National park and Siskiyou Mountain range in Oregon. This past summer she had the honor to work at the Santa Barbara zoo as an educator and interpreter. During her free time she love visiting national parks, camping, backpacking and hiking with her friends and loved ones. She would also like to recognize and say that we are able to play and teach the kiddos on Chumash land.