Meet the Blue Ridge PRISM Team!

Staff

Lauren Taylor, Executive Director

Lauren comes with many years of consulting and executive-level experience in both nonprofit and for-profit organizations.  With an MBA from Darden, she has led strategy efforts, managed both staffs and budgets much larger than PRISM’s, and run day-to-day operations. 

Lauren has a decade of hands-on work on invasive plant projects, experience with fundraising, and is growing her own startup native plant nursery.  She also authored the petition, currently at ~80,000 signatures, requesting that Home Depot stop selling invasive plants (see www.change.org/homedepot).

Rowena Pinto Zimmermann, Director of Communications and Outreach

Rowena has a long history of service in the nonprofit world– as an executive director, board member, employee, and volunteer. She was also a partner and principal grant writer for Virginia GrantWorks. Prior to her nonprofit work, Rowena was a senior analyst for JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission), the oversight agency for the Virginia General Assembly. She holds a master’s degree in public policy with a specialty in regulatory economics from William & Mary, and is also a writer who has been published in several literary journals. Rowena is currently training to be a Virginia Master Naturalist, and lives in Albemarle County with her family, dogs, and an unkempt yard. Her favorite wildflower is the spring beauty.

Natali Walker, Invasive Management Specialist

Natali has a Bachelor of Science in Geography from James Madison University. After college, she worked as a Wildlife Management Intern in Vermont where she handled bats, checking for White Nose Syndrome and controlled invasive plant species such as Eurasian water milfoil and garlic mustard. Prior to joining PRISM, Natali worked at the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District where she helped catch and identify aquatic macroinvertebrates to determine the health of local streams and participated in litter cleanups at local streams. Natali also worked at the Prince William County Extension office as an Environmental Educator and Outreach Specialist. In this role she educated landowners on environmental best practices to protect water quality and how to incorporate native plants in the landscape to increase biodiversity.

Natali is certified as a Level 2 Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional, is a Virginia Master Naturalist and a Virginia Certified Registered Technician. When she is not working to combat invasive plants, she enjoys adding Northern Virginia natives to her expanding garden and seeing what pollinators they attract, keeping her indoor plants alive, exploring and traveling to new places with friends and is a fur mom to two cats, Salem and Willow.

As an Invasive Management Specialist, Natali works in the northern counties of PRISM’s service area with a focus on expanding PRISM’s work in Fauquier and Loudoun Counties.


Leadership Team

Michael DiLello

Mike is the Conservation Manager for The Farm at Sunnyside located in Rappahannock County.

Ruth Douglas

Ruth is a biologist and botanist who taught at several community colleges during her career and served as an instructor and administrator at Piedmont Virginia Community College prior to her retirement. She also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Belize in the late ‘60s. In her retirement, she has been actively involved with the Rivanna Master Naturalist Program since its inception in 2006. 

Ruth has been the Invasive Plant Educator for the Virginia Native Plant Society for a number of years, and as a member of the Blue Ridge PRISM, she provides expert advice to landowners and can be found at many fairs, festivals, and events representing our organization.

Mary Lee Epps

After teaching economics for twenty-five years at the University of Virginia, Mary Lee Epps is focusing on learning more about natural history in retirement.  She is on the board of the Jefferson Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society (formerly President) and a Master Naturalist. She is a frequent volunteer for the Ivy Creek Natural Area where she leads plant walks and school tours, serves on the Education Committee, and helps with a Junior Naturalist 4-H Club.  Mary Lee provides expert advice on native plants to Blue Ridge PRISM and volunteers at many of our outreach and education events.

William Hamersky

William has a BSc in Wildlife Biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse with a minor in Forest Botany. He also has an MS in Biology (working on the Walnut Husk Fly) from Cal State University Hayward, CA.  

William spent 30 years as a licensed General Contractor in California and also worked for 13 years as a Vector Biologist for 2 different mosquito abatement districts.  William always considered himself a Naturalist.  He spent 23 years as a volunteer docent at Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens in San Francisco, including a stint as the Docent Council Chair on their Board of Directors.   He is a Master Gardener and conducts many of the Blue Ridge PRISM invasive plant workshops as well as volunteering at events.

He has 10 + years of sword fighting experience (historical European martial arts: rapier, dagger, longsword, etc.) which can come in handy fighting invasive plants.

Kevin Heffernan

Kevin Heffernan is Stewardship Biologist for Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). He is the primary author of the DCR Invasive Plant Species List and the Virginia Invasive Species Management Plan. He serves as chairman of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee, which provides information to the Secretaries of Natural Resources and Agriculture and other state agency leaders. Kevin has worked for DCR’s Natural Heritage Program for over 25 years, conducting biological surveys for rare and invasive species, participating in natural area restoration and invasive species management projects, and promoting the use of native plants in landscaping and on utility-scale solar sites

Jake Hughes

Jake is a Biologist (Invasive Plants and Restoration) for the Shenandoah National Park. He has a Bachelor of Science – University of Maryland – College Park. He joined the resource management staff in 2005. Previous assignments include work in vegetation management at Rock Creek Park (NPS) in Washington, D.C., and horticulture at the National Arboretum. At Shenandoah, he manages the Park invasive plant management program. His primary duties include supervising seasonal weed crews and volunteers and managing a fledgling native plant propagation and restoration program.

Jim Hurley

Jim is a retired organizational consultant.  Twenty years ago, concerned about the link between widespread degraded habitat and declining bird populations, Jim began working on introduced plant invasions in natural areas, first with private properties and public parks in Northern Virginia, and since 2013, on his and Susan Roth’s 156-acre property on the lower slopes of the main Blue Ridge in Greene County.  The beautiful property had significant invasions of Japanese stiltgrass, multiflora rose, wineberry, Japanese honeysuckle, smartweed, perilla, and others, largely in portions of 110 acres of forest, and more species in fields and open areas.  Jim has taken the knowledge and experience gained in Northern Virginia projects and applied them on a landscape scale in Greene, and used that experience to work on county, regional and statewide scales with the Blue Ridge PRISM.

Jim is a Master Naturalist, Tree Steward, a member of the Virginia Noxious Weed Advisory Committee, and Board Member of the Virginia Native Plant Society. Jim serves on the Blue Ridge PRISM Board.

Amy Johnson

Amy is an ecologist and has a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies and Policy.  She is the Program Director for Virginia Working Landscapes, a Smithsonian program that promotes the conservation of native biodiversity and sustainable land use through research, education, and community engagement. In this role, Amy leads a team that cultivates a dynamic network of private landowners, citizen scientists, NGOs, state agencies, and research scientists to collectively investigate the impacts of conservation management and land use on biodiversity.

In addition to research, she is committed to developing a strong outreach program that communicates research findings to inform best management practices for regional conservation partners and the community. An avid birder and outdoor enthusiast, Amy resides on a farm in Fauquier County immersed in grassland bird habitat with her husband Eric and a flock of chickens.

Tim Maywalt

Tim has a master’s degree in forestry from the School of Environmental Science and Forestry at Syracuse University. Upon retiring, he took Tree Steward training in Arlington, VA, to become an amateur arborist and became knowledgeable of non-native invasive plant threats to trees. He did invasives treatment work in Northern Virginia, then moved to the Charlottesville area and joined the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards in 2011. As a volunteer on the grounds crew at Monticello, Tim removed English ivy from over 2000 trees and then expanded to a wider range of invasive plant treatment, mainly in public parks and open spaces. He joined the Blue Ridge PRISM at its inception and trains on invasive plant identification and treatment for PRISM and for Tree Stewards. 

Brian Morse

Brian Morse is a Certified Wildlife Biologist and co-founder of Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science from North Carolina State University and a Master’s degree from the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources with a concentration in wildlife management and ecology. Brian’s broad interests have allowed him to work throughout the southeastern United States from coastal swamps and Piedmont prairies to mountain forests with a wide range of both game and non-game species. Brian is a Certified Prescribed Burn Manager in Virginia and is active with the Virginia Quail Council. He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western Albemarle County with his wife and son.

Rod Walker

Married for 40+ years, Rod and his wife, Maggie, have been timberland owners for that entire time and more.  Prior to retiring, their professional backgrounds spanned journalism, real estate sales, law, and IT consulting.

Rod and Maggie purchased land in Albemarle County in 1998.  While working on their property and discovering Asiatic bittersweet, Jake Hughes from the Shenandoah National Park made them aware of the concept of Cooperative Weed Management Areas (CWMAs).  Together with Jake, they organized the first CWMA to be formed in Virginia in 2014, now known as Blue Ridge PRISM.

Rod serves on the Blue Ridge PRISM Board. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Virginia Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, the Noxious Weeds Advisory Committee for the State of Virginia, which recommends changes to the state’s Noxious Weeds law and regulations, and the Advisory Board for the VA Forestry Association’s Board of Directors. Both Rod and Maggie are Virginia Master Naturalists.

Mike Wenger

Mike Wenger is a Certified Master Naturalist, with the Old Rag Master Naturalist Chapter and works extensively with a variety of public organizations and schools on invasive plant control and replacement. After a 30 year career that spanned industry, the USAF, international business consulting, and university teaching, he retired and spends much of his time working on wildlife habitat maintenance and restoration issues. He is particularly interested in liberating native forest plants from invasive competition to bolster healthy ecology and habitat for insects, amphibians, birds, and mammals.