Meet the Blue Ridge PRISM Team
Elizabeth Mizell, Program Director
Beth comes to Blue Ridge PRISM having been actively involved in cooperative weed management areas in Florida and Indiana. In those organizations, she served in key leadership roles gaining valuable experience in organizing and operating CWMAs and insights into the potential for CWMAs to make a big impact on conservation. Prior to moving to Virginia in 2016 and starting a small business, Beth was a Land Steward with The Nature Conservancy for 14 years caring for natural areas and restoring rare natural communities. She has extensive experience in natural areas management and restoration, invasive plant species management and control, native plant propagation, and gardening/landscaping with native plants. Beth is a Level 1 Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional and holds a license as a Virginia Commercial Pesticide Applicator.
As Program Director, Beth manages the day-to-day activities of PRISM, fosters relationships with conservation partners, teaches and assists landowners, and manages grants. When she is not thinking about invasive plants and their control, she regularly looks for caterpillars in her gardens, grows native plants, enjoys knitting and spending time out-of-doors with her husband, Pete.
Rowena Pinto Zimmermann, Director of Communications and Outreach
Originally a senior analyst for Virginia’s legislative oversight agency, Rowena Zimmermann has worked in the nonprofit world for more than a decade. She is the former executive director of a performing arts organization and was the principal grant writer for Virginia GrantWorks. She has served on the board of several nonprofit institutions where she headed up the public relations and event planning committees. Rowena currently leads the Communications and Outreach for Blue Ridge PRISM, and is also a writer who has been published in several literary journals. She lives in Albemarle County with her husband, three daughters, and two fluffy dogs.
Natali Walker, Invasive Management Specialist
Natali has a Bachelor of Science in Geography from JMU. After college, she worked as a Wildlife Management Intern in Vermont where she handled bats, checking for White Nose Syndrome and pulled 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 1 Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional and is a Virginia Master Naturalist. 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.
Thomas Saielli, Invasive Management Specialist
Tom joined Blue Ridge PRISM just this May 2022 and is based in Charlottesville, Virginia. Tom oversees Blue Ridge PRISM’s Central-North Virginia region which includes Albemarle, Nelson, Augusta, Rockingham, Greene, Page and Madison Counties. He received his MS in Natural Resource Management from the University of Vermont in Burlington after earning his BS in Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Colorado in 2007.
Tom manages multiple aspects of Blue Ridge PRISM’s outreach and education program, including consultations, training events, community outreach, and landscape restoration work aimed at improving ecosystem function and landowner awareness. Tom also works closely with agency, non-profit and academic partners to develop cutting-edge strategies to manage invasives and restore critical native habitat.
Prior to joining Blue Ridge PRISM, Tom was the lead researcher and breeding coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic region of the American Chestnut Foundation, and prior to that he served as a Crew Leader with Wildlands Restoration Volunteers in Colorado for four years, where he managed dozens of large-scale restoration projects. And in a previous life, Tom spent nine years as a medic and firefighter with the Nederland Fire Protection District in Colorado.
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 President of the Jefferson Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society 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 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 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 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 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.
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 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 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.
Maggie and Rod Walker
Married for 40+ years, Rod and Maggie Walker 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.
They purchased land in Albemarle County in 1998. While working on this property, 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 the Blue Ridge PRISM.
Rod 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. Maggie is a member of the Albemarle Garden Club. Both are Master Naturalists.
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.