Meet the Staff

Melinda Booth, Executive Director and Film Festival Director, (530) 265-5961 ext. 202

Melinda Booth

After six years working for SYRCL as the Director for the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Melinda was promoted to Executive Director.  Melinda brings more than 16 years of experience in environmental conservation and advocacy to her new position. Before joining SYRCL, she focused her career on saving iconic species like bears, wolves, and salmon in the American West.  At Defenders of Wildlife, she led campaigns to keep bears alive and wild in the Tahoe basin and helped on the reintroduction of the California Condor back into the wild. As Development Manager at the California Wolf Center, Melinda led education, conservation and research on the North American gray wolf, and specifically the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves to the Southwest. Her passion for wildlife drew her next to the Sequoia Park Zoo Foundation where she served as Development Director, securing millions of dollars for their red panda habitat and an award winning Native Predator exhibit featuring river otter, bald eagle, and salmon.

Melinda holds a M.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Montana, where she studied human-bear interactions in the wildland urban interface. Her publications span scientific journals, periodicals, and books. On a personal note, the Yuba River is central to Melinda’s everyday life.  She and her husband purchased land overlooking the South Yuba. Not only is she professionally motivated to protect and restore the Yuba River watershed, she is personally invested as a Yuba River homeowner to do all she can as well.

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Rachel Hutchinson, River Science Director, (530) 265-5961 ext. 205

Rachel is responsible for SYRCL’s conservation, restoration, monitoring, and education programs. She joined SYRCL in 2013 from the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences where she worked as a riparian ecologist for almost ten years. Rachel received her master’s degree in Water Resources from The University of Idaho. Her thesis focused on how plant communities on restored river floodplains responded to invasive plant species removal in the lower reaches of the Cosumnes watershed. Her time at UC Davis allowed her to work on multiple, complex grant-funded projects as a project manager, vegetation ecologist and GIS analyst on rivers throughout California. When not on the river, Rachel can be found in any number of her favorite yoga poses, botanizing the hillsides and cracks in the pavement, or trying to fill her passport.

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Julie Pokrandt, Development Director, (530) 265-5961 ext. 214

Julie_Pokrandt_smAfter graduate school, Julie became the first executive director for a wildlife rehabilitation group in San Diego. There she saw first-hand how devastating habitat loss can be, especially for raptors and songbirds. Urban areas, where streams and wetlands are often sacrificed to development, are tough on wildlife and this inspired her to make a change. She moved to northern California to help put habitat back in the ground and joined a river habitat restoration organization. There, as the development director, she helped recruit members and educate the public on how river systems and riparian areas not only benefit birds, fish and mammals, but people and whole communities too. After working in Tucson with a national environmental organization dedicated to protecting endangered species, Julie is pleased to be back in California and be a part of SYRCL. She and her partner Matthew love rivers, and are looking for their next canoe so they can get back on the water.

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Jenn Tamo, Community Engagement Manager, (530) 265-5961 ext. 201

Jenn, a Central Valley native, was raised in the small town of Oakdale on the Stanislaus River. Growing up, she was nestled between the coast of San Francisco and Sierra mountains of Yosemite. Her close proximity to these natural treasures afforded her the opportunity to explore California’s unique geography and cultivate a love of the outdoors.

One of Jenn’s passions is travel.  In college, she was fortunate to spend a summer in Central America as a volunteer in Costa Rica.  She helped implement low-cost sustainable agriculture and assisted with small-scale enterprise that benefited the local habitat and community.  Jenn graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in International Development.  After university, she spent two summers in the backcountry of Yosemite which was the catalyst that launched her in search of stewardship roles in the Sierra Nevada. After a year of service as SYRCL’s AmeriCorps Stewardship Coordinator, Jenn was hired as the Community Engagement Manager.  She loves coordinating events and working with SYRCL’s extraordinary volunteers.  In her spare time, if not experimenting in the kitchen, Jenn can be found hiking near a river or alpine lake.

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Karl Ronning, Hydrologist, (530) 265-5961 ext. 227

Karl_Ronning_smKarl grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, but preferred spending his time on lakes and rivers of Minnesota and Missouri.  In 2012, he earned his BS in Soil, Environmental, and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia.  After college, Karl worked alongside the National Weather Service studying fire weather in Missouri, volunteering at La Grande Weather Service forecasting for ski resorts in Oregon, and finally serving two years in AmeriCorps throughout California and Hawaii.  Last year, Karl finished his last term of service as SYRCL’s River Monitoring Coordinator and managed over 70 river monitors collecting data to protect the Yuba watershed.  His current job as SYRCL’s Hydrologist entails spending his days examining the impacts from historic mines throughout the watershed and hydrologic monitoring for restoration projects in the Yuba’s headwater meadows.  He is very interested in water conservation and managing fresh water as a sustainable resource to protect the environment to meet current and future human demand.  When he isn’t working, you will find him hanging out with friends, hiking, disc golfing, skiing, running, and cooking.

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Johan Ehde, On Tour Manager, (530) 265-5961 ext. 223

Johan EhdeJohan’s path in event production began early in life. Growing up, Johan worked eclectic events at his parent’s art gallery where he helped them plan, curate and interact with the public. In his teenage years, Johan began working for Del Rio Country Club as a member of their banquet staff. There he learned the process of planning, setting, hosting and breaking down an event in full. In his twenties, Johan began working as a freelance event professional for companies who produce large-scale music and art events in California, Nevada, Oregon, Canada and Portugal. Johan is currently the On Tour Manager for the Wild and Scenic Film Festival and is thrilled to be involved with SYRCL assisting in their efforts to protect the Yuba Watershed and inspire environmental activism globally.

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Betsy Harbert, River Science Project Manager, (530) 265-5961 ext. 224

Betsy_Harbert_smBetsy manages and facilitates meadow restoration projects as the River Science Project Manager at SYRCL.  Having spent many happy years in her youth swimming and exploring in the Yuba River, she is glad to support restoration within the watershed that originally inspired her passion for the outdoors.  Betsy completed her M.S. in ecology at Colorado State University where she investigated the environmental drivers of wetland vegetation and assessed meadow disturbance in the San Juan Mountains.  She completed her B.S. in Plant Biology at UC Davis.  Before completing her M.S., she spent nine years as a field botanist working throughout California.  After six years away from California which included working in wetlands of Wyoming, Colorado, South Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine (phew!) she is happy to be back home in California.  In her free time she can be found improving her Salsa and West Coast Swing moves, botanizing, or searching out the spectacular swimming holes and hot springs California has to offer!

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Jess Swigonski, Wild & Scenic Film Festival Liaison, (530) 265-5961 ext. 219

Equipped with a degree in Film Production and a natural affinity for the outdoors, Jess’s work with one of the nation’s premiere environmental and adventure film festivals has absolutely been a dream come true. Originally from Erie, PA, Jess moved to California after graduating from Allegheny College (Meadville, PA) in order to work for Wild & Scenic Film Festival as the Filmmaker Liaison. Her greatest passion is the art of story-telling. With a background in communications focusing in documentary film making and experience in executing multiple film festivals at college, Jess has always been intrigued by the stories of individuals, communities, events, creatures, places that often go untold. Jess feels honored to be a facilitator for the telling of some remarkable, vital, and timely stories.

Jess has now transitioned into the role of Festival Liaison, working more closely with the On Tour program and spreading the stories presented at Wild & Scenic far and wide in addition to her roles as Filmmaker Liaison for the home fest. She is growing accustomed to seeing the sunshine more than one month out of the year and is taking full advantage of all the new and exciting opportunities for outdoor adventure here in Nevada City – especially learning about and exploring the beloved Yuba River! Other than that, you can most definitely find her watching films, discovering music, dancing, dreaming, reveling in the time she gets to spend with the amazing and inspiring humans in California, and sitting on her stoop.

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Andrea Mason, Finance Manager, (530) 265-5961 ext. 206

Andrea, a Nevada County resident since birth, has joined our team as the Finance Manager. Having worked in accounting offices since she was 18, Andrea found she had a natural affinity for numbers and appreciated the orderliness which only a cleanly balanced set of books can produce.

After marrying and starting a family, in 2006 she pursued her Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting from University of Phoenix, graduating in 2009. At the same time, she was working for a Nevada City firm as their Quality Control Manager, ensuring accuracy and compliance on income tax returns and accounting projects.

Andrea brings with her a broad knowledge base, a commitment to excellence, a prodigious attention to detail, and a dedication to serving the people of the community she lives in and loves. In her free time, Andrea enjoys spending time with her family and friends, talking about all-things-Harry-Potter, reading, painting, wine-tasting, and book collecting.

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Megan Learned, River Education Manager, (530) 265-5961 ext. 218

Megan grew up in the Central Valley of California and spent all her summers and winters in the Sierra Nevada. Upon graduating with an anthropology degree from UC Santa Cruz, Megan worked as an educator at various outdoor schools in California, then as a naturalist guide in Alaska and Hawai’i. After living on Hawai’i island for 16 years and teaching 10 years of middle school science at a public charter school, Megan returned home. Her enjoyment of and care for the South Yuba River led her to SYRCL, which she considers to be the ideal combination of advocacy, education, environmental science and eco-literacy. In her time off, Megan loves to explore new places and enjoy the seasonal beauty of the Sierra Nevada.

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Theresa Huck, On Tour Sales Associate, (530) 265-5961 ext. 204

Theresa attended her first Wild and Scenic Film Festival in 2008 and it changed her entire life.  An avid camper and a fish in a previous life, she fell in love with the Yuba River and describes it as a spiritual experience.  Growing up in California and traveling all over has given her an immense love of nature and the environment.

Theresa brings a lifetime of sales experience to the Wild and Scenic Film Festival team.  As a social entrepreneur, her goal is to use Wild and Scenic On Tour as her voice for change.  She considers her position as Sales Associate to be a dream come true.  Her intention is to use her extensive experience in sales, business management and public relations combined with her passion for the environment, to grow SYRCL’S Wild and Scenic On Tour Program.

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Frieda Slavin, Community Engagement Coordinator, (530) 265-5961 ext. 203

Frieda_Slavin_smAs a child Frieda spent her days playing in the muddy creek behind her house, eating from her family garden and exploring the beaches and trails of her home—the Point Reyes National Seashore. Before leaving Point Reyes in 2009, she vowed to hike every trail within the National Park; and she did.

With a background in psychology, adult education, and non-profits, Frieda has served the environment for most of her adult life. She earned a BA in art history from UC Santa Cruz and an MA in psychology from Meridian University in Petaluma. Frieda is particularly interested in eco-psychology and the healing power of nature. In her free time, Frieda can usually be found on her yoga mat, with her hands in the dirt, her nose in a book, or enjoying the great outdoors with her family.

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Vanessa Lambert, Development Assistant, (530) 265-5961 ext. 210

Vanessa_Lambert_smVanessa grew up in Nevada City, with Deer Creek running through her backyard. Calling the Sierra Nevadas home has given her a profound appreciation of the natural beauty of California, which stayed with her as she lived and traveled throughout Canada and Oregon. While living in Portland, OR from 2004-2013, Vanessa worked at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry as Membership Coordinator/Manager, raising funds to support informal science education and fun family learning experiences. During that time Vanessa embraced her other lifelong passion of textile arts, sewing and apparel design, and runs a small business creating original designs and offering apparel restoration. She returned to Nevada City in 2013 with her husband, three cats and a basset hound-terrier mix Franklin, and is very excited to work with the SYRCL Development Team to help protect the home she’s always loved.

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Alena Loomis, Membership Assistant, (530) 265-5961 ext. 220


Alena grew up nearby in Meadow Vista, after living on a very rural ranch in her early years of life. This is where her love of nature started, which grew with the many places she’s lived. Alena attended UC Santa Cruz, and then graduated from UC Davis in 2015. During her time in college, Alena studied Cultural Anthropology and Community and Regional Development. She also learned about the devastating impacts of industrialization on the watersheds and wildlands of California and grew a passion for Environmental Justice. After graduating, Alena interned with the Nevada County Planning Department and decided that Nevada County was the community she wanted to be a long-lasting part of. Alena has always cared for animals, ranging from cats, dogs and fish, to horses, donkeys and chickens. She can often be found tending to her large garden, hiking one of the beautiful trails nearby, or restoring one of her many inherited antiques. She has always loved the Nevada County area and is now very excited to be part of SYRCL as their Membership Assistant, making a difference for the great Yuba River and being an active part of this amazing community.

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Karli Foreman, Restoration Coordinator, (530) 265-5961 ext. 216

Karli grew up in the mountains of Durango, Colorado, skiing, running and mountain biking. Constantly being immersed in the outdoors while growing up, led her to pursue a degree in Natural Resources Management with minors in Ecological Restoration and Zoology at Colorado State University. There she worked for the Restoration Ecology Lab doing various restoration projects in the Eastern plains and mountains in the Front Range. Throughout her college years, Karli continued to explore the ways in which we impact our natural environment from field studies at the base of the Rocky Mountains, to maintaining trails in the fjords of Iceland, and to leading interpretive hikes in the bays of Alaska. Whenever Karli is running in the high alpine she is on the constant lookout for her favorite animal the Ochotono princeps (a.k.a. her imaginary rap name). She is very excited to bring her passion and enthusiasm to the Sierra Nevada and discover an entirely new ecosystem and watershed to help restore and explore.

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Katie Nickels, River Monitoring Coordinator, (530) 265-5961 ext. 213

After attending college in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Katie became enthralled with the intricacies of nature and decided to pursue a career serving the natural world. Since attaining a degree in environmental science she has spent the last year serving in Americorps. This has permitted her to meet many wonderful people and enhance her professional scientific capabilities. Katie has a particular interest in aquatic communities and looks forward to learning and working with SYRCL. Also, Katie loves mountain biking and bugs!

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Siya Phillips, Stewardship Coordinator, (530) 265-5961 ext. 212

Siya grew up exploring the environmental beauty of New England. With a strong  interest in people and social justice, she began took to traveling both nationally and internationally to learn about culture and the environment. She attended both the College of Wooster in Ohio and Hobart and William Smith in upstate New York and graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her academic pursuits cross many disciplines including; under represented groups, sustainability, sociology, Latin America and the Caribbean, the natural sciences, and Environmental science. Siya believes strongly in the importance of the inseparable bound and interdependence shared amongst people, culture and the environment they live in. She is very happy to be living and working in Sierra Nevada County; she is most excited to learn about and serve the surrounding communities and rivers we depend on. Come say Hi!

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