Board of Directors
Alison Peña, Chair
Alison managed the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) in Wisconsin from its inception in 1994 until her retirement in 2010, during which time she closed more than 580 easements and saw restoration completed on over 50,000 acres. She also helped to draft the new WRP manual and assisted other states in efficiency management of the program. In 1990, Alison co-founded the grass roots organization Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, which has received national recognition for its work in trying to clean and restore the land of the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant.
Jim Ruwaldt, Vice Chair
Jim worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Wisconsin, Indiana, and South Dakota for 32 years. From 1996 until his retirement in 2009, he served as the Fish and Wildlife Service Wisconsin Private Lands Coordinator, supervising habitat restoration activities on private lands statewide. He has worked with numerous federal, state, and private organizations restoring wetlands, grasslands, and endangered species habitats, and has been involved with agricultural and natural resource policy making in Wisconsin.
R. Tod Highsmith, Treasurer
Tod is a retired writer and editor in the conservation sciences. His career includes stints as an environmental educator, ornithological researcher, and staff journalist for an international bird conservation organization. He is a former officer of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, and served as editor of The Passenger Pigeon, the society’s quarterly journal. He holds a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Tim Jacobson, Secretary
Tim has been an attorney for the past two decades and served as executive director of Mississippi Valley Conservancy in La Crosse for seven years. In addition, he has served as president of the board of Midwest Environmental Advocates in Madison, and is a past member of the Gathering Waters Conservancy board and the DNR’s Stewardship Advisory Council. Jacobson’s environmental communications work was honored at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. in 2013. In 2014, he received an Emmy Award nomination as one of the producers of the documentary film Mysteries of the Driftless.
Gretchen Benjamin is the Large River Specialist for the Midwest Division of The Nature Conservancy. Her work focuses on restoring and protecting ecological conditions in the Mississippi River and other national rivers, primarily by working with the Corps of Engineers. Prior to joining the Conservancy in 2008, Gretchen spent nearly 25 years serving as a field biologist, river planner, and Mississippi River Basin Supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. In her 36+ year career she has worked on restoration and policy for almost 2000 miles of the mainstem Mississippi River. Gretchen is a founding board member of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. She lives near the banks of the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Linn is the retired owner of L.A. Duesterbeck and Associates, a commercial appraisal company headquartered in Janesville, Wisconsin. Linn and his wife reside on Lake Koshkonong where they own approximately 65 acres of water frontage with extensive wetlands. He has been active in many wetland and conservation projects in the past and has been a member of WWA for more than three decades. He is also a lifetime member of Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl and cares deeply about the future of Wisconsin’s wetlands and outdoor resources.
Nicole works for an environmental consulting firm and native plant nursery with a focus on ecological, restoration and regulatory projects. For more than 25 years she has worked in wetlands and natural areas throughout the Midwest, primarily in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Missouri. Nicole has spent time tromping through and doing research in wetlands and backwater areas in the Mississippi River floodplain, Ohio River floodplain, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Her favorite spots to work and play are the wetland communities in Wisconsin, particularly near her home in the Driftless area and the Lake Superior watershed where she has overseen several large-scale wetland restoration projects involving the reestablishment of boreal forest communities. Nicole has volunteered with land trusts and conservation organizations in both urban and rural areas, believing in the importance to protect wild and natural places and help people to know and understand them. With both a degree in Botany and passion for plants, Nicole enjoys observing and sharing the wonder of plants in the world around us.