SFC is fortunate to have a talented and committed team with expertise in land conservation, real estate transactions, land management, education, programming, finance, and administration.
Bridget Fithian, Executive Director
Sierra Foothill Conservancy is pleased to announce the selection of Bridget Fithian as Executive Director. Bridget will now oversee the entire organization, reporting directly to the Board of Directors.
Bridget grew up in Mariposa. She attended University of California at Santa Cruz, earning a B.A. in Literature. After graduating from college, Bridget returned to her hometown, and begin working seasonally in Yosemite National Park. In 2008, she started at Sierra Foothill Conservancy as a volunteer and member. Impressed with her work, the conservancy quickly hired Bridget into a staff position, putting her in charge of community outreach. In 2011 Bridget was promoted to Conservation Director.
When asked about her time as Conservation Director, and what she was most proud of, Bridget quickly offered The Stockton Creek Preserve.
Through partnership with the Mariposa Public Utility District (MPUD) and Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Bridget established Mariposa’s first publicly accessible preserve. The Stockton Creek Preserve provides hiking and walking trails for locals and visitors, training grounds for the high school track team, and protects the town’s primary water source. Sierra Foothill Conservancy & MPUD are currently working to expand the trail system and manage overgrown vegetation, making the preserve more accessible and fire safe. Stockton Creek highlights one of Bridget’s greatest strengths, and one that she brings to her new role as Executive Director: that of a bridge builder.
Gardening, photography, and hiking with her husband Ben and red heeler, Dusty, are Bridget’s favorite pastimes.
Mary Kate McKenna, Operations Director
Mary Kate has been with SFC since 2015 and works closely with the Executive Director to oversee everything related to operations and ensuring SFC maintains their Accreditated status. Coming from an accounting and administrative background, and deeply committed to the environment and conservation, working within a Land Trust is a great fit for her skills, values and personal mission. Sustainability across every level of the Organization is a trademark, and her role as Operations Director is the perfect platform.
Mary Kate is comfortable inside and out and spends her time with her children, grandchildren, and far flung group of close knit friends while enjoying their local communities.
Bill Esmay, Assistant Preserve Manager
Bill and his wife Kellie moved to their home in the foothills near the McKenzie Preserve in 1993. In 1994 Bill became an SFC member and began working as a volunteer. In the summer of 2006 SFC hired Bill, who recently retired from the California Highway Patrol, to work alongside Bill Dennison as a preserve manager.
Bill now works part-time to help maintain and enhance SFC properties while continuing to teach courses for highway patrol officers.
Nancy Fluharty, Development & Membership Coordinator
Nancy is new to the SFC team. She was born and raised in Mariposa, and recently moved back after spending the last fifteen years in education. She is thrilled to call the foothills home once again and feels honored to be part of such a dynamic, meaningful organization. With the help of the SFC team, she has put together a strong development work plan for the upcoming year. The immediate focus is directed toward lapsed membership and learning our amazing new database system while working to develop specific goals for campaigning in our three main regions of interest, Mariposa, Prather/Fresno, and Madera County. Be sure to stop by one of our many events to meet her!
Billy Freeman, Rangeland Manager
Billy Freeman serves as Rangeland Manager for SFC and has worked for the organization since November 2011. Billy manages SFC’s Rangeland management programs, which include grazing and monitoring plans on SFC’s 6,500 acres of Preserves. He also oversees grazing leases on SFC properties and selected conservation easements. As part of our stewardship team, Billy helps ensure the conservation values are maintained and enhanced on SFC conservation properties throughout our area of interest. Lastly, Billy also manages the Sierra Lands Beef cattle enterprise.
Billy worked in the cattle business for several years in California, Montana and Oregon before coming to SFC. He held positions with Basin Angus in Montana and worked in Bovine Embryology with Precision Embryonics in Glide, Oregon. Billy’s experience in the cattle business exposed him to many different management and cattle marketing situations on rangelands in the western US. Being a part of a large scale seed stock operation taught him about the selection and development of quality cattle, and also key aspects of developing a successful, profitable, and sustainable program.
Billy holds a degree in Agricultural Systems Management from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a Master’s in Natural Resources Stewardship from Colorado State University. He regularly participates in conference proceedings on behalf of SFC and has been published in articles discussing conservation grazing.
Lauren Hubert, Conservation Project Manager
Lauren was born and raised in Mariposa. She graduated from Concordia University in Business Administration and Marketing from Irvine CA. She continued her education by attending photography school by the beach for several years before returning to the family property three years ago. Her time in Mariposa includes several years working at the Mariposa County Planning Department and most recently Mariposa County Resource Conservation District (MCRCD). At the MCRCD and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnership office she assisted in conservation planning for both forest and rangeland in Mariposa County.
Her role at SFC as a Conservation Project Manager began in the summer of 2014. She is sincerely excited to further her career in Conservation with SFC. She finds working for an organization whose mission so closely entwines her home county and surrounding area is truly rewarding. In her free time she can be found with a camera, a foreign plane ticket or a chainsaw, working on the family property.
Jessica Krebsbach, Special Projects Assistant
Jessica was born and raised in California and spent much of her childhood outside. Before joining Sierra Foothill Conservancy in 2014, Jessica spent 12 years with the Park Service in Yosemite National Park. She worked with visitors in the field and behind the scenes in the environmental compliance office.
Jessica has a degree in Philosophy from UCLA. She lives in Mariposa with her husband and two daughters. Her favorite pastime is an evening walk on the Stockton Creek Preserve with her daughters, discussing what they find.
Gary Miltimore, Stewardship Manager
Gary has worked in natural resource management in various capacities for the past 15 years. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies and Planning from Sonoma State University. Prior to working with Sierra Foothill Conservancy, Gary was engaging youth and young adults to restore the environment, improve parks and enhance the community. He moved to Mariposa in 2013 with his wife and children to be closer to family members who have lived in Mariposa for two generations. Gary enjoys various outdoor activities such as mountain biking, snowboarding, surfing and camping.
As Stewardship Manager some of Gary’s responsibilities include resource management and maintenance of SFC’s six preserves, monitoring conservation easements and working with landowners as well as assisting in new project development. Gary has been with SFC since April 2014.
Melissa Odell, Conservation Project Manager/Biologist
Melissa grew up in the Madera County foothills and has relocated to Mariposa. Since 2005, she has been working in the field of wildlife biology and management, ranging from private lands conservation to environmental documentation and consultation. The majority of her research and professional experience has taken place in Central Valley wetlands, grasslands and agricultural areas, as well as the Central Sierra foothills and mountain meadows. Melissa’s specialties include avian and amphibian surveys, ecology, and impact analysis, rangeland and wetland management, and ArcGIS analysis and mapping. She holds a Master of Science degree in Avian Science from the University of California, Davis, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management and Conservation from Humboldt State University.
Melissa joined the SFC team as a Conservation Project Manager/Biologist in 2016. She is passionate about conservation of open spaces and working lands and is excited to help SFC and her local community work towards shared goals and maintain the strong local connection to the land. When not working, Melissa enjoys spending time with family, friends and her dogs, and is often found taking advantage of the local rivers and lakes, kayaking, camping and horseback riding.
Rosanna Ruiz, Education Program Manager
Rosanna is a native Californian who made her way to the Central Valley in 1997. Her first career out of college was in the engineering field, but after eight years she had a change of heart. She returned to Cal Poly Pomona for a degree in Recreation Administration with an emphasis in Management and Outdoor Education. Rosanna earned her MA at Fresno Pacific University in the area of Leadership and Organizational Studies, and is also a graduate of the Fresno Chamber’s Leadership Fresno program.
Rosanna came to SFC in February of 2008 and has helped create a robust Hikes and Classes Program with STEM oriented Youth Education for area elementary students. She is also the California Naturalist coordinator and instructor in collaboration with Fresno State. Outside of work, she serves as an adjunct instructor at Clovis Community College where she teaches math and environmental science.
Chris Velez, Land Steward
Chris Velez moved to the Prather foothills with his wife Jamie Carr in 2000. They were working at a small Sonoma County specialty nursery and were introduced to organic farming at Santa Rosa Jr. College. Chris put his goal of farming on hold while working at Intermountain Nursery and discovered his love for the foothills and native plants.
In 2003, Chris started Stella Luna Farm, where he provided the foothill community with mixed vegetables through a CSA. After 13 years of growing in the hills, he left the farm with the goal of working on a much larger scale and found that opportunity with the Sierra Foothill Conservancy as a Land Steward.