Who We Are
Photo Credit: Caleb DeWitt
Who We Are
Photo Credit: Caleb DeWitt
The Prairie Enthusiasts is made up of 11 regional chapters. Our engaged volunteers are driving local land stewardship, grassroots outreach and education, and complete various administrative duties.
We’re grateful for our dedicated volunteer base and are welcoming of new, interested volunteers. To learn more about our committees or offer your time and talents as a committee member, please send a message to Info@ThePrairieEnthusiasts.org.
If you would like to reach out to any board members, or have a topic or concern for a committee to address, send an email to Info@ThePrairieEnthusiasts.org.
Jim Rogala, President
Jim began his term as President in the summer of 2022. He retired from a career as an aquatic ecologist with the United States Geological Survey, where he worked on the Upper Mississippi River Monitoring Program. Among his many skills, he has experience with statistics, Geospatial Information Systems, surveying, and database management. When not devoting his time to the many committees within The Prairie Enthusiasts, he is restoring hill prairies on his property. He and his wife started their journey learning about prairies when they purchased land in 1990 and discovered an opening with many flowering species. After purchasing some additional acreage with two more hill prairies, Jim began learning about fire-dependent ecosystems and was determined to steward them. “I began to realize I needed some advice on what to do, and in 2002, I came across an organization that is solely dedicated to preserving prairie remnants in the Upper Midwest. I find The Prairie Enthusiasts to be a perfect community for sharing knowledge among those dedicated to prairie and savanna restoration.”
Scott Fulton, Past-president
Scott acted as Board President for six years, where he brought his skills as a biotech entrepreneur. During his tenure as president, Scott oversaw significant organizational growth within The Prairie Enthusiasts. The Chapter Support Team was built out under his supervision, and he was dedicated to visiting all 11 chapters as often as possible, listening to their perspectives and needs. Scott continues to provide valuable input as a board member and active member of the Empire-Sauk Chapter. Whether teaching burn school, being a crew member on a burn, or engaging with outreach and organizational development, Scott’s knowledge and dedication to the organization are invaluable.
Alice Mirk, Vice President
Alice was one of the original founders of The Prairie Enthusiasts. Her skills have contributed to the creation and growth of The Prairie Enthusiasts with her 25 years of experience in public policy, legislative action, and grant writing with the State of Wisconsin. In her career, she managed budgets, planned and managed projects, planned and performed quality assurance and quality improvement activities, and managed staff state-wide. Alice has dedicated her knowledge and time to The Prairie Enthusiasts, acting as treasurer, board member, membership coordinator, and vice president. She is also an active member of the Glacial Prairie chapter and, with her husband Walter, assists in making and shipping makutus.
Jerry Newman, Treasurer and represents the Prairie Bluff Chapter
Jerry’s vivid photography of prairies and the life found on them is often featured on our website and printed materials. He retired from a varied life in management, farming, and sales. “Retirement freed me to pursue my interests in history and photography, and it wasn’t long until I realized how well prairies completed that package. Photographing prairies, their flora and fauna, as well as the people who care for them has proven to be a satisfying creative outlet. It is equally satisfying to put the camera down and engage in the necessary work of caring for prairies. I hope my work and my photos can awaken and inspire others.”
Harvey Halverson, Secretary
Harvey helped organize the original western Wisconsin chapter of The Prairie Enthusiast in 1995. He retired from the WDNR as a wildlife biologist and supervisor who specialized in land acquisition and restoration projects. A passion throughout his career was building landscape diversity from the ground up using the grassroots support of like-minded individuals. Imprinted on open landscapes from an early age, he especially enjoys the concept of building large swaths of diverse prairie within strategic geographies. He enjoys experiencing the natural world through birding, kayaking, trout fishing, and viewing the sky through telescopes. He’s acted as a burn boss for the WDNR, and, with his wife Ruth, planted their backyard with prairie plants.
Gary Eldred, Board Member Emeritus
Gary is a founding member of The Prairie Enthusiasts and an avid artist of the natural world. He acted as president of the Southwest Prairie Enthusiasts for 5 years. When that group merged into The Prairie Enthusiasts, Gary continued his leadership as president for an additional 10 years. His dedication to saving fire-dependent ecosystems and thoughtful conversations with landowners resulted in the protection of several properties, including Muralt Bluff Prairie, Hogback Prairie, Iltis Savanna, and more. His artwork has been a staple of The Prairie Enthusiasts and inspires those interested in native-plant ecosystems. For his accomplishments, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame in April 2021.
Jessica Bizub, represents the Glacial Prairie Chapter
Jessica is a researcher at the UW-Milwaukee Center for Urban Population Health. She has provided research, evaluation, and technical assistance to nonprofits and government agencies for 15 years, specializing in program theories of change. She has experience evaluating environmental education programs, including programs by the Urban Ecology Center, Riveredge Nature Center, and Wehr Nature Center. With several years of nonprofit board experience and her breadth of experience, her presence on the board, education committee, and as a member of the Glacial Prairie Chapter is greatly appreciated.
Katie Hahn, represents the Chippewa Savannas Chapter
Katie brings a range of knowledge from her professional career, which has focused on land protection and restoration in both the public and private sectors. As an advocate for fire-dependent ecosystems, she is excited to support The Prairie Enthusiasts’ initiatives through its mission and programming.
David Hamel, represents the Prairie Sands Chapter
A long-time activist, David has served on multiple boards, including The Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin, Invasive Plants Association of Wisconsin, and more. He is also a founding director of The Madison Trust for Historic Preservation. Beyond his contribution to the board, David and his wife Shelley share their passion for native ecosystems by being guides for multiple hikes and events for the Prairie Sands Chapter. When not occupying his time with volunteerism, he enjoys exploring the ecologically diverse area where they live in Marquette County.
Rich Henderson, represents the Empire Sauk Chapter
Rich was an ecologist with the WDNR. He has 33 years of experience in natural area inventory, assessment, and management of prairie, sedge meadow, oak savanna, and oak woodland ecosystems. Rich served four years as past president of The Prairie Enthusiasts and was an originator of the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, which includes more than 50,000 acres of grasslands in Dane and Iowa counties in southwest Wisconsin. He’s lent his skills to serve as the leader and motivator of several land protection projects including Schluckebier and Black Earth Rettenmund.
Evanne Hunt, represents the St. Croix Valley Chapter
Evanne retired from a career in technical communications, concentrating on technical writing for computer software applications. She’s contributed to the success of The Prairie Enthusiasts by serving as Board President for five years. Her organizational skills and passion for prairies have been helpful for several annual conferences, chapter events, prescribed burns, and a multitude of other impactful actions. “Prairies and oak savannas are our rainforests, our redwoods, our coral reefs. But, their familiarity to us means we don’t “see” them. They are just as worthy of our concern and protection.”
Deanna Pomije, represents the Many Rivers Chapter
Deanna has worked in soil conservation in Minnesota & Wisconsin for over 15 years. She feels a deep connection to prairies and promotes their preservation and enhancement. She enjoys connecting with other prairie-minded people.
Jon Rigden, represents the Coulee Region Chapter
After retiring as a family physician, Jon became deeply involved with several environmental groups. He served as a board member for Mississippi Valley Conservancy and is currently a board member of Friends of the Blufflands. He has been an active member of The Prairie Enthusiasts for several years, leading hikes, and is building partnerships amongst local environmental organizations.
Jay Rutherford, represents the Northwest Illinois Chapter
Jay’s retirement has been busy restoring prairie habitat around his home and volunteering in faith-based and environmental organizations. Jay served as an Army officer, followed by a career as a corporate finance executive. He lived abroad and continues to travel extensively but feels most at home in the Midwest. Beyond lending his time and talents to the Northwest Illinois Chapter, he also volunteers for Bread of Life Food Pantry, Apple River United Methodist Church, and Jo Daviess Conservation Foundation.
Stephen Winter, represents the Minnesota Driftless Chapter
Since 2011, Stephen has worked as a Wildlife Biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, where he is immersed in the ecology of big rivers. For many years Stephen’s professional and personal activities and interests have focused on the ecology, management, and restoration of grasslands. His previous involvement with non-profit conservation organizations includes service on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Chapter of The Wildlife Society, Prairie Plains Resource Institute, the California Native Grasslands Association, and the Rio Grande Valley Audubon Society.
Kay Wienke, represents the Southwest Wisconsin Chapter
Debra Behrens, Executive Director
Debra has been the Executive Director of The Prairie Enthusiasts since 2020. She brings more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership and development experience. Debra has an entrepreneurial approach to solving problems, focusing collective energy and building momentum. She’s passionate about saving the rare biodiversity and beauty of ecosystems in the Upper Midwest, and is actively restoring prairie and oak savanna at her homestead outside of Viroqua.
Kelly Billig, Leadership Coordinator
Kelly has over 20 years of nonprofit experience in fundraising, operational management, and event coordination. She’s excited to help The Prairie Enthusiasts preserve and restore the biodiversity of the Upper Midwest. She resides in West St. Paul, MN with her husband and two sons where they enjoy hiking and playing board games. She also spends her free time snuggling her very active beagle-mix dog.
Dan Carter, Ecologist
Dan joined The Prairie Enthusiasts’ Chapter Support staff in 2020. He has experience in fire-dependent community assessment, restoration, reconstruction, management, and protection as an educator, researcher, planner, consultant, and volunteer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Grinnell College and Ph.D. in biology from Kansas State. Dan is available to make visits to properties to discuss and assess potential or ongoing efforts related to fire-dependent communities. He lives between Madison and Milwaukee, but his personal project is a pine barrens restoration on property in Bayfield County. Dan also volunteers with the Glacial Prairie Chapter. Feel free to contact him with property visit requests or other technical questions.
Becky Bradish, Operations Coordinator
Becky has worked at a variety of non-profit organizations, mostly focused on providing services to people experiencing homelessness and/or mental illness, but has always loved any time she could spend outdoors. After attending law school in Minnesota and working at the Public Defender’s Office she and her husband jumped at the opportunity to move to the Driftless and take care of a family property. When she is not at the Prairie Enthusiasts office she can normally be found with her husband and dog on some corner of their property reading a book or weeding.
Khris Miller, Operations Coordinator
Khris joined The Prairie Enthusiasts to make a difference for “our beautiful planet Earth” after spending much of her career in the for-profit sector. Trained as an educator, her love of learning and teaching has allowed her to grow and help others succeed as well. She is a creative problem solver and resourceful support for our chapters and members. Khris and her husband relocated to the Driftless region in 2018, where they are learning to be stewards of the land. She enjoys hiking, snowshoeing, and horseback riding.
Nate Lee, Operations Assistant
Nate moved to the Driftless Area in 2020 to get away from city life and be closer to nature. After discovering The Prairie Enthusiasts, he quickly recognized his values closely aligned with their mission and was eager to join the team. His background includes wildland firefighting, operations management, permaculture, and anthropology. When he’s not in the office you can find him working on his farm, where he practices regenerative agriculture.
Duncan Schultz, Outreach & Fundraising Coordinator
Duncan moved to the Midwest from Orange County, California in 2007. Time spent outside with the land has always been important to him, but it mostly came through long trips to “get to nature.” Once he started at the UW-Madison Arboretum in 2009, the prairie rooted itself in his everyday life. Duncan considers himself extremely fortunate to spend his working hours supporting the prairie and other fire-dependent ecosystems and hopes his passion and excitement shine through all he does. Married with two kids, you’ll find his happiest places are in a good chair with a good book, or in wide open spaces having good conversation.
Sarah Barron, Marketing & Communications Coordinator
Sarah has had a love of native plant ecosystems and their inhabitants since childhood. She and her husband collect native plants along roadsides and grow native plants to harvest seed. Sarah is often out on a prairie or savanna, toting a pack with a camera, binoculars, and perhaps a parsnip predator. She is passionate to share “prairie enthusiasm” with others and continue to grow her knowledge of natural ecosystems. She started at The Prairie Enthusiasts in 2023, where she coordinates marketing materials like social media, emails, the website, and the Prairie Promoter newsletter. She’s always excited to hear about ways to engage others and share knowledge.
- Executive Committee
- Education Committee
- Fundraising & Endowment Committee
- Land Management Committee
- Land Protection Committee
- Finance Committee
- Prairie Enthusiasts Trust
This committee addresses questions that affect The Prairie Enthusiasts as a whole. They provide guidance related to messaging, activism and more.
Jim Rogala, Board President
Scott Fulton, Immediate Past Board President
Alice Mirk, Vice President
Jerry Newman, Treasurer
Harvey Halvorsen, Secretary
This committee discusses education programs and evaluates potential future programs and materials.
Jessica Bizub, Committee Chair
Molly Fifield Murray
Sarah Barron, Chapter Support Staff
Jack Kussmaul, Chair
Thomas C Hunt
Khris Miller, Facilitator
This group handles topics like CRP plans, fire plans, management plans, and site monitoring.
Rich Henderson, Committee Chair
Nate Lee, Chapter Support Staff
This committee handles topics like grants specific to properties, logistics of buying/accepting properties and easements, and property monitoring.
Mark Martin, Committee Chair
Khris Miller, Chapter Support Staff
This committee’s objective is to oversee The Prairie Enthusiasts’ handling of finances, both accounting and investment, and provide recommendations to the board.
Jerry Newman, Committee Chair
Khris Miller, Chapter Support Staff
Rich Henderson, Committee Chair