Opening Plenary

Monday, July 27, 2020: 2pm – 4pm MT

Welcome Address:

Karen Root, SCB North America President, NACCB 2020 Co-Chair, Bowling Green State University

Dr. Karen Root is the President of SCB North America and a faculty member of the Department of Biological Sciences at Bowling Green State University leading the Conservation Biology and Population Ecology Lab ( Her research over the last 24 years has focused on the conservation of native biodiversity, including ecological surveys, habitat and population modeling, and conservation planning and management. Combining ecological fieldwork with the application of quantitative techniques, such as G.I.S., habitat modeling, and risk assessment, she addresses conservation issues across many scales, temporal and spatial. In collaboration with the Green Ribbon Initiative (, much of her recent research focuses on ecology and conservation in the biodiversity hotspot of the Oak Openings Region of Northwest Ohio.

Adina Merenlender, SCB President, Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Adina Merenlender is the president of the Society for Conservation Biology and a cooperative extension specialist and adjunct professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. Her areas of expertise include protected area planning, climate-wise habitat connectivity, land use change modeling, working lands conservation, and outcomes and naturalist and stewardship training and citizen science. Adina is the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for outstanding extension work from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. She founded the California Naturalist Program, which received the Program of the Year award from the Alliance for Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs in 2015.

Plenary: A New Paradigm of ‘High Impact’ Research: Why Conservation Science Needs to Prioritize Racial and Social Justice

The science and practice of conservation have largely failed to address systemic racism and social inequality. Rather than being unrelated to the mission of biological conservation, as historically viewed, these issues directly shape conservation efforts and their outcomes. In this plenary, we bring together diverse perspectives to create a new definition of ‘high impact’ research. Through a series of short talks followed by an interactive panel discussion, we will start an honest dialogue – one that we envision will stimulate powerful action to address racism and inequity in conservation. If we want our discipline to be relevant and impactful, institutions and individuals must recognize racial and social justice as core values in conservation and work to achieve a functionally inclusive, diverse field of researchers and practitioners.

Keynote Speaker

Photo: Michael Estrada

Carolyn Finney, Ph.D., Author, Storyteller and Scholar-in-residence at the Franklin Environmental Center at Middlebury College

Carolyn Finney, PhD is a storyteller, author and a cultural geographer. She is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience. Carolyn is grounded in both artistic and intellectual ways of knowing – she pursued an acting career for eleven years, but five years of backpacking trips through Africa and Asia, and living in Nepal changed the course of her life. Motivated by these experiences, Carolyn returned to school after a 15-year absence to complete a B.A., M.A. (gender and environmental issues in Kenya and Nepal) and a Ph.D. (where she was a Fulbright and a Canon National Science Scholar Fellow). Along with public speaking, writing, media engagements, consulting (she works with a variety of environmental, educational and arts-based non-profits and government agencies) & teaching (Wellesley, UC Berkeley and the University of Kentucky), she served on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board for eight years which assists the National Park Service in building relationships of reciprocity with diverse communities. Her first book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors was released in 2014 (UNC Press). Recent publications include “The Space Between the Words” (Harvard Design Journal Spring 2018), “A Thousand Oceans” (Geographical Research, Wiley Pub., Fall 2019) “This Moment” (River Rail: Occupy Colby Fall 2019), Self-Evident: Reflections on the Invisibility of Black Bodies in Environmental Histories (BESIDE Magazine, Montreal Spring 2020), and The Perils of Being Black in Public: We are all Christian Cooper and George Floyd (The Guardian, June 3rd 2020). She is working on a new book (creative non-fiction) that explores identity, race, lived experience and the construction of a black environmental imaginary, a performance piece about John Muir (The N Word: Nature Revisited), and is a contributor for an upcoming anthology “A Darker Wilderness: An Anthology of Black Nature Writing” to be published by Milkweed Editions. She was privileged to do a month-long residency at the Blue Mountain Center in New York in 2018 and was the Artist-in-Residence for the Kentucky Foundation for Women’s Fall Residency Program in 2019. She is currently doing a two-year residency in the Franklin Environmental Center at Middlebury College as the Environmental Studies Professor of Practice.


Plenary co-moderated and co-organized by Dr. Kimberly Terrell, Director of Community Outreach, Tulane Environmental Law Clinic

Dr. Chris Schell (co-organizer) is an urban ecologist whose research integrates evolutionary theory with ecological application to disentangle the processes accentuating human-carnivore conflict. Specifically, Chris’ interests lie in understanding how social determinants of the urban landscape (e.g., socioeconomics and residential segregation, specifically) contribute to shaping adaptive phenotypic traits in urban carnivores at the organismal level, and mammalian biodiversity at the community level. His work also leverages inferences from social-ecological-evolutionary feedbacks to build applied solutions that promote sustainability, conservation, and environmental justice across cities. Hence, his research is uniquely tied to the community: he often works closely with nondominant communities (e.g. ethnic and racial minorities), wildlife managers, cultural institutions, and philanthropic organizations to help foster mutually enriching relationships among people and wildlife.

Dr. Sean Watts (co-moderator) is the owner of SM Watts Consulting, LLC – empowering communities to drive environmental and land use policy and helping traditional conservation and environmental organizations move from awareness to action on diversity, equity and inclusion. He has spent his career seeking environmental solutions that yield the greatest human and ecological benefits. Most recently, as Director of Community Partnerships for the Seattle Parks Foundation, he created programs to advocate for and build capacity among resident-led groups to enhance open space in Seattle. He has worked to bridge gaps between science, policy and society as faculty at Santa Clara University; as an AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation and as founding Director of the University of Washington, Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program. Sean received his BA in Biology from the University of Virginia; and PhD in Ecology from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. Max Lambert (co-organizer) is a conservation biologist who studies the organisms and environments where people live and work. Much of his work is focused on co-producing conservation knowledge and outcomes with diverse community members and practitioners in urban areas. This research and practice increasingly recognizes and integrates human social variation, particularly social inequality, as a dominant force shaping landscapes, ecological crises, and conservation outcomes.

Dr. Madhusudan Katti is an Associate Professor in the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program for Leadership in Public Science and the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University.  He is a reconciliation ecologist applying the tools of evolutionary ecology to understand how human actions shape the distribution and diversity of birds and other taxa in urban ecosystems, and how other species respond to anthropogenic landscapes. He uses a comparative approach to study how the dynamics of social-ecological systems shape urban biodiversity in cities worldwide, and to develop better policies and practices for nature conservation in partnership with local communities. He engages local communities and the broader public in studying how human activities and histories of colonization and segregation shape the distribution of nature and biodiversity in urban areas, and the historical legacy effects of differential access to nature for disadvantaged human communities. He is actively engaged in rethinking and redesigning his own research and the teaching of ecology and conservation biology within a broader framework of decolonizing science.

Megan Heyza, Founding Director, The Porch Project, Community Engagement Consulting

In partnership with Dr. Rebecca Tonietto (co-organizer), Assistant Professor, University of Michigan-Flint.

Megan Heyza is a resident of Flint, Michigan, USA. She started The Porch Project (, a grassroots initiative focused on impacting overstudied and underserved communities. She is a people-focused advocate who utilizes authentic outreach, challenging the idea of community engagement as a whole through developing best practices to inclusiveness and community-engaged research. She aims to change the way data are collected in urban areas while bridging the gap between community and research-based organizations. This is accomplished by utilizing a bottom-up approach to research, where research is not just done in a community but with the community.

Dr Rebecca Tonietto is a community ecologist focused on native bee conservation and habitat restoration in urban and restored systems, with a focus on shrinking cities and former agricultural lands in the Midwest. Beginning with her work on green roofs and extending to urban parks, community gardens, and residential front yards, Rebecca is interested in exploring win-win scenarios, where working with community partners to meet community-led goals can have a positive impact on conservation outcomes. As an assistant professor at UM-Flint, Rebecca has partnered with Megan Heyza of The Porch Project ( a grassroots initiative with neighborhood community building and activation goals for the past two years, installing and monitoring pollinator-friendly gardens in front yards of Flint, Michigan.

Deja Perkins, M.S., is a PhD student at North Carolina State University in Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation Biology studying urban ecosystems and how human culture shapes green spaces and urban bird populations. She looks at how social inequality influences green spaces in urban areas and how volunteer bias in citizen science programs can perpetuate inequality and create gaps in data. She looks at how historical (redlining and segregation) and future (gentrification) structures shape greenspaces, the wildlife that use them, and how people engage with nature. She is an advocate for using community science programs to engage communities with nature in their neighborhoods.

Dr. Talia Young is the founder and program director of Fishadelphia, a school-based community seafood program based in Philadelphia. Talia earned a PhD in Ecology & Evolution from Rutgers University, was a Smith Conservation Research Fellow at Princeton, and is now a postdoc back at Rutgers, studying climate change resilience in fishing communities. Prior to graduate school, Talia spent 7 years working and teaching in Philadelphia public and charter schools.

(Photo by: Will Newton/Friends of Acadia/NPS)

Suzanne Greenlaw is a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and a Ph.D candidate at the University of Maine School of Forest Resources. She is an ethnobotanist focused on mobilizing Indigenous Knowledge and cultural practices to address Indigenous cultural resource issues such as reduced access, invasive species planning, and loss of traditional food sources. Suzanne currently co-leads a project that facilitates the development of plant gathering agreements between the Wabanaki Nations and Acadia National Park. This interdisciplinary works focuses on Wabanaki stewardship approaches and cultural protocols to assert indigenous sovereignty within natural resource management.