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Meet the VACD Team

 

Jill Arace
Executive Director

Jill has nearly thirty years of non-profit management and sustainable development experience, mostly overseas. She lived and worked in Thailand and Cambodia for eleven years, managing relief and development programs for several organizations. She returned to the US to attend graduate school, where she earned two masters degrees – one in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and the other in Economics from Boston University. After graduate school, Jill moved to one of her favorite places – Vermont – where she worked for eleven years at the Institute for Sustainable Communities managing civic participation and sustainable development programs. After traveling the world, Jill began learning more about conservation and community development in Vermont and in the beautiful Mad River Valley, where she lives and facilitates sustainable agriculture initiatives. Jill is particularly interested in supporting local food production and building bridges between different segments of the community. 

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Jeff Farber
Conservation Programs Manager
Jeff has had a long and varied career of non-profit administration, project management, and conservation activities. He has served on the Middlesex Planning Commission for the past five years, is restoring a forgotten farm apple orchard, raising organic fruits and vegetables and managing the woodlot on his 10 acres. Before coming to VACD in 2008, Jeff served on the staff of UVM's Division of Continuing Education, where he designed and managed distance learning programs for post-graduate professionals. Jeff is also a self-employed media producer developing award-winning documentary films and projects focusing on conservation and social change issues. He brings a wide range of managerial experiences and a strong commitment to conservation work to his position as VACD's Technical Programs Manager.
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Carrie Youngblood
Office Manager
The manager and bookkeeper of our virtual office is the current business office manager of Black River Design Architects. Carrie Youngblood is a graduate of the University of Michigan and has lived in Vermont for more than 30 years. Her previous office/financial positions have included the non-profits Downstreet Housing, VPIRG, Heaton Woods Assisted Living Facility, and Turtle Island Children's Center, as well as four years at Solar Works (now Real Good Solar). Carrie lives in Montpelier and is active in the United Church of Christ, currently a member of Bethany Church, Montpelier, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Vermont Conference where she was Moderator of the 2011 Annual Meeting. She is also the Treasurer of the Vermont Philharmonic Orchestra and sings in the Vermont Philharmonic Chorus.
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Troy Dare
Rural Fire Protection Program Manager

Born and raised in Rockland, Maine, Troy grew up enjoying life on the ocean as a Rockland High School Tiger dabbling in cross country, track, drama and other theater groups. He also developed a strong passion for guitar and music. After high school he attended Vermont Technical College majoring in Civil Engineering Technology. In the summer months he worked as a Stern-man on a few lobster boats and played guitar in a few professional rock bands. During his senior year at VTC, Troy did work-study for the Vermont Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Councils Vermont Rural Fire Protection Task Force on the Rural Fire Protection initiative. In the spring of 1998, the VT Legislature started funding the Dry Hydrant Grant Program and Troy has worked as the Engineering Technician for that program for 15 years until the RC&D's closed their doors in 2013. Troy has now moved on to become the Rural Fire Protection Program Manager for the VACD to continue the Dry Hydrant Grant Program and help evolve the Rural Fire Protection Program to another level of service & support for Vermont communities & Fire Departments. To date, Troy has helped install nearly 1200 dry hydrants in 235 towns and communities across the state. In 2017, Troy’s daughter Joule Loretta Dare was born and, in the Fall of 2018, he bought a house in Sumner Maine.

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Emily Nummer
Agriculture Programs Manager

Emily was born and raised in Michigan, and took advantage of the state’s natural beauty as soon as she could crawl. She participated in her first citizen science conservation project in 3rd grade, when she went on daily hikes to identify frog and toad calls. While studying at the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Emily discovered her passion for agroecology. This passion grew while she worked as a farmhand on a Certified Naturally Grown vegetable CSA farm. In her previous role as Director of Education at BaySail, Emily worked with conservation districts to deliver water quality outreach and education programs onboard tall ships sailing the Great Lakes. A lover of interdisciplinary learning, Emily’s background in sociology and psychology complements her M.S. in natural resource management, allowing her to effectively connect with and support land stewards. Emily lives with her partner, two dogs, three cats, and countless houseplants. She loves swing dancing and quilting, and is venturing into the world of roller derby. She enjoys all outdoor activities, but feels particularly at home on a sailboat or kayak.

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Alli Lewis
Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership Coordinator

A native Vermonter, Alli was privileged to enjoy her childhood growing up in the Green Mountain State. While camping, hiking, traipsing through bogs and catching frogs, she developed a deep connection to place. Though trips abroad were enticing, Alli always wanted to return to the state she called home. She earned Bachelor’s degrees in Integrated Environmental Science and Wellness and Alternative Medicine from Johnson State College. Her passion for the environment led her to work in hazardous waste remediation, collaborate with farmers on water quality projects as a VACD agricultural resource specialist, and coordinate the NRCS-supported Lake Champlain Regional Conservation Partnership Program and other water quality grants through the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Clean Water Initiative Program. As a mother, she strives to live in close relationship to the land and those who inhabit it, so that her son may develop the same awe, respect and commitment to the special place that Vermont is.

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Molly Varner
Communications Coordinator

Molly received a B.S. in Marketing Management from Syracuse University in 2008 and is currently one course from completing her Master's in Environmental Science and Policy at Johns Hopkins University. Molly joined the Grand Isle County Natural Resource Conservation District as Project Manager in March and has been combining her business acumen with recent training in conservation to expand the role of the district within the community. Inspired by the unique landscape and culture of the Champlain Islands, Molly hopes to bring new energy and light to issues challenging the county, such as water quality, and aquatic and terrestrial invasives. Her fellow Vermont districts, VACD, and NRCC have guided her through the state's conservation landscape, helping her to now support each in the role of Communications Coordinator. She's looking forward to reinventing her marketing skills to serve an eco-conscious audience. In her short time in Vermont, she's developed a deep connection to the Green Mountain State, spending her free time hiking, discovering new swimming holes, and enjoying the local culture. She is committed to enhancing the vitality of Vermont through both positions.

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Clare Ireland
Finance Manager

After graduating from Beloit College with Bachelor of Arts degrees in philosophy and political science, Clare spent four years with an AmeriCorps program as a conservation crew leader and wildland firefighter in Missouri and Montana. During this time, she also acted as an emergency response coordinator, providing leadership in volunteer and data management in the wake of natural disasters across the United States. In 2015, Clare joined the L-A-D Foundation where she managed human resources, finances, and outreach initiatives for one of Missouri’s largest conservation nonprofits. Despite her field-based background, she is, in fact, a “numbers person” who loves the problem-solving power of a beautifully designed spreadsheet. A St. Louis native, Clare married a New Englander in 2017, and both she and her husband are excited to be brand new Vermonters. Outside of work, Clare enjoys hiking, wood working, gardening, and playing old-time fiddle.

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Jess Miller
Grants & Finance Specialist

Jessica’s career began in the temperate rainforest of the Pacific Northwest, where for two years she led a citizen science program that monitored aquatic macroinvertebrates. A caddisfly lumbering along a stream bed never failed to leave her agape, and she found a home in the quirky and curious human communities that form around natural history. She went on to monitor rare moths in New England pine barrens and wild bees in mid-Atlantic farms; when she returned to school, Jess investigated the impact of mowing regimes on the butterfly diversity of Champlain Valley hayfields. Her career took an administrative turn, and for the last decade Jessica has worked in business, state government and nonprofit administration, mastering strategies for knowledge management and process improvement. She joined VACD in 2022 eager to use the skills and insights of this work to streamline grant administration. Jess is an avid home herbalist and open to trades for intel on secret swimming holes.

Lina Smith
Grants & Finance Specialist

The daughter of Canadian immigrants who moved to Vermont to have a better life, Lina was born and raised on a dairy farm in New Haven Junction, VT. There, she learned the value of hard work and developed a deep appreciation and love for Vermont. After attending college and moving to Montana for a few years, she returned home and worked as operations manager for a small cottage industry which brought her to the Northeast Kingdom employing home knitters to make specialty sweaters. Other jobs included raising two children, school secretary, managing her own specialty sweater business and working as a freelance bookkeeper for area businesses before being elected Town Clerk and Treasurer for the Town of Walden where she served for 20 years. She loves any activity that will allow her to be outside. Walking/hiking, gardening and building things as well as singing, reading, being creative and at the top of the list is spending time with family.

 

Meet the VACD Technical Staff

 

Joanne Dion
Program Assistant (Middlebury)
Joanne is a native Vermonter who grew up in Addison County. The favorite part of her job is helping co-workers and clients solve issues and to support them as they work to move projects along. Hospitality and quality customer service are of utmost importance to her. She is an advocate for recycling, composting and reducing waste of all kinds. Her time outside of the office is filled with family, friends, homemaking, walking, and camping. She considers herself fortunate to be working with such a wonderful group of people!
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Tanya Martin
Program Assistant (Newport)
Tanya is a Program Assistant in the Newport Office. She is native to the  Orleans County area where she has raised her two sons and her daughter. She has a deep connection with her community because of her diverse work experiences. Tanya worked for many years at the Community National Bank in Barton prior to operating her private and Vermont state registered childcare. She took great joy in being home with her family and caring for other  families children as well. Tanya has in most recent years worked as a County office employee for the Orleans and Lamoille County USDA Farm Service Agency Program Technician. Tanya takes great pride in her children and her grand-daughter. She loves being home and spending quality time with her family. Spring and summer are Tanya’s favorite seasons because, she spends her free time in her flower and vegetable gardens where she feels at peace!
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Elizabeth (Izzy) Bazluke
GIS and Natural Resources Planner/UAV Pilot

Izzy is a fifth generation Vermonter and has been with VACD for 3.5 years, working in the Colchester USDA-NRCS-Vermont State office. Izzy independently develops and manages NRCS-VT “Mobile Tools” statewide program using ESRI’s Field Maps and Survey123 mobile applications to digitally inventory resources, conduct field assessments, and plan practices on-demand and in the field. She is a member of the USDA-NRCS Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) Program team, which includes monitoring NRCS wetland easements for violations, wildlife, invasive and noxious weed plants, and assisting with conservation practice implementation and certification. She regularly assists with wetland delineations for Food Security Act purposes including describing soils, inventorying vegetation, and identifying wetland hydrology. Finally, she is a FAA Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot and co-manages VACD’s Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) program including managing and coordinating, flight operations, geo-product creation, reporting, and program outreach. Izzy joined VACD shortly after completing an international Master’s program in Environmental Management and Sustainability in the small Mediterranean island-state of Malta. Prior to post-grad, Izzy studied at Syracuse University, earning a degree in Biology with a focus on Environmental Science.  

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Lauren Newman
GIS and Natural Resources Planner/UAV Pilot

Lauren grew up in Ohio and moved to Vermont to pursue a degree in forestry from the University of Vermont. She spent her summers in Ohio working in a leasing office and helping people find apartments. Lauren discovered her love of working with spatial data and GIS after taking Intro to Geographic Information Systems and decided to pursue a minor in Geospatial Technologies. Her capstone project was working to create a planting prioritization map for the Winooski Tree Board looking at spatial data, inspiring her to continue working with GIS in Vermont. She helps conservation planners and engineers use ArcGIS Pro to use geospatial products in their workflows. Many of these workflows include creating maps through a set of python scripts she has created, LiDAR, and CAD data. Additionally, she has co-created a set of guidance documents through Microsoft Teams that help people with frequently asked issues in ArcGIS Pro, so they have all the resources they need to seamlessly do their jobs. Recently, she has become a FAA Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot and co-manages the VACD Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) Program and is the Program Manager. This includes managing project requests and sUAS workload, project planning and preparation, act as the Remote Pilot in Command, and process the flight data and give the desired deliverables to the client. While acting as the Remote Pilot in Command, she uses a series of checklists to ensure the safety of herself, those around, and the UAV. She hopes the work she is doing with the UAV can aid in engineers and conservation planners planning processes. 

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Michelle Smith
Conservation Planner (Rutland)

Michelle joined VACD in the summer of 2011 as a CREP planner and is now working as a Land Treatment Planner. Prior to her role with VACD, Michelle worked as a ConservationGIS Technician with USDA Farm Service Agency for more than four years where she gained extensive experience in GIS and conservation programs. Michelle is a MA native but has been living in Vermont for over thirteen years. She earned her undergraduate degree at Green Mountain College in environmental studies with double minors in biology and geology. As a graduate student, Michelle studied environmental sciences with a focus in conservation biology. She attributes her life-long love of the environment largely to her parents, who always encouraged her to explore the outdoors through backpacking, hiking, and family canoe trips.

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Cindy Watrous
Conservation Planner (Middlebury)

Cindy Watrous grew up in Piermont, NH on a small dairy farm.  She attended Becker Junior College earning an Associate of Applied Science for Veterinary Assistant.  Cindy was a Dairy Herd Improvement Association Technician for 23 years and enjoyed her work with the farmers in Addison County.  Cindy received her training on GIS from FSA and joined VACD in December of 2006 as a Land Treatment Planner covering Addison, Rutland and Bennington Counties. Cindy owns a small sheep farm and is a fiber artist who dyes and processes her own sheep’s wool into felted creations.   In her spare time, Cindy enjoys gardening, seeking treasures at yard sales, repurposing items and spending time with her two grand-daughters. 

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Justin Michaud
Conservation Planner (Newport)

Justin Michaud is a native Vermonter who grew up on a family dairy farm. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Sierra Nevada College and a Master of Science degree in Biology from Eastern Kentucky University. Justin joined the VACD team in 2015 and currently works as a Land Treatment Planner and Conservation Planner in the Newport field office. He loves playing with his two children, working on a diversified farm, fishing, gardening, and snowboarding. 

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Meryl Braconnier
Conservation Planner (St. Albans)

Meryl grew up in Lynnfield, MA, just north of Boston. She attended UVM and graduated this past May with an Environmental Sciences degree and minors in French and Chemistry. Meryl now lives in Burlington, VT. She was a research assistant in Dr. Eric Roy's Nutrient Cycling and Ecological Design Lab, and joined UVM's first Soil Judging team. Last summer, she received a fellowship from UVM to conduct independent research on the social dimensions of river conservation efforts in Vermont’s Upper Missisquoi Watershed. Through her collaboration with the Vermont Land Trust, and work with landowners and farmers, Meryl became familiar with the social, economic, and environmental benefits (and challenges) to conservation initiatives and water quality. She is very excited to apply her knowledge in the conservation planning process through hands-on field work and engaging with customers. 

As for a few fun facts: Meryl enjoys staying active and getting outdoors—whether that’s by playing Ultimate Frisbee, gardening, hiking, or biking. She also likes to get creative in the kitchen and try new recipes. In normal (non-Covid) times, she’d be following the local music and art scene. In colder times, reading some poetry or fiction—in English or in French!

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Stephi Drago
Wetlands Restoration Planner

Stephi received a B.A. in Geography and Environmental Studies from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois in 2015 and graduated with a Master’s in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont in 2021. At UVM, Stephi's research focused on estimating floodwater storage volume and prioritizing floodplain reconnection in the Northern Lake Champlain Basin in Vermont. Stephi also assisted in an effort to create floodplain maps at various recurrence intervals for the entire Lake Champlain Basin. Dedicated to water resource conservation and restoration, Stephi has worked a variety of positions, including, but not limited to working in prairie restoration in the Midwest, serving with NRCS through Vermont’s ECOAmeriCorps program, and working for VACD as the Strategic Watershed Cartographic Technician. Stephi is excited to be back with the VACD Team and looks forward to working as the Wetlands Restoration Planner. When not at work, Stephi can be found in the garden or foraging in the woods, and then subsequently cooking up all the great things that grow in Vermont. Stephi also enjoys playing music, photography, woodworking, and learning to sew.

Caitlin Silber
Programs Assistant (St. Albans)

Raised on Long Island, New York, Caitlin spent summers vacationing with her family in Northern Vermont. The mature forests, unique landscape and beauty of the Green Mountain State solidified that Vermont is where she wanted to live. After years designing jewelry for clients and graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Art from Adelphi University, Caitlin moved to Vermont and in following years finished her Graduate Degree from the Gemological Institute of America to elevate her long-standing career in the Fine Jewelry industry. Though she thoroughly enjoyed the building of connections to Vermont through its community members, she ultimately knew she needed to make a larger impact for VT residents and their future.

Caitlin went on to work with the Vermont State Parks, Forests & Recreation; learning that conservation of the waters and land of the state she calls “Home” are essential. With allotted down time in winter, Caitlin and her partner Chris traveled to the islands of Hawai’i through the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program, working to stabilize fragile local food systems as well as implementing organic and sustainable farming practices. Learning from the Pacific Island peoples about issues surrounding cultural justice and equality was a life altering experience that she will always be grateful for.

Her studies of Agroforestry, Permaculture sciences and organic farm management led to working with a local VT Industrial Hemp farm, applying these methodologies and gaining experience in low-impact monocrop farming. Becoming familiar with the programs in Vermont that assist farmers and the general population with their goals, while also protecting the natural resources that make our state so special, directed Caitlin to the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts. She is super excited to continue making a huge difference! In her downtime, she enjoys hiking with her partner, tending her gardens, collecting rocks and minerals, family & friends, live music and cooking

 

Meet the Natural Resources Conservation District Managers

Michael Fernandez
Bennington County NRCD District Manager
Emily Finnegan
Caledonia County NRCD District Manager
Heather Johnson
Essex County NRCD District Manager
Lauren Weston
Franklin County NRCD District Manager
Molly Varner
Grand Isle County NRCD District Manager
Peter Danforth
Lamoille County NRCD District Manager
Sarah Damsell
Orleans County NRCD District Manager
Sue Greenall
Ottauquechee NRCD District Manager
Pam Stefanek
Otter Creek NRCD District Manager
Nanci McGuire
Rutland NRCD District Manager
Cory Ross
Windham County NRCD District Manager
Remy Crettol
Winooski NRCD District Manager
Hilary Solomon
Poultney Mettowee NRCD District Manager
Jennifer Byrne
White River NRCD District Manager