CHAIR, ROLLING STONE RANCH, OVANDO
VICE-CHAIR, RETIRED US FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE
TREASURER, NORM WILLIAMSON CPA, MISSOULA
SECRETARY, IVERSON RANCH, POTOMAC
MANNIX BROTHERS RANCH, HELMVILLE
MONTANA FISH, WILDLIFE & PARKS
RETIRED SCIENCE TEACHER, SEELEY LAKE
THE NATURE CONSERVANCY
PARTNER, US BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
PARTNER, US FOREST SERVICE, SEELEY LAKE
B & C OUTFITTERS, LINCOLN
PARTNER, US FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE
PARTNER, US FOREST SERVICE, LINCOLN
RETIRED BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
US BANK, HELENA
PYRAMID MOUNTAIN LUMBER, SEELEY LAKE
PARTNER, MT DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
PRO OUTFITTERS, OVANDO
PAWS UP RANCH, GREENOUGH
MT DEPT OF NATURAL RESOURCES & CONSERVATION
RETIRED MT DEPT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY
PARTNER, NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE
PARTNER, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION
Seth joined the Challenge as Executive Director in 2019. He grew up in West Cornwall, CT and holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Government from St. Lawrence University, a M.S. in Environmental Studies as well as a Ph.D. in Forestry from the University of Montana in Missoula, MT. He was a post-doctoral research fellow at Yale University from 2009-2010. While conducting his doctoral research, Seth began working for the Blackfoot Challenge in 2001 as the organization’s first Wildlife Coordinator, helping to gather baseline data and develop strategies to reduce conflicts with grizzly bears and wolves that are still hallmarks of the program today. As an applied conservation biologist, Seth has worked on resolving issues between people and wildlife in the United States, Canada, and Europe for more than 20 years. Most recently, he spent three years in Slovenia as an advisor to the Slovenian Forest Service and partners from Italy, Austria, Croatia, Slovakia, and Romania to support brown bear and Eurasian lynx conservation and management. When not working, Seth enjoys cycling, skiing, traveling, cooking, and watching all three of his children play hockey.
DEVELOPMENT & OPERATIONS COORDINATOR
Megan joined the Challenge in 2022. A Wisconsin native, Megan graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota with a B.A. in history and environmental studies. She believes the history of a place – the natural environment and the people – is important to understanding current dilemmas and opportunities. She has been involved in fundraising, outreach, and engagement with nonprofits and businesses since 2009. A highlight of her career includes growing Milwaukee’s Urban Ecology Center’s national and international impact through community engagement. This work and other roles have developed her skills in donor relations, event organization, member engagement, outreach, and non-profit administration. Megan prioritizes relationships in all of her work and is inspired most by the impact of strong partnerships. Megan has moved around the country – including traveling to Wyoming and Chile to volunteer on small family farms. She lives in Missoula and enjoys trail running, nordic skiing, backpacking, and group bike rides with Big Sky Bikes’ staff.
SWAN RESTORATION & EDUCATION COORDINATOR
With a doctorate in ecology from the University of Montana and a postdoc in science education with the National Science Foundation, Elaine brings her combined experiences in research and education to her current position. Her interests in conservation, how science works, and how people learn all merge to help her share the excitement of learning and teaching about the natural world. Elaine lives in the Ovando area with her husband and two daughters, where they love to ski, hike, ride horses, view wildlife, and enjoy all the other special opportunities the Blackfoot has to offer.
Deb is the Office Administrator for the Blackfoot Challenge and works out of the Ovando office. She lives in Ovando and is very active in the community—she serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Cemetery Board, volunteers as a librarian at the Ovando Grade School, and issues burn permits and rents meeting space for the Ovando Volunteer Fire Department, among other efforts. Deb also provides administrative assistance to the local Blackfoot Community Conservation Area Council, as well as Partners for Conservation, a national landowner-led conservation organization. Deb is married to Larry Dillree and she enjoys spending time with family and grandchildren, camping, riding snowmobiles, and all outdoor activities.
Before joining the Challenge, Eric spent 15 years working for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks on grizzly bear DNA and population estimates and carnivore tracking. A Missoula native and University of Montana graduate, Eric joined the Challenge in 2013 as the seasonal Range Rider, monitoring wolf and grizzly bear activity in proximity to livestock. In 2016, Eric moved into the full-time Wildlife Coordinator position with the Challenge, spending the winters monitoring carnivore activity, including wolverine, lynx, and fisher, in addition to range riding in the summer. The relationships Eric has built with ranchers throughout the watershed are critical to the success of the Range Rider and Carcass Pick Up Programs.
Karen Laitala joined the Blackfoot Challenge in 2013. Before moving to Montana in 2009, she worked for the Nez Perce Tribe Biocontrol Center in Lapwai, Idaho. She received a BS in Environmental Field Biology, with an emphasis on botany, from Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, and an MS in Plant Science from the University of Idaho, Moscow (studying Eurasian watermilfoil, which required learning to dive as all of the plots were underwater!). While in Idaho, she worked on weed management research projects that included range and cropland environments. Karen also works for Powell County Weed District, where she has held the position of weed project coordinator since 2010.
Kate joined our team in 2020 as the drought technician. She has a MS degree in forestry and natural resources from the University of Montana and worked as a natural resource consultant for several years before transitioning into a full-time rancher. She has been ranching in the Blackfoot for the past several years and continues to work part-time for her partner’s family ranch. She is passionate about the prosperity of family ranches throughout the West and excited to be helping her neighbors navigate drought and riparian restoration within the watershed. When not working for us, Kate enjoys spending time with her husband and family, working cattle, spending time in the mountains, spoiling her dogs, dyeing textiles with plants, and playing bad banjo.
Sara grew up in Missoula and her strong interest in watershed well-being stems from her childhood camping around western Montana and northern Minnesota with her family. She began working for the Challenge in 2011 as a Big Sky Watershed Corps member, and now coordinates strategic communications for the Challenge. Additionally, Sara coordinates the Conservation Strategies Committee and its workgroups focused on Conservation Easements and Montana Forests, the lands currently owned by The Nature Conservancy of Montana. Sara received a BS in Conservation and Resource Studies from UC-Berkeley in 2009, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Resource Conservation at the University of Montana focusing on rural economic development. She enjoys spending time with family, friends, her partner Jase, and her pup Apollo, and gets into the mountains to ski, run, and hike as often as she can.
WATER STEWARD & FUND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
Jennifer Schoonen joined the Blackfoot Challenge in 2013 and has since managed programs that cover drought management, irrigation efficiency, water quality issues, and collaborative watershed stewardship. Previously, Jennifer worked for the National Forest Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Jennifer holds a MS in Journalism and Natural Resource Management from the University of Arizona. She grew up in a small town in Eastern Arizona’s White Mountains, in a region that nurtured her interests in the intersection of natural resource stewardship and rural community needs. In her free time, Jennifer enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, and traveling with her husband, Tony, and daughters, Carli and Brooke.
FORESTRY & PRESCRIBED FIRE COORDINATOR
Cindy grew up in the heart of the Blackfoot Valley at the DNRC Clearwater Unit headquarters. She attended Sunset School, Seeley Lake Elementary, and Seeley Swan High School before moving to Missoula. Cindy received her BS in Forestry from the University of Montana and fought fire with the Seeley Lake Ranger District and the Missoula Smokejumpers. She then did a 6-year stint in the US Army. She returned to Montana in 2006 and was hired at the Montana DNRC. She worked her way back to the Clearwater Unit where she was most recently a Trust Lands Management Forester. Cindy joined the Blackfoot Challenge in 2020. She especially loves hiking with her family, skiing, backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, and most recently playing ice hockey.
Brad received a BS in Wildlife Biology from University of Montana and an MS in Protected Landscape Management from University of Wales. Brad has worked in a variety of positions from wildlife research assistant in Yellowstone National Park and the Bitterroot National Forest, deckhand and visitor information specialist in Alaska, to US Peace Corps volunteer and ecotourism consultant for seven years in and around Mt. Elgon National Park in Uganda. Brad began working in the Blackfoot watershed in 2005 with the North Powell Conservation District. He joined the Challenge in 2009 as the Land Steward, where today he continues to work with the Blackfoot Community Conservation Area Council and private landowners across the watershed to accomplish their land stewardship goals. Brad thoroughly enjoys life in western Montana with his son, Corbin, 10, where you can find them riding, floating, driving, photographing, or during fall, hiking to, searching for, or hauling something along the way.