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OUR TEAM

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SUZIE
FORTNER

Executive Director

Suzie has been a nature lover for as long as she can remember, thanks to her parents who took her camping often. This passion led her to pursue a B.S. in Marine Biology at UC Santa Cruz, where she studied amongst the majestic redwoods. While there, she recognized the important connection between positive nature experiences at a young age and a strong environmental ethic later in life. Suzie moved to Humboldt County in 2006, where her interest in place-based nature education led her to volunteer with Friends of the Dunes school education programs. She was hired in her first part-time position with the organization while pursuing an M.A. in Social Science through the Environment and Community Program at Humboldt State University and was hired as a full-time Education Manager after completing her graduate degree in 2010. Suzie has served in many roles with the organization since and remains dedicated to connecting people of all ages to our diverse coastal environments. 

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MIKE
CIPRA

Outgoing Executive Director

Mike was honored to join Friends of the Dunes as Executive Director in 2019. He brings a passion for
community conservation and years of experience working in the National Park Service--as both an
environmental educator working directly with youth and as an environmental protection specialist,
developing restoration and land management plans. Mike is inspired by the native coastal dune
environment of the North Coast and has established roots in Humboldt County, previously contributing to our community as the Service Learning Liaison for Humboldt State University and as Executive Director of the Northcoast Regional Land Trust. In his spare time, Mike and his wife Jane can usually be found hiking and botanizing in the diverse habitats of the North Coast.

Justin Legge

JUSTIN 
LEGGE

Restoration Manager

Justin loves all things about the Natural Resources of Humboldt! After graduating from HSU, he worked for the US Forest Service in Lake Tahoe. While there, he realized how much he loved the Humboldt Redwood Coast, and had to return. Justin formerly worked as Restoration Volunteer Coordinator with Friends of the Dunes in 2012. In recent years, he has been working in the Vacation and Tourism Industry as a Property Manager and Private Naturalist Guide. Justin is very excited to return to the non-profit sector, and take on the role of Restoration Manager to complete the Foredune restoration along the Friends of the Dunes property! Justin has developed, coordinated, and led a diverse range of outdoor programs for people of all types and ages, in every ecosystem in Humboldt County. His love is to help other humans find a positive, and meaningful connection with nature and one another. Justin believes that by demonstrating authenticity, passion, and gumption he can help inspire others to give back and live compassionately.
 

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DANTE
RYMAN

Restoration Manager

Dante graduated from HSU in the Environmental Science and Management major. He has worked at various non-profits and businesses, honing his communication and leadership skills. Dante has been involved with Friends of the Dunes since 2018, completing the California Naturalist program and two internships. Dante coordinates restoration activities on Friends of the Dunes property as well as for the Bureau of Land Management's Ma-le'l South. When not in the dunes or in the forge at Blue Ox Millworks, he enjoys being outdoors and on the water or anywhere his family is.

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Outreach Manager

Daisy is from the buzzing city of Las Vegas, Nevada. Her love of ecology and conservation brought her to HSU in 2016. She instantly fell in love with the bucolic Humboldt landscapes. She graduated in the Spring of 2019 with a B.S. in Wildlife Management and Conservation Biology with interest in becoming an Ornithologist. After bird banding at the Humboldt Bay Bird Observatory and working as a field biologist for the endangered marbled murrelet, she realized something was missing. Daisy loved the sciences but she also loved interacting with the public! Daisy is interested in joining her passion for conservation, science, and environmental education. She found a home at Friends of the Dunes in 2019. Now she leads Spanish nature outings, helps create a diverse array of educational programs, and aids in large landscape conservation projects. In her spare time, you can find Daisy practicing yoga, bird watching, painting outdoors, and adventuring with her puppies, partner, and friends.

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Education Coordinator

Emily has always had a love for the outdoors and sharing it with others. This passion is what led her to begin volunteering and working with youth programs as a teenager, and what led her to Friends of the Dunes as a volunteer guide for school field trips in college. Emily fell in love with place-based environmental education and pursued it as a career after earning a degree in Environmental Education and Interpretation from Cal Poly Humboldt. She has worked as a Naturalist at a residential outdoor science school, multiple seasons as a Senior Park Aide for California State Parks, and spent countless summers leading youth in backcountry trips. As Education Coordinator she acts as a conduit for getting local youth into our dunes and trains new volunteer field trip guides, introducing them to this amazing ecosystem. Away from the nature center, you can typically find her in her garden advocating for native landscaping or taking a stroll on one of our local trails.

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RYLAND
SHERMAN

Restoration Technician

Ryland grew up in Los Angeles where he went camping, and hiking. He became interested in nature and ecology at a very young age through his experiences growing up. He moved to Humboldt County in 2012 and studied at Humboldt State University. In 2019 he graduated with a major in Wildlife Management and Conservation. Ryland chose this major after finding his passion for fieldwork in the Wildlife program at Humboldt State University. During his undergraduate degree Ryland became interested in Dune Ecology while he participated in many field projects at Lanphere Dunes. Ryland started working for Friends of the Dunes as a Share the Beach Intern during the summers of 2021 and 2022. In his free time, Ryland and his partner, Emily, enjoy hiking, kayaking, and taking their chocolate Labrador Maggie to the beach.

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MARIA 
HURTADO

College Corps Intern

Maria grew up in Zacatecas,Mexico where she became interested in nature at a very young age. She studied at National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) where she became interested in GIS and making maps. She came to Humboldt County in 2020, and fell in love with the majestic redwoods and beautiful Humboldt landscapes. Maria is now a student at College of the Redwoods pursuing a career in Environmental Science and Geospatial Analysis. She started working with Friends of the Dunes through the CollegeCorps program, she works on environmental education and Spanish nature outings. In her spare time Maria likes running, hiking and going on adventures with her partner Teng and their dog Maya.

Erika Ospenson

ERIKA
OSPENSON

College Corps Intern

Erika grew up with their feet in the mud and their hair filled with bugs, this is to say that they grew up feeling like the wild was just as much a part of them as they are of it. As a student at Cal Poly Humboldt Erika is pursuing a double major with the hope of combining the Environmental Resource Engineering and Ecological Restoration degrees to pursue a brighter future that prioritizes ecological balance. Erika's desire to make a difference in the world led them to College Corps. Through this program Erika was connected with the Friends of the Dunes as a restoration volunteer. At the dunes Erika can be seen diligently pulling re-sprouts of European Beach Grass and hosting the nature center to welcome visitors. Erika is excited about gaining real world experience by working with Friends of the Dunes to learn about the challenges facing nonprofits that focus on restoration. Erika is also involved with the local engineers without borders chapter and is working with a cohort of engineering students to establish an EWB Student chapter that is further able to connect volunteers with community needs by working in partnerships with organizations like Friends of the Dunes. 

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GINEVRA
RYMAN

GIS Specialist

Ginevra holds a B.S. in Molecular Environmental Biology from UC Berkeley and a M.E.M. with emphasis in Ecosystem Science and Conservation from Duke University. She has over 15 years of experience working for a variety of non-profits, governmental entities, and educational institutions. She has been involved with Friends of the Dunes since 2017, initially as a participant in the Coastal Naturalist Training, then as a restoration intern, and most recently as GIS Specialist. She loves spending time outside gardening, hiking, and camping with her family.

VOLUNTEER HIGHLIGHTS

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CAROL VANDER MEER

Board Member

When Carol arrived in Humboldt County from Nebraska in 1994, she was immediately drawn to the coastal dunes. They were curiously reminiscent of the Nebraska sandhills where she did her Master’s work on the ecology of the Niobrara River valley. Carol’s experience includes being a high school biology teacher, a nature center director, and naturalist. She started with Friends of the Dunes as a volunteer docent while she worked as a park ranger at Redwood National Park. She served as Executive Director of Friends of the Dunes from 2004 to 2015. Carol lives in Manila along the shores of Humboldt Bay with her husband Steven. When the tide is high, they enjoy paddling the waters of the bay and up into the Mad River Slough. Though Carol no longer serves as our Executive Director, we are still very grateful to have her on our side as a volunteer. Thank you so much for your continued support, we are lucky to have you!

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JOHN ST. MARIE

Stewardship Committee Chair Facilities Manager

John has been involved with Friends of the Dunes since 1988. He was the Director of the organization in the beginning and helped play a key role in helping Friends of the Dunes become an official 501(c)3 nonprofit. John has served on the Land Trust Committee, helping secure the 118 acres that are part of the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center, and he currently serves as Chair of the Stewardship Committee. John is also the caretaker of the Nature Center, helping maintain the building, native landscaping, and helping manage public use on the property.

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STEVEN VANDER MEER

Artist

Steven created our original website from scratch, managed it for years, and helped us transition into creating our new one! On top of being a self-taught hand-coder of HTML and CSS, he is also an artist, animator, and home brewer with an awesome studio in Manila, near the dunes. Many of the shirts found in our Gift Shop are designed by him, along with our logo! To check out some of his work, visit the Humboldt Coastal Nature Center or his website.

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