NFF believes in the value of matching cutting-edge knowledge acquired in graduate-level studies with practical, hands-on experiences. The purpose of the Conservation Connect Fellowship is to align NFF's collaboration and conservation work with an experiential education opportunity. NFF is striving to meet each Fellow's learning objectives, while also effectively delivering conservation results for National Forests and Grasslands through collaboration. The NFF gives Fellows the chance to gain direct experience in a variety of NFF and partner functions, specifically in collaborative processes and on-the-ground science applications. The Conservation Connect Fellowship aims to build experience, knowledge, and skills to guide the next generation of collaborative leaders in the conservation field.

We thank the Exxon Mobil Foundation, the Watershed Research and Training Center, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and an anonymous donor for their generous support of the 2021 Conservation Connect Fellowship Program.

Let's meet the 2021 cohort of Conservation Connect Fellows:

Claire Grisham

Hailing from western Washington, Claire grew up exploring the cedar forests and gaining an appreciation for public lands and all they have to offer. These interests led her to the University of Montana where she received her B.S. in Natural Resource Conservation and is currently working towards a Masters in Public Administration with a focus on nonprofits. Prior to graduate school, Claire completed a service term with the AmeriCorps Energy Corps program where she had her first experience working with government, nonprofits, community groups, and citizens to achieve a common goal. Through this Claire discovered her passion for public service! Most recently Claire interned with Forward Montana and this experience combined with her MPA classes highlighted the urgent need for DEI efforts to create a more representative democracy. Claire is beyond excited to participate in this fellowship and have the opportunity to assist NFF’s efforts to increase DEI in their grants programs. In her free time, Claire enjoys hiking, biking, experimenting with food, and fawning over all the animals in her life!

Claire Thompson

Claire Thompson is a graduate student at the University of Montana, where she is pursuing a master's degree in Environmental Studies with a focus on writing, as well as a certificate in Natural Resources Conflict Resolution. She is interested in public-lands stewardship, ecology, and telling stories that explore human relationships to the natural world. Claire's many years of seasonal trail work inspire and inform her academic and creative interests.

Claire has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and spent two years writing and editing environmental news stories before discovering the world of seasonal outdoor work. She has spent the past five summers working on a U.S. Forest Service trail crew on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in her home state of Washington, giving her a ground-level view of the complex challenges facing public-lands management, and fueling her drive to take a more active role in shaping the future of our National Forests. Claire is excited to explore the possibilities of collaborative stewardship by working on the NFF's Partnerships on Every Forest project.

When she's not studying or clearing trails, Claire enjoys reading voraciously, running casually, scribbling in her journal, kicking back around a campfire, and (hopefully, someday) dancing to live music in dive bars.

Elli Morris

Elli Morris has lived an eclectic life: she’s traveled through 50 countries and 50 US states, dined with movie stars and Pulitzer prize winners, created Mardi Gras parades and inspired film festivals, and lived in castles, warehouses, and out of her car. Throughout it all, Elli’s been a vocal advocate for the outdoors.

Outdoor advocacy was her foundation as a professional whitewater kayak instructor, sponsored whitewater Stand Up Paddleboarder, USFS Wilderness Ranger, environmental filmmaker, and the Sustainability Coordinator for Twende Maasai Tours.

Elli is currently enrolled in the Master of Forestry program at Northern Arizona University to gain a deeper scientific understanding of forest values. Through the Fellowship project as “Colorado Project Coordination and Communications,” she’ll have the opportunity to combine her worldly funk and professional marketing mind with the science brain she’s developing. The Fellowship placement will provide invaluable experience and feedback for her goal of being a “tree storyteller.” She hopes to facilitate more sustainable approaches of how to value forests and move away from the institutional list of forest contributions.

Living in the desert the past two years, water sports have vanished from her activities but hiking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, hammocking, and backcountry explorations are fine connections to nature. As long as there are trees to climb and a good dose of those negative outdoor ions, she’s happy!

Katelyn Toigo

Katelyn is a master’s student at the University of California, Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science and Management specializing in conservation planning. Katelyn’s love of nature and determination to preserve and restore biodiversity started at a young age at her home on an Illinois State Land and Water Reserve and grew as she visited U.S. national parks. She attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale where she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Zoology, specializing in Wildlife Biology, and a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Environmental Resources, specializing in Geographic Information Sciences, with a minor in Environmental Studies. While at SIU, she had the opportunity to be a GLOBE (Growing Leaders on Behalf of the Environment) intern for The Nature Conservancy at their Emiquon Preserve, where she developed a deep appreciation for non-governmental organizations. Her current UCSB master’s project is working with The Nature Conservancy in the San Joaquin Valley of California identifying barriers to converting farmland to solar energy production and wildlife habitat, necessitated by groundwater depletion. Katelyn’s practicum project will be the Southern Idaho Forest Fund Program. She is excited to work with stakeholders and improve the forests of Idaho.

Laura Gonzalez Mantecon

Laura is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of the Environment, focusing on Ecosystem Conservation and Management. Originally from Northern Spain, she grew up between the sea and the mountains, which sparked a passion for the natural environment and the role of people within it. She went on to get a BS in Biotechnology from the University of Oviedo and then transitioned into outdoor, science, and environmental education work in India, Western Canada, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. While at Yale, she is working on projects ranging from collaborative rangeland monitoring to equitable partnerships in land conservation and climate change communication. Laura believes that the future of conservation is inclusive and collaborative, so she is very excited to coordinate forest working groups during her Fellowship and facilitate diverse perspectives on resource management in National Forests. Laura is happiest backcountry skiing, climbing, lounging in the sun like a lizard, or visiting her Spanish seaside hometown, which she will tell you is the most beautiful place on Earth.

Matthew Merritt

Matthew Merritt grew up in Upstate New York and developed a love for the Adirondacks at an early age. Through Boy Scouts and love for hiking, a passion for place base education around the environment grew. Eventually, Matthew decided to attend Paul Smith’s College in the northern part of the Adirondacks to begin his environmental education journey. After spending four years earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resource Management and a minor in Environmental Studies, Matthew decided to continue his studies into graduate school. He is currently a Master of Environmental Management Student on the Sustainable Resilient Communities track at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado. His master’s project will center around increasing environmental advocacy and stewardship jobs in the state Colorado and making these jobs a more permanent situation for many environmental professionals. This summer, Matthew plans to work with STOR corps in the Gunnison county doing various stewardship projects. As a NFF Fellow, Matthew looks forward to learning more about the non-profit process and the various networking opportunities available.

In his free time, Matthew enjoys snowboarding the awesome mountains Colorado has to offer, hiking around the various beautiful public lands, collecting vinyl records from every decade, and hanging out with his hedgehog.

Meredith Jacobson

Meredith is going into her second year of her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon, in the Environmental Studies Program and Sociology Department. She studies sociological dimensions of forest and fire governance, asking questions about how collective action takes place across socio-cultural, geographic, and political boundaries. While working to complete her M.S. at Oregon State University, she partnered with the Intertribal Timber Council to study the Anchor Forest concept, a vision for Tribal leadership in cross-boundary forest governance. She has been passionate about the relationship between people and forests, and particularly social relationships to fire, since studying Forestry and Natural Resources as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. Before starting graduate school, she worked as a Forestry Aide for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and as an Environmental Educator for the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. This summer, she is excited to spend her time as a Conservation Connect fellow supporting the Watershed Center in northern California, helping to translate climate policy and science to collaborative forest management partnerships. She’s also looking forward to hitting some backcountry trails this summer and playing music around the fire.

Seamus Land

Seamus is currently pursuing an MS in Environmental Studies with a Natural Resources Conflict Resolution certificate at the University of Montana. He grew up in San Luis Obispo, California, where he gained a love for the natural world running and surfing along the coastline and mountains of Big Sur. He then went to UC Berkeley for undergrad where he studied Earth Science and English and ran on the Cross Country and Track teams. After school Seamus returned to his hometown, where he managed an organic orange orchard for a year before taking a job with a Resource Conservation District coordinating large coastal dune restoration at the Oceano Dunes State Park. While navigating three seasons full of ecological, political, public health, and interpersonal dynamics he gained a passion for the transformative potential of ecological restoration. This interest drew him to UM where he is studying ethics and collaboration at a higher level. Seamus is very excited to be an NFF Fellow with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Working Group. He hopes to gain experience supporting restorative and durable collaborative efforts across the West.


Zach Browning

Zach is a first year Graduate student of forestry at Northern Arizona University. Two things called him to pursue a career in forestry. 1) A deep love and passion for nature and 2) a belief that collectively humans can live in a reciprocal, coexistent state with each other and the environment. With a background in art therapy, he dedicated himself towards healing individuals, families, and communities for many years. He also was an artist engaged in social justice projects in Boston and Philadelphia. Upon hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017 and the Colorado Trail in 2020, he switched focuses to landscapes. It is his belief that when you restore the land, you strengthen the community. Upon graduation, he hopes to use agroforestry practices to restore degraded landscapes and build collaborative communities.

Zach is eager to be working on the Wood for Life Initiative. Restoring the ecosystem, while working with local tribes to meet their sustainable energy needs, is an exciting project for him to be a contributor to.

National Forest Foundation