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Brenda Sanchez
District Manager
Susan Ortiz
Grants Coordinator

Staff Bios

Brenda Sanchez

District Manager

I spent my early childhood in Hood River, OR. I remember vividly the blue-gray waters of the Columbia River and the deep green hillsides of the Columbia Gorge. We moved to the mid-west and for many years after, Oregon continued to pull on my internal spirit. I left the mid-west for a summer job in Yellowstone National Park. It was that experience alongside my love for Oregon, that inspired me to work in natural resources management. I started my education at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, OR. I then transferred to Montana State University, earning a degree in Environmental Science. My first professional job was with the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Parker, AZ where I worked as their Native Plant Nursery Director. Although Arizona is beautiful and fascinating, it just was not Oregon so, I took a position with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs as a Soil Scientist, Finally, back in Oregon working to conserve tribal soil resources and protecting water quality.

I left the Tribes to move to the Willamette Valley where I took a new position with the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District as a Resource Conservationist. I enjoyed a few years of working with residents and landowners conserving natural resources in Marion County. I went on to pursue an opportunity with the Oregon Department of Agriculture as a Regional Water Quality Specialist, working for several years with the agricultural communities and soil and water conservation districts along the North Coast and within the Lower Willamette Valley. In 2020 I was elected to the Marion SWCD Board of Directors and then in 2022 I re-joined the Marion SWCD team as their new District Manager, coming full circle in a career dedicated to conservation. I now get to work with and lead a remarkable and talented team of dedicated individuals who love what they do!

Linda Lovett

Financial Administrator

Childhood camping trips and participation as a Girl Scout in the first Earth Day in 1970 sparked my lifelong love for and drive to protect natural resources. I am a Seattle native but also lived in Louisiana, Illinois, and Virginia before moving to Oregon. I earned a B.A. in English from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Library Science from Catholic University of America. In 2000 I moved to Corvallis to work for Hewlett-Packard, where participation in the HP Sustainability Network and research on corporate social responsibility topics inspired me to pursue another degree—a Master’s in Sustainable Business from Presidio University. This launched my career as the City of Corvallis’s first sustainability officer from 2006-2012. I later served as Operations Manager for Benton SWCD before joining Marion SWCD in August 2022. I am happy to support the work of the District as a steward of its financial resources.

Susan Ortiz

Grants Coordinator

Susan is a native Oregonian, with a lifetime of agricultural experience. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Crop and Soil Science from Oregon State University, and has post-baccalaureate training in statistics, genetics, and plant pathology. Outside of her work for the district, she and her family operate a farm focused on seed production. Susan joined the staff of Marion SWCD in 2008; she currently serves as the district’s Grants Coordinator. Susan manages the district’s internal and external grants programs and processes, with an emphasis on assisting with the implementation of on-the ground conservation.

Janice Calkins

Office & Facility Coordinator

Janice is the front-line person for the office. When you call in, it will likely be her voice you first hear, and if you stop by the office, she will likely be the first person to greet you. Though her position title is Office Coordinator, she wears many hats: receptionist, keeper of the office and postal supplies, organizer of informational materials, support to staff and other administrative duties.

She began her career with the District back in 2006. Her duties and responsibilities have morphed and changed every few years, based on District needs. poster/mural contest coordinator, newsletter editor, forms creator, annual meeting coordinator and more.

Sarah Hamilton

Native and Invasive Plant Specialist

I work with landowners to develop conservation projects, improve or create wildlife and pollinator habitat, and answer questions about native and invasive plants.

A passion for nature has been a driving force throughout my life, thanks in part to a childhood of camping, hiking, and exploring the Pacific Northwest and beyond. I believe a healthy natural environment supports healthy individuals, families, and communities.

Prior to settling in Salem, I worked at two other SWCDs in the Portland area where I was employed first as an intern, then an invasive plants specialist. before that, I spent ten years working the field leading a restoration contractor crew, conducting forest health surveys, and collecting data on spotted owl populations.

At Oregon State University, I earned a BS in Environmental Sciences specializing in Forest Ecology. I also have an AA in Horticulture where I focused on native and invasive plants and how people interact with their environment.

Becky Pineda

Agriculture Conservation Planner – Pasture & Livestock

Having roots in Marion County agriculture, I am excited to join Marion Soil and Water Conservation District as the Ag Conservation Planner. I grew up on a hobby-farm that has been in my family for over a century where we raised sheep and rabbits, and baled hay for ourselves and others.

I attended Linn-Benton Community College and Oregon State University. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in General Agriculture and a Master’s of Science in Agricultural Education. While in college I was on the livestock judging team at LBCC and enjoyed taking courses in all aspects of agriculture, forestry, and natural resources. For the last 15 years I have been an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor in the county and I look forward to continuing to work with the great agriculturists who have made Marion County the top agriculture county in the state!

Outside of work, my husband, son and I are enjoying setting up our new small acreage. We have fun showing our Horned Dorset sheep and also plan to get back into showing rabbits in the near future. During the COVID shutdown we added another type of critter – dairy goats – to our small operation and have started to make soaps and lotions from their milk. I have also started a 4-H club in Linn County to stay involved in ag education.

I look forward to helping you with your projects to keep Marion County an agricultural powerhouse long into the future!

Cesar Zamora

Agriculture Conservation Planner – Soil & Croplands

I am a California native who moved to Oregon in 2014 to pursue an undergraduate degree in Microbiology at Oregon State University. During this time, I quickly fell in love with Oregon, particularly the Willamette valley, and decided to make this place my home. Upon completion of my degree, I was fortunate enough to find work with the USDA-ARS as a research technician and begin my career as a civil servant. After my brief employment with the USDA, I was once again able to attend Oregon State University, except this time as a graduate student pursuing a Master’s degree in Soil Science.  

Outside of my professional life, I often find myself by one of the many streams and rivers that are but a short drive from my home. I spend many of the summer weekends fishing and crawdadding, and when I am not on the river, I can be found hiking along many of the local day trails with my dog. My love for conservation stems from my appreciation of the outdoors, and the joy outside recreation provides for me. 

I look forward to serving Marion County as a Conservation Planner, and working with everyone to protect the natural resources we depend upon and cherish in our daily lives. Please reach out if you have any questions, I am happy to do my best to help you find answers!  

Chelsea Blank

Natural Areas Planner

I am a recent Oregonian transplant, having lived on Oregon soil for three years after moving to Portland from Bellingham, Washington where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy at Western Washington University. I was fortunate enough to gain experience as a Clean Energy Intern at a nonprofit and travel abroad in Mexico to study water rights and sustainable farming. I have been passionate about habitat restoration and protecting public lands ever since. I have experience working in native salmon habitat restoration along riparian areas, trail building in county parks and forests, and maintaining public green spaces for a city public works department.

My passion for conservation is rooted in my experiences growing up camping and backpacking every summer since I was young. My favorite activities always involve being outside, whether I am hiking, snowboarding, or biking, I love to explore as much natural beauty as possible.

 I recently completed a life goal of mine to walk from southern California to northern Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail and I am excited for this next chapter in my life to join the Marion Soil and Water Conservation District in their mission to improve and enhance the soil and water quality for all residents of Marion County. I will be helping landowners, and anyone interested in improving the health and productivity of their land as the Conservation Planner for natural areas.

Rachel Kato

Riparian Specialist

Rachel joined Yamhill SWCD in December 2022. Prior to her role as a Riparian Conservationist, she served as the Miller Woods Nursery Caretaker. Rachel is responsible for providing technical assistance to landowners in Yamhill and Marion County regarding riparian health and conservation practices. Additionally, she works with landowners to implement riparian buffers on their properties through the CREP program.

Before joining the district, she worked in habitat restoration, conducting vegetation surveys, and at native plant nurseries throughout Oregon. Rachel is passionate about native plants and pollinator conservation and is currently pursuing her Master of Environmental Science with a focus in Ecology at Oregon State University. Outside of work, she enjoys hiking, native plant photography, dancing, and gardening.

Kassi Roosth

Urban Conservation Planner

The Willamette Valley has been my home for the past 8 years. During that time, I have become familiar with the native flora, fauna, and local community through work, educational classes, volunteering, and recreational activities. For the last 10 years, I have been involved in working with different public and private entities as a conservation planner, educator, and horticulturist. I am excited to combine my diverse skill sets and passion for nature into this new position for Marion SWCD!

My educational background includes an Associates of Arts at Collin College, certification as a OSU Extension Master Woodland Manager, Master Naturalist, Master Gardener and OSU Permaculture Design, and coursework at Oregon State University in horticulture and natural sciences.

Feel free to reach out with any questions or if you would like resources related to urban conservation! I can also assist you in creating wildlife habitat through participation in the Little Habitat Project.

Heath Keirstead

Communications and Education Specialist

I’m a conservation district staffer to the core and couldn’t be happier to be working at Marion SWCD with this collaborative team and community.

I have an undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont, and a masters in Soil Science from Oregon State University. I have lived in the Willamette Valley since 1997, except for about 6 months in 2006 when I did field research for the USGS in Moab, Utah studying biological soil crusts. I loved the field work, but sorely missed working with people, which is what brought me to the world of conservation districts later that same year.

I worked for Benton SWCD for 15 years, and over that time I filled a range of conservation roles. Youth and adult education have been central to my programs. I enjoy building relationships with volunteers, co-workers, community partners, customers, and other program participants. My goal is to support residents in their understanding, appreciation, and management of natural resources. I look forward to getting to know you and developing new ways to work together! Contact me to discuss youth or adult education programming, invite MSWCD to attend a community event, request website resources, develop education and outreach partnerships, and access CLEAR grants.

Tom Wilson

Administrative Assistant

Tom grew up in Blodgett and was a Rotary International Exchange Student to the Republic of the Philippines.

After graduating from University of Oregon (he is a “platypus”) he joined the Peace Corps as a Natural Resources Educator and served in current North Macedonia and Ecuador, where he met his wife, another volunteer.

They taught English in Thailand for three years and have lived in the Willamette Valley ever since, now residing in Independence. Tom enjoys cooking, archery, playing the drums and eats barbecue whenever he can.

Pamela Pontello and Jacob Mead

Pamela and Jacob are brother and sister. They were born in Florence, Oregon and moved to Metlakatla, Alaska before they turned 10. Their family moved from Alaska to Colorado Springs, CO when Pam and Jacob were teenagers..

After graduating from high school, Pam enlisted in the United States Marines Corps, where she worked as a Ground Supply Marine during her enlisted career (1999-2014) and commissioned as a Warrant Officer from 2014 to present. While commissioned as a Chief Warrant Officer, she worked as a Supply Chain Management Officer. She was stationed/deployed to the following locations during her careers: Camp Lejeune, NC; Camp Johnson, NC; Courthouse Bay, NC; Al Asad, Iraq; Parris Island, SC; and Camp Pendleton, CA. After completing almost 25 years of service, Pam is very excited that she will retire from the military in 2024 and move back to Oregon. As a SkillBridge intern for Marion SWCD, Pam plans to absorb as much knowledge as possible and discover how she can contribute to the community.

After graduating from high school, Jacob attended a few years of college at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs before joining the United States Marine Corps at the age of 20 as an enlisted Marine, working as an Air Traffic Controller and an Expeditionary airfield technician. He commissioned as a Chief Warrant Officer in 2016 and worked as an Emergency Services officer. He was stationed or deployed to the following locations during his career: Cherry Point, NC; Bogue Field, NC; Al Asad, IQ; New River , NC; Kandahar, AFG; Camp Leatherneck, AFG; Okinawa, JP; Monterrey, MX; Indian Head, MD; and Iwakuni, JP. Having completed 20 years of service Jacob has retired from the military and has moved back to Oregon where he is currently serving as an intern for Marion SWCD. He is excited to learn as much as he can during the internship for the benefit of both his family’s small farm and the larger community.

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