Land Conservancy Staff

The Land Conservancy currently employs eleven full-time and one part-time staff. All staff work toward the Land Conservancy mission of “complete conservation” that includes conservation planning, acquisition, restoration, and community participation.

Brian Stark,
Executive Director
Robert Hill,
Conservation Director
Kaila Dettman,
Restoration Program Manager
Wende Pearson,
Membership Development Manager
Crystal Elwood,
Business Manager
Paul Holmes,
Project Manager

Mark Skinner,
Project Manager
Daniel Bohlman,
Restoration Ecologist
Judith Hildinger,
Database Manager
Don Applegate,
Restoration Specialist
James Brown,
Restoration Specialist
Bryan Hibbert
Restoration Specialist

Brian B. Stark
Executive Director

Duties: Organizational Management, Land Conservation,  Project Management

Brian started at the Land Conservancy as a volunteer in 1994 and never left. He began by working on GIS / digital mapping which was a rare skill at the time. Brian learned about digital mapping as part of a Masters Degree in geography from Chico State. Working on such early projects as the Rural Settlement Pattern Strategy Reports and the San Luis Obispo Greenbelt Plan he specialized in conservation planning and resource mapping. In 1997 he was assigned the project that has defined his career at the Land Conservancy, creation of the San Luis Obispo Creek Watershed Enhancement Project. Since that time he focused primarily on managing restoration projects on local creeks and doing conservation easements and acquisitions on behalf of steelhead trout. Since 1997 he has overseen the installation of over 30 physical restoration projects including erosion control, water quality improvement, revegetation and improving migration access for steelhead trout. He is a regular presenter at conferences such as the Salmonid Restoration Federation.

In 2001 Brian was assigned the Deputy Director position at the Land Conservancy. While still managing projects he helped a growing staff implement a great variety of tasks that are critical to non-profits and particularly, land trusts. This paved the way for Brian’s eventual selection for the Executive Director position following the retirement of long-time Director Ray Belknap in 2005.

When not at the office, it is common to see Brian along any one of San Luis Obispo County’s trails or paddling a kayak in his home area of Morro Bay. You may also see Brian on stage in places such as the Mission Plaza playing bass for local band Up in the Air. When asked about his long tenure at the Conservancy and in San Luis Obispo County he said, “I love people and land and we have great examples of both here on the central coast. It has been an honor to serve the public trust as a staffer at the Land Conservancy”.

Robert Hill

Conservation Director

Bob Hill was born and raised in San Mateo, California. He was fortunate to be introduced to hiking, camping, and skiing at a very young age – his folks had him camping out at Calaveras Big Trees State Park before he was even one year old. For Bob, it was this early exposure to the outdoors that continues to help inform many of life’s important decisions. 

While in high school, Bob was active with playing the saxophone in the jazz band, running on the cross country and track teams, and working part-time shelving books at the library. By senior year, Bob had also discovered backpacking and rock climbing.

Bob attended UC Santa Cruz, where he graduated with a degree in Politics. While still a college student, a summer was spent living and learning in the High Sierras through the Sierra Institute field school. This once-in-a-lifetime experience solidified a passion for the mountains, as well as a growing feeling that a professional career dedicated to conservation of our natural landscapes would be both possible and necessary.     

After college, Bob went to work full time at Coast Commercial Bank in their construction and commercial loan department. This opportunity provided important professional experience in finance, real estate, and land use planning. After three years of banking, the need to return to the idealism of college years became overwhelming, and Bob decided to return to the academic world.

Bob moved to San Luis Obispo in order to attend graduate school at Cal Poly, where he earned a Master’s in City and Regional Planning. As a graduate student, Bob started out working for the Land Conservancy as a volunteer intern. This quickly led to an interest in regionalism and conservation planning, as well as a part-time job. Bob’s graduate project entailed a study of conservation priorities for the City of San Luis Obispo’s Greenbelt Protection Program.

Bob considers himself extraordinarily fortunate to be working for the Land Conservancy as the Conservation Director.  He lives on Terrace Hill in San Luis Obispo with his beautiful wife, Jaime.

Kaila Dettman

Retsoration Program Manager

Kaila was born and raised in Ben Lomond, California, a small town nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  She grew up camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding with her family. After high school she attended Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and earned a B.S. in Animal Science with a concentration in Livestock Production and Rangeland Resources.  She went on to receive her M.S. degree in Watershed Hydrology and Soil Conservation.  During and following her studies at Cal Poly she was a Research Associate for the Caltrans funded Vegetation Establishment and Maintenance Study research project on campus that focused on native vegetation and erosion control.  Kaila has presented papers at International Erosion Control Association annual conferences and recently earned the distinction as a Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control (CPESC).  She has also worked closely with ranchers and farmers in improving grazing and crop production practices to minimize erosion and improve water quality. 

Kaila left San Luis Obispo for a while to work for an environmental consulting firm focusing on bioengineering, erosion control, and stream restoration and a non-profit specializing in local stream restoration in tributaries just downstream of the Shasta Dam on the Sacramento River.  She returned to the Central Coast in 2005 and currently lives in Santa Margarita.  She has taken up sailing and kayaking, and continues to develop her skills as an amateur photographer.  She also enjoys cooking (especially Italian food), gardening, reading, yoga, and taking walks with her two dogs, Sonic and Copper.  She is passionate about conserving our natural resources and finding innovative ways to help us live in and improve the environment we call home.

 Wende Pearson

Membership Development Manager

Wende grew up exploring the woods and lakes of Michigan and gained her life-long passion for nature at a young age.  She went on to graduate from the University of Michigan , School of Natural Resources and Environment with a B.S. in Environmental Policy and Behavior.  During college she worked as a backcountry trip leader and volunteer teacher in the local schools.  After graduating, Wende spent two summers as a naturalist ocean kayak guide in Alaska .  In the off-season, she continued as an educator teaching high school science classes and managing youth environmental education experiences in Michigan .  She also spent four months traveling through Central America and volunteered on a sustainable organic farm in Costa Rica.  

More recently, Wende worked at an environmental non-profit outside of Washington D.C.   Labeled the “Dirty Girl,” Wende coordinated the removal of hundreds of tons of trash from the D.C. metropolitan area and managed a long-term regional watershed trash mitigation effort, the Trash Free Potomac Watershed Initiative.  She also helped establish a new environmental group in her community, Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment, where she served on the Board of Directors.

As friends continued to rave about “life on the left coast,” Wende set her sights for California .  She looks forward to exploring her new home via kayak, bike and boots.  Wende also enjoys traveling, reading, backpacking and birding – but her true passion lies in sharing the wonders of the natural world with others.  As her favorite poet Gary Snyder put it: 

“To climb these coming crests 

one word to you, to you and your children: 

stay together, learn the flowers, go light…“

Crystal Elwood

Crystal Elwood started part-time at the Land Conservancy in 2004 and has since stepped into an essential role as the Business Manager.  She has an eclectic professional background including 5 years in banking and additional experience working at a boat store, a computer store and a cake shop.  Despite her past employment diversity, she feels most rewarded by her current position.  Crystal ’s favorite thing about her job is the feeling that she is giving back to the community, and as she puts it, “I have a career that matters.”  In addition to the accounting, Crystal also manages the Land Conservancy’s innovative TDC (Transfer Development Credits) program that has gained national admiration for its success.

Born in Santa Barbara , Crystal has lived in Atascadero since the third grade and plans to stay.  She loves the land and the open space in her local community, and you can often find her walking or biking around town.  She also enjoys gardening, camping, reading and cooking – especially her infamous white turkey chili. 

Paul Holmes

Restoration Field Manager

Paul grew up in Southern California, enjoying the Cuyamaca Mountains and Baja for surfing. He attended both SDSU and UCSD and holds a double major in Environmental Geography and Political Science and a minor in Ecology. Paul briefly taught Environmental Science in Pt. Loma for K-5th grade but  found himself restless so he started doing seasonal environmental work. Paul eventually found myself at The Land Conservancy and has been with us since 2002.  Current project areas where Paul works are Black Lake Ecological Area and Black Lake Canyon properties.  In addition to running marathons, Paul has two amazingly wonderful girls that keep him grounded and forever youthful!Paul planting native species at Black Lake Ecological Area, Winter 2005.

Mark Skinner

 Mark Skinner has been with the Land Conservancy since May 1997. He is currently involved in the removal of invasive plants from the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes and San Luis Obispo Creek. The worst of the weeds are grasses: Veldt grass (from South Africa), Beach grass (from Holland), Pampas grass (from Argentina) and Giant Reed (from India). In the Dunes we are protecting rare plants from being overrun by weeds. On San Luis Obispo Creek we are preventing the spread of Giant Reed. A great deal of ecological restoration can take place simply by removing invasive plants.

Mark has a background in Landscape Architecture (’84 Cal Poly), composting (holding compost workshops for the Terra Foundation 1990-1997) and native plant gardening. His other interests include social activism (anti-nuclear, pro conservation and renewable energy, pro leadership in energy, CO2 management and foreign policy), feng shui, Jungian psychology, travel, wave riding, bio diesel  and cooking. He enjoys watching the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and 60 minutes. He enjoys fiction by Tom Robbins and TC Boyle and non-fiction by Amory Lovins and subjects such as geography, psychology, philosophy and food. His favorite websites are,, favorite bloggers are Virgina Postrel ( and Andrew Zolli  (, favorite ‘zines are Harper’s, the New Yorker and Business Week.

Daniel Bohlman

Restoration Ecologist

Daniel hails from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin where he spent his childhood tromping about the local woods returning only at last light, pockets brimming with the day’s treasures. Searching for a respite to the long Midwestern winters, he arrived in California in 1996 and immediately felt at home.

Daniel held careers as a professional Cyclist, climbing instructor, kayak guide and naturalist before deciding to pursue studies in biology. He holds a degree in Ecology and Systematic Biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a concentration in Botany. Following his studies he worked for The Nature Conservancy and The California Department of Fish & Games before coming to work for The Land Conservancy. His choice to work for the Land Conservancy was directed by his passion for San Luis Obispo’s diverse and amazing landscapes, and his desire to preserve and maintain these landscapes via direct action. Daniel’s life would not be complete without his wife Molly, or their dof Luke. His pastimes include travel, surfing, yoga, music, books, and sharing good food and drink with his family and friends.

Judith Hildinger

Membership Assistant

Judith was born and raised in South Lake Tahoe, California and has very strong ties to the outdoors.  She volunteered for 3 years with the Land Conservancy water quality monitoring program before officially joining the staff.  Judith is very happy to be working at the Conservancy to streamline, improve, and grow the membership database.  She has a B.S. degree in geology, a lifetime love of books, and a happy spirit on the trail.  The value of “saving special places” for both current and future generations is at the top of Judith’s list.

Judith has chosen a seasonal lifestyle in order to continue to run a summer resort business in the Sierra with her brother and parents. Judith’s other interests include hiking, yoga, and classical piano.  Judith and her husband Eric enjoy photographing wild places in SLO County and other places whenever they can get to them.

Bryan HibbertRestoration SpecialistBryan enjoys gardening, backpacking, and being outdoors. He has had experience running his own landscaping business, and is quite interested in native plants. His biggest love is music, both listening and playing, and his favorite instrument at the moment is the mandolin.  He lives in Los Osos with his wife and new baby daughter.

James BrownRestoration Specialist