Who We Are
Governed by a board of directors — representative of the nine-county region we serve — with a professional staff and many dedicated volunteers, SWMLC works with willing landowners to conserve their land. Together, we protect endangered and threatened habitats and species, rural character and open space, agriculture and passive recreation, and the extraordinary vistas that give this region its distinctive character.
We are supported by members, foundations, governments, and organizations — all committed to conserving land.
Current Board of Directors
Janice Varney, Chair
Dave Coleman, Vice-Chair
Mary Houser, Treasurer
Thom Coder, Secretary
Erwin H. Doerschler
W. Jack Keiser
Robert L. O’Boyle
Peter D. Ter Louw
Peter has a B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry from Hope College in Holland, Michigan. He received a master of landscape architecture from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources, with an emphasis on ecological design and restoration. After graduate school, Peter returned to his home in New Jersey and worked with the Passaic River Coalition, initiating and creating the land conservation and acquisition program. Under his leadership as project manager and later as assistant executive director, this nonprofit watershed association secured over $2.5 million in government and foundation land acquisition grants. Peter also worked with county and municipal governments to develop collaborative regional land protection and funding programs to protect fragile natural resources and open space. Peter took over as executive director of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy in March 2002. With the help of staff, a board of directors, and volunteers, he implements land conservation strategies in the nine counties of southwest Michigan. Since coming on board in 2002, the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy has protected over 12,000 acres through conservation easements and acquisitions that include wetlands, marshlands, prairies, and agriculture.
C. Miko Dargitz
Miko grew up in Portage, Michigan, and after living in North Carolina, Washington, DC, and Hawaii, she returned to Michigan to raise her daughter in her hometown. Miko has an undergraduate degree from Duke University and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a focus on Environmental and Land Use Planning. Her work experience includes: Grants Writer and Midwest Program Associate at the Land Trust Alliance; Capital Improvement Program Specialist for the Hawaii State House of Representatives Finance Committee; and Legislative and Community Relations Coordinator for the Hawaii Community Development Authority. Miko also has experience working with several Midwest consultants focused on conservation fundraising and community development and is in her seventh year on the City of Portage Planning Commission. She loves, most of all, spending time with her daughter, Riley — playing in the garden, on the lake, or in the woods. Miko and her daughter live in a cottage (with two dogs and one cat) on the same lake where she grew up.
Conservation and Stewardship Director
Nate joined SWMLC as its first Stewardship Specialist in the summer of 2001. He works with volunteers and seasonal staff to protect and enhance the diversity, stability, and beauty of SWMLC’s preserves and other important natural areas in southwest Michigan. Nate received his B.S. in biology from Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college in Ashland, Wisconsin. He worked for several years as a naturalist and volunteer coordinator for Sarett Nature Center in Benton Harbor. He has also worked in Chicago as an education program coordinator for The Nature Conservancy and as a volunteer for the North Branch Restoration Project. Nate is a former board member of The Stewardship Network and current board member of the Natural Areas Association, Stewards of Kleinstuck, and Long Haul Productions. He lives in Kalamazoo with his wife Erin and son Theo. They can often be found birding and botanizing at nearby natural areas.
Kalamazoo native Amelia Hansen worked with SWMLC on past creative projects before being hired as Communications Specialist. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Western Michigan University and has been an independent professional illustrator and designer since 1989, focusing on science and nature subjects for books, magazines, children’s picture books, interpretive exhibits, and murals. Amelia was recently chosen by Environment for the Americas to be the 2015 International Migratory Bird Day Artist, illustrating materials that are used throughout the Western Hemisphere. Joining SWMLC’s staff has provided her with a wonderful opportunity for creative outreach within the conservation field. Amelia and her husband Paul live in a rural part of Kalamazoo County with a flock of pet chickens and several lazy cats.
Land Protection Specialist
Bruce joined SWMLC in May 2015 as part of the Stewardship Crew, and became Stewardship Crew Leader in July 2015. Bruce grew up in rural Paw Paw, where he lived until moving to Kalamazoo to attend Western Michigan University. Here, his broad interest in the environment led to his decision to major in Geography with a concentration in Environmental Analysis and Resource Management, and minor in Environmental Studies. He received his B.A. in April 2017, and was promoted shortly before to Land Protection Specialist. After working outdoors to improve SWMLC’s protected areas, Bruce is excited to be a part of finding new land to protect for the good of the earth and the enjoyment of people..
Mitch grew up on Pickerel Lake in Scotts, Michigan, where his time spent in the backyard and the water, with encouragement from his family, nurtured his fascination in nature. This fascination matured into a pursuit of a career in the field of ecology where he worked in both research and restoration for the Kalamazoo Nature Center, Michigan Wildflower Farm, Michigan State University, and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. At MSU Mitch received his B.S. in 2009 and his M.S. in 2013 in Environmental Biology/Zoology and Entomology, respectively. Being interested in diverse aspects of the natural world, like ornithology and botany, the emerging field of Restoration Ecology was an appealing way to roll all of these interests into one. This allowed Mitch to get his hands dirty while making a satisfying and tangible difference for the natural communities he had come to love that face an increasing amount of environmental degradation. He was thrilled to come back to SWMLC’s Stewardship Program in July 2013. Mitch looks forward to restoring natural processes and biodiversity on the Conservancy’s many preserves, as well as learning from and working with many volunteers and community members who are critical to long-term stewardship and conservation. Mitch lives in Kalamazoo, where he can be found doing anything that gets him into the out-of-doors.
Conservation Easement Specialist
A Portage native who grew up with what is now Celery Flats Interpretive Center as her ‘backyard playground,’ Cindy has been a member of SWMLC since its inception and is delighted to be a part of SWMLC’s efforts to conserve the natural areas of Southwest Michigan. Her lifelong love of nature brought her to Western Michigan University to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology and agriculture, with an emphasis on environmental studies. Cindy returned to WMU to complete a master’s degree in biomedical science, and spent a number of years doing pharmaceutical research at Upjohn/Pharmacia/Pfizer. She is also currently working in a plant genetics/evolutionary biology lab at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station. Cindy has been actively involved with SWMLC for a number of years as a past two-term member of the board of directors and as a member of the land protection team. She joined the staff in September of 2014 to manage the conservation easement monitoring program. Some of her responsibilities include planning and coordinating our annual monitoring of all easements, assisting with baseline documentation of easements, and supporting the land protection staff. Cindy lives on a few acres in Cooper Township with her husband Verne, who is a biology professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Whenever Cindy isn’t out riding her horse, they spend free time gardening, hiking, fossil-hunting, and searching for agates and Petoskey stones along the shorelines of the Great Lakes.
Nicole joined SWMLC in May of 2015 as our Database Manager. She is your first point of contact for memberships, donations, and company matches and provides technology and office support to the organization. Nicole received an undergraduate degree in Logistics from Penn State University and holds various systems certifications. Since growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania and making several career-related cross-country moves, she has been proud to call southwest Michigan her home since 2006. Nicole and her family live in Richland and spend much of their fair-weather time outdoors tending to their property and camping across the state.
Devin grew up in Adrian, MI near corn fields and a highway. Her childhood days were spent sculpting sand in the backyard sandbox, joining her grandparents for heritage festivals, bluegrass and folk musical events, as well as grudgingly tending to yardwork. She attended Western Michigan University under a myriad of misfit majors until the opportunity came about to study and sail the Atlantic for a semester. The sailing program encompassed students in 12 weeks of research in oceanography, maritime history, nautical science, and resource management issues. The second six weeks was spent sailing on brigantine vessel U.S.S. Cramer, passage Woods Hole, MA to Grenada. This experience encouraged a decision to pursue a career focus in natural resource management. She graduated with a bachelor of Geography studies, and minored in environmental. Her free time has often been spent trail hiking, cooking, or on crafts such as chainmail and glasswork. She works to build her knowledge base in ecological restoration while considering graduate school.
Emily E. Wilke
Conservation Projects Manager
Emily is a Michigan native and grew up on Grosse Ile. She developed a passion for conservation while at Calvin College in Grand Rapids and through courses at AuSable Institute, majoring in biology with an environmental studies minor. Emily worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in both Colorado and Michigan. While working with the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, a project of the USFWS, she pursued a graduate degree from the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment that focused on ecosystem management with an emphasis in conservation. In August 2006, she received her master’s degree and shortly afterward was hired by SWMLC. Emily and her husband Brook reside on a small farm in Barry County. Brook has a Ph.D. in agroecology and works as the Farm Manager for the Kellogg Biological Station, while Emily runs the family farm and takes care of their two boys, Charlie and Wendell, and daughter Lily.