Staff & Board

Photo of MDLT Staff as of 11/19/18Mojave Desert Land Trust Headquarters

60124 29 Palms Hwy
PO Box 1544
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
Phone: (760) 366-5440
Fax: (888) 869-4981

Map & Directions

MDLT Staff

Leadership Team

Madena Asbell
Director of Plant Conservation Programs

Madena moved to the Mojave Desert from Los Angeles in 2016 for her dream job; managing MDLT’s Native Plant Restoration Nursery, Mojave Desert Seed Bank, herbarium, and living collections. She has over fifteen years of experience working with California native plants and has always had a fondness for desert plants. Prior to joining MDLT, she was director of horticulture at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants, where she oversaw their nursery, seed program, bulb program, and living collections. As MDLT’s director of plant conservation programs, her focus is on restoring desert habitats, educating others about the importance of our diverse desert flora, and preserving this diversity for generations to come.

Kayla Lawrence
Director of Operations

Kayla is the Director of Operations and Executive Assistant at MDLT. She manages the daily operational needs of the organization and provides behind-the-scenes support. She has fifteen years of operational experience coming in the hospitality and event rental industries. Even though she traveled a significant part of her life beginning just after high school, there is a part of her that always called this desert home. She returned to the California desert over eight years ago and is grateful to be part of an organization that plays such a crucial role in maintaining the beauty of this place that is such a special part of her heart.

Jessica Dacey
Director of Communications

Armed with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism, Jessica’s first job out of university was to manage an English newspaper in Mongolia. It was a deep-dive into the art of storytelling and kick-started a career that would include reporting and editing for the BBC, The Guardian and the Swiss public broadcaster. Along the way, she specialized in climate change and podcasts. She joined MDLT’s communications team in 2017 and is passionate about the role the organization plays in safeguarding the desert for future generations.

Michael Mora
Director of Outreach & Volunteer Services

Michael Mora started his career in the theatre for over twenty years, wearing many hats behind-the-scenes including technical production and design. In more recent years, Michael has consulted for a number of local and national organizations not-for-profits by inaugurating large annual fundraising events. Michael lives for experiencing the bucolic and learning about natural surroundings. That’s what brought him and his partner to the desert. He looks forward to solving unique challenges in new and creative ways, especially through interaction with the people involved. He greatly enjoys working closely with MDLT’s volunteers and staff, finding that every association brings continued personal growth.

Allyson Lavender
Director of Land Acquisitions

Allyson Lavender has worked in land conservation for over twenty years. Her career in conservation began in 1998 at The Wildlands Conservancy where she helped process the Catellus acquisition, containing over 587,000 acres. Allyson began working on land acquisition with MDLT in 2006 as part of Shelton Douthit Consulting. In 2014 she joined the MDLT team as an employee. Her favorite part of the job is working with the dedicated, inspiring people that make up the staff of MDLT.

Peter Satin
Director of Land Management

Peter joined MDLT in June 2017 after completing his master’s degree in environmental management at the Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment, where he specialized in ecosystem science and conservation. At MDLT, he is responsible for implementing resource management plans across the organization’s diverse holdings, balancing environmental protections with recreational access and other uses. Having worked for a variety of federal land management agencies in the past, Peter is especially passionate about MDLT’s mission to ensure that the Mojave Desert remains a public resource and he is committed to ensuring that its particular beauty is sustained long into the future.

Ernesto Frias
Business Manager

As the business manager, Ernesto coordinates with all departments to help maintain the organization’s financial health and support its growth. Ernesto has had the opportunity to work with MDLT for over four years. After spending nearly seven years working with non-profit accounting and grants management, Ernesto knows that what truly drives the success of an organization is the ability to connect with organizational leaders to plan for the future. After living in the desert for over a decade, Ernesto has a special connection with the desert. He understands the importance of protecting it for today’s and future generations as well as the importance of conservation in protecting the desert ecosystem.

Acquisition Team

Chatel McKettrick
Acquisitions Coordinator Lead

Chatel McKettrick is the Acquisitions Coordinator Lead at MDLT where she is responsible for processing the majority of the escrow and title documents for MDLT’s land transactions. She has lived in Joshua Tree for over twenty-one years; she moved to Joshua Tree as an adolescent from Los Angeles County, but now considers herself a high-spirited desert-loving local. Chatel holds several business degrees from Copper Mountain College. She joined MDLT as a fulltime employee after her graduation in 2015. Chatel plans to continue her education at the University of Redlands – School of Business. She loves the outdoors; she loves to hike with her energetic dogs and kindergartner; she plays local community sports and coaches her son’s athletic teams.

Halle Kohn
Acquisitions Coordinator

Halle began frequenting the Morongo Basin in 2005. It was here that she fell in love with the Milky Way, the whistle of the wind through the creosote, and the ever-elusive desert tortoise. Halle received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies at Long Beach State University and her Master’s degree in Social Science: Environment & Community at Humboldt State University. In April 2018, she joined the Desert Tortoise Council’s Board of Directors, and after graduating HSU in May, she excitedly moved to the Morongo Basin full-time. Halle is thrilled to contribute to MDLT’s mission of acquiring desert lands for conservation, to be enjoyed by future generations of people and wildlife alike.

Land Stewardship Team

Emmalyn Snead
Land Steward

Emmalyn grew up on an agriculture farm in Virginia where her love of the natural world and conservation took root and has continued to thrive since. She graduated from Randolph College with a Bachelor of Science in biology before moving out West. She worked as a horseback trail guide in Medicine Bow National Forest and as an Invasive Plant Technician in Humbolt-Toiyabe National Forest before joining MDLT in January 2018 as a Land Steward. Emmalyn is happy to hone her passion for conservation by assisting MDLT in mitigating environmental degradation and preserving pristine desert habitat.

Tommy Heider
Land Steward

Tommy Heider is a recent transplant to the Joshua Tree area, having started with MDLT in January of 2018, but he is not new to the desert itself. He spent the last five years in Las Vegas, Nevada working with desert tortoises, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and the Great Basin Institute. Before that, he was just a boy from Northeast Ohio with a passion to be outside. This passion has carried him to where he is now; helping MDLT conserve the desert he has made his home.

Nursery & Seed Bank Team

Dan Burns
Nursery & Seed Bank Supervisor

In the beginning there was dirt. And then there was Dan. After a short evolution of fifty-eight years, Dan went back to school to become a Desert Naturalist. He received his degree in Natural Resources and came out of the academic soup to work at MDLT. After spending many, many hours in the field as part of the lands team, Dan transitioned into the Native Plant Restoration Nursery and Mojave Desert Seed Bank where he currently incubates seeds and plants.

Marinna Wagner
Nursery & Seed Bank Technician

Marinna Wagner received her master’s degree in landscape architecture from Cal Poly Pomona in the spring of 2018. Her thesis research focused on native plants and the challenges facing the restoration of disturbed sites in and around Joshua Tree National Park. Wagner received a undergraduate degree in fine arts from the University of Southern California in 2009. Marinna’s work at MDLT includes horticultural tasks for the nursery and seed bank such as propagation, watering, seed collecting and cleaning, and herbarium mounting. Her love for the Mojave Desert stems from an ever-increasing interest in complex ecosystems, highly adaptive native plants, and the vast landscapes of the region.

Ashley Coon
Nursery & Seed Bank Technician

Ashley assists with the myriad day-to-day operations of the MDLT nursery and seed bank. Tasks range from seed cleaning and cataloging, to growing, monitoring, and maintaining the nursery stock and environs. With a background in architecture and fine art, it was his creative interests that initially led him out here to the high desert where he fell in love with the brilliant night skies and inspiring dramatic vistas. This appreciation for the innate beauty of the Mojave Desert coupled with an interest in sustainable design served as a catalyst for learning how to grow native plants, an exploration that eventually brought him here to MDLT.

Communications Team

Stephanie Shepard
Public Policy Coordinator

Stephanie Shepard is on the communications team at MDLT. As Public Policy Coordinator, she identifies important science and policy issues affecting the desert and crafts communications, social media, and outreach regarding these issues. Stephanie has a bachelor’s degree in professional writing and editing from West Virginia University, and a master’s degree in environmental policy from Oregon State University. Originally from West Virginia, she is a nature-nerd and outdoor enthusiast who is glad to be working on issues to help increase opportunities for outdoor recreation and protect the environment in the California desert.

Operations & Development Team

Lesley Nuno Hughes
Development Supervisor

Lesley has been with MDLT since 2014 and began in the lands department as a Stewardship Coordinator. Over the years she has held positions on the outreach and communications teams and is now happy to be on the development team. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a business minor. She has experience working in environmental education and interpretation with the National Park Service and California State Parks. Lesley developed a passion for conserving the California desert when she moved to southern California from Atlanta for an internship with the Student Conservation Association in 2005 and has been dedicated ever since.

Brandy Dyess
Development Coordinator

With over twenty years of professional experience in academia, grantmaking, financial forecasting, and fund management, Brandy Dyess joined MDLT as the development coordinator in 2017. Before coming to MDLT, Brandy worked as the administrative director at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Department of Photography & Imaging, as the budget and operations manager at the College of Arts and Science, New York University, as a grants analyst for The California Endowment, in development at Otis College of Art and Design, and in the ABC Entertainment finance division of The Walt Disney Company. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Northwestern University and a certificate in fundraising from UCLA.

Amy Holland
Operations Assistant

Amy is the Operations Assistant and she helps supports the Operations Team with the day-to-day management of the office.  A self-proclaimed nomad, Amy has worked for over 15 years in operations and development at several intergovernmental and international NGOs, including the United Nations and the Natural Resource Defense Council, in New York City and nine countries overseas. Amy started her career in the rainforests of Panama as an agro-forestry extensionist with the Peace Corps where she created a seed bank and nursery within her community to help preserve the biological resources of a rapidly depleting old growth forest. She is delighted to be here in the desert helping support MDLT’s important conservation work in another unique and biologically sensitive ecosystem. Amy is happiest living in a tent and spends most of her weekends exploring the canyons, peaks, and vast plains of the Mojave Desert with her adventure cat: Lil Dude.

Outreach & Volunteer Team

Adam Henne
Education Coordinator

Adam is the education coordinator at MDLT and is excited about every opportunity to help different communities connect with this amazing desert. Working with our family of committed volunteers has been a tremendous learning experience for him, and he looks forward to an ongoing education in the wildlife and history of the Mojave. Adam received a Ph. D. in environmental anthropology from the University of Georgia. Before coming to MDLT, Adam was an anthropology professor at University of Wyoming.

Cindy Holland
Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator

Cindy is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator and is part of MDLT’s Outreach & Volunteer services department. She assists the department and engages volunteers for various programs throughout the organization. Cindy and her husband recently moved out to the hi-desert as her husband, Austin, is a marine now stationed at 29 palms. Cindy’s background includes five years as an administrative assistant, coordinating various aspects of available resources. Cindy loves the outdoors and, before she and her husband moved here, she never dreamt that she would live in the desert. She has become intrigued by it and has enjoyed exploring the beautiful desert and its hiking spots with her husband and three dogs: Duke, Maverick, and  Delilah.

Finance Team

Dayanna Watts
Accounts Payable Clerk

Dayanna joined the team in 2018 and provides support as the accounts payable clerk for all the organization while also supporting the design and execution of the company’s overall mission. Prior to coming to MDLT, she worked in non-profit accounting and grants management for over five years. She thoroughly enjoys contributing to the ongoing success of the organization. As a veteran of the United States Navy during a time of war, Dayanna continues to bring the same commitment, loyalty, and leadership to the organization as she had once provided during her active time of duty.

If you would like to be a part of our team, please see below for our open positions:

Career Page

Board of Directors

John Simpson
Founding member of MDLT, real estate executive

Geary Hund
National Resources Manager and Biological Scientist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Michael Avila
Vice President of Development for the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center

Gwen Barker
Rimrock Ranch Owner and marketing extraordinaire

Peter Brooks
Former marine, water industry executive, and defense writer

Jon Christensen
Professor of history and digital humanities at UCLA, journalist, and communications expert

Robyn Helmlinger
Attorney with Squire Patton Boggs

Kelly Herbinson
Desert tortoise conservation researcher and author