NC Plant Conservation Program & Friends of Plant Conservation Staff
Lesley Starke, NC Plant Conservation Program Director
Lesley has worked with NCPCP since 2010, first as Research Specialist, then Plant Ecologist, and now leading NCPCP as Program Director. Lesley has a background in conservation ecology and land protection. She has a Master of Environmental Management (MEM) degree from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and a BA in Biology from Hampshire College. In her free time, Lesley loves to tend her vegetable garden, knit, and try new recipes. Lesley is dedicated to conservation and she is also a Friend!
Geoff Austin, NCPCP Plant Ecologist
Environmental stewardship has been Geoff Austin's passion since his childhood. He grew up moving back and forth across the country as a child in a military family, experiencing the diverse ecosystems of both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, eventually growing his passion for the natural world. He attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. getting a B.S. in the Integrated Science and Technology program, with a major in Environmental Studies. He then attended Virginia Commonwealth University in order to pursue an M.S. degree in Environmental Studies. Geoff's thesis work focused on mapping and modeling the potential benthic spawning habitat of the Federally listed Atlantic Sturgeon, found within the James River. Geoff worked both in the fish research lab at VCU, and at the USGS stream monitoring program, while completing his graduate degree.
After completing his education, Geoff worked for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, in the Natural Heritage program, as the Northern Operations Steward from 2013 to 2020, working to protect several Natural Area Preserves, but primarily focusing on 3,000+ acres at Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve, in Stafford, Va. He eventually attended a law enforcement academy to become a sworn Conservation Officer in Virginia during his time with Natural Heritage, in order to better enable him to protect the resources he was tasked with stewarding.
During his time with Virginia's Natural Heritage Program, Geoff became versed in prescribed fire, invasive species management, deer management, assisted with numerous monitoring and research programs, on top of regular operations such as being the tractor and boat operator for the Northern Region. Geoff also designed and built the public access for the preserve, ensuring that sensitive resources were avoided and not compromised by allowing the public into the preserve. In his free time, Geoff enjoys tinkering with computers and electronics, hunting, fishing, hiking, and backpacking, and is an avid wildlife and landscape photographer.
Lori Wright, NCPCP Program Assistant
Lori has worked for the Dept. of Agriculture since December 2019. Previously, she was an Administrative Assistant and Criminal Justice Instructor with Wake Tech. She will graduate from Fayetteville State University May 2020 with a BSBA. In her free time she likes to take long and short trips to the beach, jog, spend time with family and friends, and volunteer with non-profit organizations. She is excited to be a part of the Plant Industry Division.
Miranda Huff, FOPC Summer/Fall Intern 2020
Miranda Huff is working to create Environmental Education programs that focus on plants. We have already started working and have a lot of ideas we are eager to put into lesson plan form and share. She is a current undergraduate at NC State University in Environmental Science and am set to graduate, virtually, this December! She is a native North Carolinian from Kings Mountain but call Raleigh my home.
In her free time, Miranda likes to read, spend time at my nearby parks, or practice photography. She is still not sure what her post-graduation plans are but she has a strong interest in environmental outreach and climate change, as well as a newfound aspiration of Conservation Photographer. She hopes to make a positive impact on our environment within her lifetime and is honored to be working on such an important project with FoPC!
Olivia Dannemiller, FoPC Volunteer Coordinator (part-time) and NCPCP Field Tech (part-time)
Olivia grew up and currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She always had an interest in the outdoors, but her passion for environmental sustainability began at Appalachian State University, where she received a B.S. in Sustainable Development with a focus in environmental studies and a minor in Biology.
A few internships at environmental non-profits throughout and after college and serving two years as an Americorps member at Conserving Carolina made her realize she wanted to continue a career in environmental non-profits. She is excited to be the Volunteer Coordinator for FoPC and more recently to also serve part-time as a Field Tech for the Plant Conservation Program.
In her free time, you can find her mountain biking, adventuring to swimming holes, kayaking, seeing live music, or hanging out with her dog.
Katherine Culatta, NCPCP Research Specialist
Katherine grew up in Boone, North Carolina. She holds bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Studio Art from
UNC-Asheville and is currently finishing up a M.S. in Plant Biology in the Krings Lab at N.C. State University. Her love of plants began in the Blue Ridge Mountains and has taken her to seasonal field botanist jobs in coastal Massachusetts and the Kansas prairie. Working for the Plant Conservation Program has been on her “dream job” list since college and she has enjoyed jumping into her duties as Research Specialist, including monitoring rare species, issuing permits, and participating in controlled burns.
In her free time, she enjoys cooking, sketching plants in ink and watercolor, and hiking.
Fisher Stines, NCPCP Field Tech
Fisher Stines, a native of Gastonia, North Carolina, grew up just a few miles from Redlair preserve. His involvement at Redlair began by chance with a fieldtrip to the property as a student in Sabine Rankin’s German language class. It was there he met Haywood Rankin. Fisher’s volunteer involvement and later, his part-time work at the preserve from December of 2017 through February of 2018 with the Catawba Lands Conservancy, would soon follow. In the Spring of 2018, Fisher departed as an North Carolina State University student for an exchange semester to Freiburg, Germany where his botanical education would truly begin. There, his fascination of the flora in both the Black Forest and the Alps would solidify his decision to become a botanist and inspire him to continue his education at North Carolina State University as a student of plant biology. Fisher will graduate from North Carolina State University in May of 2021 with a dual degree in Plant Biology and German Studies. Upon his graduation, Fisher will pursue a PhD in botany, and he aspires to become a teaching professor. In the Summer of 2019, Fisher designed a comprehensive ecological study of the Bigleaf Magnolia population at Redlair, and he plans to publish his work as his bachelor’s thesis. In his free time, he enjoys traveling and playing or conducting in various North Carolina State music ensembles. Fisher Stines began working as the new Field Technician for the Plant Conservation Program in May of 2020 and has devoted his time to protecting rare members of the Piedmont Prairie Community including the Smooth Coneflower in Durham and Granville counties.
Kyle Stoudt, Catabaw Lands Conservancy Field Tech at Redlair Preserve
Kyle Stoudt, a native of Gastonia, first came to the Redlair Preserve in the summer of 2019 to help Fisher Stines with his ambitious bigleaf-magnolia study. They had been eagle scouts together, and Fisher knew of Kyle’s love for nature. Fisher was desperate for help and Kyle proved to be the one person he called who consistently showed up to volunteer long hours in 90-95 degree weather. Later in the year, Haywood Rankin, who stewards the 1200-acre preserve (partly State-owned), was equally desperate for help but had been consistently disappointed with the reliability and work ethic of volunteers who had briefly come and gone. He called Kyle and has never looked back. Kyle has now been toiling in paradise for many months, showing a quiet resolve and dedication that are extraordinary: the answer to Haywood’s cry for help. He instantly showed a fine instinct for discerning good and bad plants, becoming a fervent warrior against invasive plants; he never flags in his keen sensitivity to, perceptivity of, and joy in mushrooms, insects, flowers, reptiles, indeed, every aspect of nature; and his work ethic is unpretentiously intense. Many people say pleasant things about nature, but it is a rare person who confronts its rough edges and embraces them as fully as Kyle Stoudt.