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Winds, Water and Wildfires Summits – Southeast Region – Day 1

May 11 @ 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

Join NACD for the upcoming Winds, Water and Wildfires Virtual Summits this coming May. Disasters such as high winds, wildfires and flooding cause significant damage to natural resources in the South, North, East and West.

Conservation districts are uniquely positioned to assist communities with planning and preparedness before, during, and after disasters. Our sessions will allow you to see how conservation districts are working together with all community members to conquer the challenges facing private landowners. Success happens when landowners and agencies come together to meet the needs of our local communities.

These needs are identified in the three goals of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy.

For questions, please contact NACD’s Natural Resource Policy Specialist Mary Scott at mary-scott[at]

Click here to view the agenda.

Speaker Profiles (click name to read more)

Salvador Salinas serves as the Regional Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service Central Region, where he oversees 12 states from North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in the North to Texas in the South.

Salvador, a native of Rio Grande City, Texas, and seventh generation landowner was raised on a Spanish Land Grant ranch in South Texas, close to the Mexico Border.  He graduated from Roma High School in 1974 and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Range Science from Texas A&M University in 1977.

Salvador started his career as a range conservationist in 1978 with the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service or NRCS.  He has served as range conservationist in Johnson City and Mason, Texas; District Conservationist in Van Horn and Benavides, Texas; and as Deputy State Conservationist and State Conservationist in Texas.  Salvador served as the Assistant State Conservationist for Policy and Strategy in Texas, and as the Assistant State Conservationist for Operations in Massachusetts and Texas.  He also served on a 2-year international assignment in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

Salvador also has served as Acting State Conservationist in both Florida and Michigan and as Acting West Regional Conservationist, and previously as Acting Regional Conservationist for the Central Region.

Salvador has served on several details to the NRCS national headquarters and currently serves on the National Grazing Lands Conservation Coalition Advisory Committee.

He is a member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Society for Range Management, the Soil and Water Conservation Society, the National Association of Conservation Districts, the Texas Wildlife Association, the Starr County Farm Bureau and the National Organization of Professional Hispanic NRCS Employees.

As Regional Conservationist, Salvador is responsible for ensuring Central Region States plan and carry out an extensive portfolio of comprehensive conservation strategies, which include implementing NRCS’ conservation technical assistance and financial assistance programs on private lands. 

Graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) in Community Resource and Volunteer Management. I have been with FEMA Region 6 as a Mitigation Planner since November of 2005; where I have had the opportunity to contribute to national policy, resources, and systems development; as well as serving in various roles for a multitude of disaster declarations.

James E. Tillman Sr. serves as the Regional Conservationist for the Southeast and has served in this position since January 2014. In this position, he supervises and works with State conservationists from the States of North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, and the Caribbean Area. 

James also served as Acting Associate Chief for Conservation for almost two years. James was the State Conservationist in Georgia for nine years. Prior to that, he was the Deputy State Conservationist in California and served as Assistant State Conservationist for Programs and Acting State Administrative Officer in Texas. In Illinois, James served as the Assistant State Conservationist for Resource Assessment and Technology. 

In his 38-year career with NRCS, James has also held positions as Soil Conservationist, District Conservationist, Resource Conservationist, and USDA/1890 Liaison Officer.  He has worked in seven states (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Texas, California and Georgia) and Washington, DC. 

James obtained a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Economics from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.  James and his lovely wife, Patricia, have three grown children.

Megan Fitzgerald-McGowan is a program specialist with the National Fire Protection Association’s Wildfire Division and the primary contact for the Firewise USA® program. Megan has a deep belief that a collaborative approach from all stakeholders is the best way to create a world safer from wildfire and other fire and life safety threats.  

She has been working in and around wildfire since 2003 and has held operational and dispatcher wildland fire qualifications. Before joining NFPA in 2017, Megan worked for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, serving as their Firewise state liaison for a year and a half. Megan holds a master’s degree in Natural Resources from the University of Idaho and a certificate in Fire Ecology, Management and Technology.

Lisa Knauf Owen currently serves as Chair of the National Watershed Coalition (NWC). NWC is a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) Coalition made up of national, regional, state and local organizations, associations, and individuals that advocate dealing with natural resource problems and issues using watersheds as the planning and implementation unit.  

Ms. Owen is the Assistant Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and has worked for the agency and conservation districts for the past 30 years.  She provides oversight to the agency’s Conservation Programs Division, which is responsible for assisting the sponsors of over 2100 upstream flood control projects. She is also responsible for oversight to the agency’s financial management and human resources. 

Lisa comes from a farming family in north central Texas where peanuts were the main crop along with a small cow-calf operation. Although her schooling and background are in Forest Management, Lisa has spent the majority of her career working with a different natural resource; the men and women who work for Oklahoma’s conservation districts.  

Lisa and her husband, Keith, reside in Norman, where in their spare time, they enjoy various outdoor pursuits including shooting sporting clays, kayaking, fishing and hunting. 

Kathy Gotcher is a Senior Conservationist with the Alabama Soil & Water Conservation Committee where she assists with identifying opportunities to increase/promote conservation efforts, provides technical assistance with cost-share projects, and supports conservation districts with providing information to customers.

Kathy is retired from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service with 32 years of service. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Kathy is a native of Colbert County, Alabama where she and her husband, Henry, of 36 years own and operate Gotcher Cattle Farm. She and Henry have 3 sons, Will, Ben, and Marc who are active in the farming operation also. 

Married 48 years to Kay Pirtle
3 children – Beth, Jake, and Lucas
Born in Athens, Alabama and graduated from Athens High School – 1970
Worked with Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington D.C. – 1970-1972
Served in U.S. Army, honorable discharge – 1972-1974
Graduated from Auburn University, B.S. Degree in Forest Management – 1978
Graduated from University of Alabama Law Enforcement Academy – 1989
Worked with Union Camp Corporation as a Forester – 1978-1988
Worked with Alabama Forestry Commission in various positions – 1988-2009
Served as State Law Enforcement Officer – 1989 – 2007
Currently owner of Pirtle Forestry Services, LLC., a Consulting Forestry Agency
Owner of Lindsayhill Farm producing timber and livestock.
Member Prattville Kiwanis Club
Tree Farm Inspector # 17029
Supervisor, Autauga County Soil and Water District Conservation Committee
Chairman West Autauga Water Authority
Past associations:
President of Autauga Firefighter’s Association
Member Autauga County E911 Board
Member of Boy Scouts of America, Tukabatchee Area Conservation Committee
Served as Scoutmaster Troop 7, Billingsley, Alabama
President of Autauga County Chapter of Alabama Treasure Forest Association
President of Autauga County Forestry Planning Committee
Member Autauga County Rural Development Committee
Member Autauga County EMA Advisory Committee

Forest Resources 1971 – MBA 1973 University of Georgia.  Frank has worked 50 years as a Professional Forester including Interim, Executive Director of the Georgia Forestry Association. Frank is Executive Director of the Chestatee/Chattahoochee RC&D Council and is Georgia Firewise liaison, Appalachian RC&D FAC Coalition administrator, NRCS natural resource cooperative programs administrator and was 2020 Chair of the Georgia Prescribed Fire Council. Frank has been a volunteer Firefighter and First Responder with Towns County Fire Rescue for 22 years and leads the Towns County Firewise USA Communities program with the most Firewise communities in Georgia.   Frank leads the Towns County Fire Adapted Communities Network, which was one of the first 8 national pilot FAC projects.  Frank’s motto is “We will either find a way or make one!” 

Julie Kraft is the Supervisor at Sublette County Weed and Pest.  She is worked for the Wyoming Weed and Pest for over 15 years. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Rangeland Ecology with a concentration in Restoration in December of 2002 from Colorado State University.  Julie also has a Master’s degree in Weed Science from Colorado State University.  

Julie serves on many local, state, and international boards and committees. Is a past president of the North American Invasive Species Management Association, member of the Wyoming Governors Invasive Species Initiative and active in her community.  She is a plant nerd at heart and loves many outdoor activities like hiking, hunting, and fishing with her family.


Faith Berry has served as a firefighter, park ranger and assistant park manager working on landscape restoration projects including prescribed fire and selective tree harvesting. She has also served as a fire prevention officer, a Fire Safe Council coordinator for the San Diego County Resource Conservation District, a Firewise and Fire-Adapted Community contractor, and as a wildfire program manager for the National Fire Prevention Association. She is currently working as a fire program specialist for the U.S. Fire Administration.

Jill Randall graduated with a degree in Biology from the College of Wooster, in Ohio.  She completed a thesis studying the effects of different methods of select cut timber harvest on three different species of tree seedlings’ growth and survival.  After college she worked in a variety of positions at Grand Teton National Park.  In 2003 she started working for Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Jackson as a Brucellosis Feedground Habitat Biologist.  In 2007 she switched to the Terrestrial Habitat Biologist position in Pinedale.  In that position her work included improving a wide variety of habitats such as sagebrush, mountain shrub, aspen and her favorite, tall forb communities at the top of the Wyoming Range.  Jill recently started a new position with Wyoming Game and Fish Department as the Statewide Big Game Migration Coordinator.  In this position she works with regional personnel to engage stakeholders in the public process of corridor designation, help acquire funding to implement projects in migration corridors and work on statewide habitat issues.  Jill enjoys pretty much all outdoor activities including hunting, fishing, camping and skiing with her eight your old son and husband.  


I’ve been farming for over 50 years during that time I have received many awards some that I have received are: The Governor’s Award for Environmental, 2008 Stewardship Award, State award from Governor Sonny Perdue. In 2019 I received the Southeastern Region NACD Hall of Farm award for conservation. I have served on both University of Georgia Research Advisory Board as well as Auburn University Large Animal Clinic Advisory Board. I serve on the Upper Oconee Water Board.

My son and I farm now with row crops, cows, horses as well as a 1050 acres of forest land. I now serve as NACD representative from Georgia and serve on the Forestry RPG.

I am married to Lesia Hogan, we have 4 children and 7 grandchildren. We live in Dexter, Georgia.

Chris French is currently the Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment at the United States Department of Agriculture.  His permanent position is Deputy Chief of National Forest System for the U.S.D.A. Forest Service Washington D.C.  Chris accepted this appointment in July 2019 after serving as Acting Deputy Chief since October 2018.  In this role, Chris is responsible for policy, oversight and direction for the natural resource and public service delivery programs across the 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands that comprise the National Forest System.  He reports to the Chief of the agency and is a part of the agency’s Executive Leadership Team.

Prior to his current position, Chris served as Associate Deputy Chief of National Forest System, Director of the Ecosystem Management Coordination (EMC) Staff, Deputy Director of Forest Management, and Assistant Director for Planning.  In these positions he has led the agency’s implementation of forest management, range management, land management planning, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), administrative reviews, land management litigation, monitoring, timber sales, stewardship contracting, reforestation, and nursery programs.    

Chris began his career in Arizona on the Coronado National Forest in 1991 and has worked in recreation, fire, fuels, wildlife, NEPA, forest planning, and wilderness.  He has served in a variety of leadership positions on agency districts, forests, and now at the national headquarters.

Gary resides in Smithfield, NC and is the Regional Coordinator for the Southeastern Region of the Wildland Fire Leadership Council and coordinates implementation of the Cohesive Strategy across the 13 Southeastern States, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands. Gary graduated from Wayne Community College with an A.A.S in Forest Resources Technology and Management. Gary spent 31 years working for the NC Forest Service and served as Assistant County Ranger, County Ranger, District Ranger, Fire Department Training Specialist and Wildfire Mitigation Specialist. While working for the NC Forest Service, Gary served on Incident Management Teams responding to wildfires and other disasters across the Southeastern and Western States. Gary served over 25 years as a volunteer firefighter and continues to serve on the Board of Directors for Pine Level Fire Department. 

Derek is a District Biologist covering the states of AL, KY, and TN for the National Wild Turkey Federation.  He has been with the NWTF for 10 years working in various roles across the SE including a stint as the Director of Conservations Operations. Prior to NWTF he worked with the state wildlife agencies in West Virginia and Colorado. Derek obtained his Bachelors degree in Wildlife Resources Management from West Virginia University and his Masters Degree in Forestry from Mississippi State University.  His combined background of wildlife management and forestry have allowed him to create a variety of partnerships in order to reach conservation objectives of the NWTF.


Candice Abinanti is NACD’s Southeast Region Representative. Prior to NACD, Abinanti served with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency for over ten years, advancing risk resilience both domestically and internationally through partnerships and programs. In the Southeast, she also managed grantmaking and partnerships with regional boards at Foundation For The Carolinas, one of the largest community foundations in the country.
Abinanti earned her master’s degree in sustainable development from the School for International Training while living in Sri Lanka following the Indian Ocean tsunami. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and international relations from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She lives in Charlotte, N.C. with her husband and two children.


Click here to register for the Southeast Region’s summit on May 11 & 12 (two half-day events).

All times are in EST.


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