Ron Merkord, President
Ron started his interest in wildlife and conservation while growing up in south Texas. After coming to California to earn his BS in Applied Physics from Caltech, he first worked as research scientist for ARCO Solar, developing new types of solar cells. For the past 30 years, Ron has been a general partner of Laser Innovations, repairing high-tech lasers for clients all over the world. He now lives, with his wife and son, on a ranch in the Bardsdale area of Ventura County, where for years he also ran an educational facility with exotic animals, teaching schoolkids about animal conservation. His interests include nature photography, electric vehicles, and renewable energy.
Ron also serves on the Ventura County Clean Air Fund Advisory Committee, as well as on the Ventura County Parks Advisory Commission.
Tom Dudley, Executive Officer
Principal Investigator, Riparian Invasion Research Laboratory at UCSB
A Ventura native, Tom Dudley has extensive ties in the agricultural, ecological, and cultural sectors of the Santa Clara River. As the Principal Investigator at the Riparian Invasion Research Laboratory (RIVRLab) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Tom oversees a variety of projects ranging from restoration, biological control of invasive species, and habitat monitoring.
The Riparian Invasion Research Laboratory’s (RIVRLab) research addresses the effects of non-native species in riparian and stream ecosystems, particularly in western North America. With a focus to understand the process of species invasions and how they alter biodiversity and ecosystem functions, the RIVRLab also develops methods to better manage pest species and to restore native communities.
Sanger Hedrick, Treasurer
Hedrick Properties Inc.
Sanger Hedrick – a Ventura County native, Stanford graduate, USC MBA graduate, and a third generation citrus grower – began his professional career in 1966 as an analyst with Economics Research Associates of Los Angeles. He co-founded Development Economics Inc. of Redondo Beach but later returned to Ventura and established a career in Real Estate Consulting, Brokerage, Investments and Property Management. For twenty years and counting, Sanger has been the President and part owner of Hedrick Properties, Inc., a property management and citrus farming firm. In 1999, Sanger completed negotiations with the California Coastal Conservancy for sale of a major portion of his family’s ranch for conservation protection and ultimately part of the Santa Clara River Parkway. This portion of the parkway is now under the stewardship of Friends of the Santa Clara River.
Since then, he has been involved in numerous activities in the areas of conservation and restoration on the Santa Clara River. He is currently on the Board of The Ventura Audubon Society (VAS) and The Friends of The Santa Clara River (FSCR).
Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, Board Member
Tribal Leader, Barbareño Band of Mission Indians
Julie is an Ojai resident of Chumash descent and can trace her family history back to the early 18th century. She is keeping Chumash culture alive in the present, educating children and adults on Chumash traditions and history in schools, at workshops and other events. She provides advice to museums on the area’s pre-Hispanic past, and she advocates for the protection of Native American archeological sites, particularly in the Ojai Valley.
Ken Blaich, CIC, Board Member
Senior Vice President/Principal, Leavitt Group
Ken is a native Southern Californian. He moved to Ventura County in 1991, and has served Ventura County agriculture and construction clients for 30 years. Ken’s passion for the outdoors began as a young boy hiking and biking in the hills near his home in Woodland Hills, spending summers in Laguna Beach in the surf, and camping and fishing in the High Sierra with his Dad. Ken began fly fishing the Sespe in 1992 and has formed a special kinship with that stream and the Southern CA Steelhead and native rainbow trout that inhabit it. This kinship has led him into a stewardship role to protect this beautiful watershed including the Santa Clara which the Sespe flows into. Ken is married to his wife, Jenny, and has two boys, Reid and Ryan who have made protecting the environment their collegiate and professional focus. Ken studied English Literature at CSUN. He has been an active member and supporter of CalTrout since 2003.
Nancy Settle Vaniotis, Board Member
Retired Ventura County Planning Manager
Nancy is a Southern California native and long time Ventura county resident. One of her first jobs after graduating from UCSB with a degree in Biological Sciences/Environmental Emphasis was a Hydrographer with the United Water Conservation District. This provided an “in depth” experience of the Santa Clara River and its’ tributaries and a great appreciation for the people, land, and water resources of the Santa Clara river valley. She retired as a Ventura County Land Use Planning Manager with 30 years experience in land use planning and grant programs including the Coastal Resource Grant Program to protect wildlife corridors, landscape linkages and establish conservation easements and subdivisions. She oversaw agricultural protection programs, Countywide water management plans and participated in the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan (IRWMP) and Tri-County Fish Team. She enjoys hiking, biking, and sailing with her husband Bill and daughter, Cassi, a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz.
Gene Peck, Board Member
Gene is a native of Oxnard who grew up hiking the mountains of the Santa Clara River watershed and surfing its beaches. After a BA in geology from UCSB, he conducted hydrologic and water quality field studies, wrote environmental assessments and impact studies and designed wetland mitigation throughout the US. A mid-career master’s degree in coastal and watershed systems from Yale University led him to experience with governments and businesses on large coastal, river and estuary restoration programs worldwide. As Global Practice Leader at Dames & Moore/URS and then as a Vice President at Arcadis, he applied expertise in sediment management to the remediation of rivers such as the Hudson, Passaic, Tittabawassee and Rio de la Plata, in addition to developing regional sediment management plans for the Port of New York/New Jersey. Later, as an independent consultant, he developed strategic management plans/policies for the Corps of Engineers, oversaw dredging at US Navy facilities and pioneered businesses to beneficially use dredged material. Gene is a licensed professional geologist. He is certified by USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service as a Technical Service Provider to assist agricultural growers in addressing environmental concerns.
Heather Merenda, Board Member
Heather Lea Merenda has worked in the environmental field since 1992, in both the public and private sector. Currently, she works for the City of Santa Clarita Environmental Services Division in environmental compliance, grants, capital project management of environmental projects, watershed restoration/invasive weed management, and green building. Recent projects include development, funding and construction of a large scale regional stormwater infiltration site for the Upper Santa Clara River EWMP, managing the WaterTalks program for needs assessments of disadvantaged and underserved communities, invasive plant removal from the Santa Clara River, construction and operation of public electric vehicle charging stations, and achieving Platinum energy efficiency level for her City through the Local Government Partnership energy efficiency program. She is a LEED Professional, Qualified SWPPP Developer and a CPSWQ. She has a MPA degree from CSU Northridge and a Bachelor’s degree in Geography/Environmental Science from CSU Long Beach. She is a member of the CASQA Water Policy Task Force, Disadvantaged Communities Involvement Program Task Force Co – Chair, and Measure W Watershed Area Steering Committee member.
Jose Flores, Board Member
Jose is currently an undergraduate student at University of California, Santa Barbara studying Geography and Geographic Information Science. He’s currently is an undergraduate research assistant with RIVRLab and manages the Santa Clara River Conservancy website. Raised in Oxnard, California, his interest in the Santa Clara River was always present but did not blossom until his time at community college where he volunteered his time with various Santa Clara River non-profit groups. He enjoys spending his time taking nature walks, identifying plants, and playing too many video games.
Cover photo taken by Nathan Wickstrum