Management Team

NANCY SMITH

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Executive Director

Since Nancy Smith's appointment to Executive Director in 2012, the Land Conservancy has protected more than 2,500 acres and 27 properties, including high-profile acquisitions such as the Stella Niagara Preserve in Lewiston, Mossy Point in Wales, and the College Lodge Forest near Fredonia. During her tenure, the Land Conservancy has expanded its size and reach, growing from a staff of 3 full-time employees to sixteen in 2022, by embracing large-scale conservation projects. In the process, it has become one of the largest and most respected environmental organizations in Western New York.

She is recognized as a leader in Western New York and beyond. In 2021, Buffalo Business First recognized her on its list of 200 Power Women in Western New York. She serves on the Land Trust Alliance’s New York Advisory Council, and as a representative of The Riverline on the High Line Network. A mother of three grown children, she lives in East Aurora with her husband, Tom.

Gender pronouns: she/her

JAJEAN ROSE-BURNEY

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Deputy Executive Director

Jajean was born and raised in Western New York. He has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design and a master’s degree in urban planning, both from the University at Buffalo (UB). After graduating in 2007, he worked at the Urban Design Project, a research center at UB, on several local planning efforts, environmental coalition building, and non-profit development. As a graduate student, Jajean studied in the Sustainable Futures program in Costa Rica, and taught in the same program while working for the Urban Design Project. From 2010 to 2012 he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed with Mexico’s federal environmental agency in Puebla, a large city in southern Mexico, along with his wife Ana. There, he helped protect a large wetland from rapid and unplanned urban development, a project that led to an international Ramsar Site designation for the wetland and a new state park. This project won the 2013 International Planning Award from the American Planning Association (APA). Jajean has written numerous articles and books on environmental topics, leads bird and nature tours, and has worked with several environmental organizations. 

Gender pronouns: he/him

MARISA RIGGI

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Deputy Executive Director- Conservation 

Marisa was born in Rochester and grew up in Williamsville, New York. Marisa obtained a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Geneseo and attended graduate school at the University of Vermont where she obtained a M.S. in Natural Resources. After graduating, Marisa began working at the Northeast Wilderness Trust, where she worked for over 5 years to protect land in the Northern Forest region. Marisa moved home to Western New York in 2018 with her family to work at the Land Conservancy on making Western New York a more connected, and healthier place. Marisa is passionate about land conservation and wildlife, and enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and gardening in her spare time. Gender pronouns: she/her

Kimberly Krywalski

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Director of Finance and Operations

Kimberly was born and raised in Western New York. She has a Bachelor’s in Business from SUNY Buffalo State College and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. She has spent close to two decades in various positions in Finance and enjoys the satisfaction gained in the non-profit sector. In her spare time, she enjoys reading as well as gardening, camping, hiking, and kayaking.  

Gender pronouns: she/her

Jeff Lebsack

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The Riverline Director

Jeff’s connection to land and water comes from growing up on an irrigated farm on the front range of Northern Colorado. Jeff moved east to experience city life, and after growing tired of the noise and crowds of New York City, he moved to Pittsburgh where he obtained his B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh. From there, Jeff moved to Rochester, NY (his wife’s hometown) where he started his career in transportation planning with the Genesee Transportation Council, specializing in bicycle and pedestrian planning.  Jeff was appointed The Riverline Director in December 2021 after a 30-year career in transportation planning, traffic engineering, street design, and project management. Outside the office, Jeff enjoys any outdoor activity that involves hills or mountains, and is an unaccomplished cyclist, triathlete, skier, and hiker.

Gender pronouns: he/him

JOSH BALISTERI

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Stewardship Director

Josh was born and raised in Western New York where his experiences hiking and camping in the region’s forests and waterways cultivated a deep passion for the outdoors and inspired him to pursue a career in land conservation. Josh obtained his B.S. in Natural Resources Management with a focus on protected area management, recreation resources, and ecological restoration from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. After graduating, he moved to Virginia Beach to work as an Ecologist with Ecology & Environment, Inc. where he participated in a wide array of environmental projects all over the country for clients like the US Navy, Army Core of Engineers, EPA, and a multitude of state agencies. Josh is passionate about land conservation, ecological restoration, and promoting stewardship through outdoor recreation. In his spare time he enjoys backpacking, photography, playing music, and exploring remote wilderness areas. Office telephone: (716) 687-1225 ext 128. Email: josh@wnylc.org

Gender pronouns: he/him

LIZ BIRARDI

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Finance Specialist

Liz has lived in Western New York for more than 20 years. She enjoys spending time outdoors and has a keen interest in the condition of our natural spaces. She discovered the Western New York Land Conservancy through a friend, went on a hike at the Kenneglenn Nature Preserve, and became a volunteer. She took part in several volunteer activities including preparing the office space at Kenneglenn and going on monitoring visits before joining the Land Conservancy staff in November 2011. This work started with a temporary job reviewing the records and files and led to her current position as the part-time office manager in April 2012. Liz is an artist and is a member of the East Aurora Art Society. She is also a member of Enjoy the Journey Gallery and the Buffalo Society of Artists. Her art, while not being representational, reflects her experience of the outdoors and nature. 

Gender pronouns: she/her

RACHEL CHROSTOWSKI

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Farmland Protection Specialist

Rachel has a degree in Geography and Environmental Studies from SUNY Geneseo; however, her education in earth science started at a much earlier age. She credits her geologist mother with her deep love of the natural environment, appreciation for open space, and strong conservation values. Before coming to work for the Land Conservancy in 2015, Rachel was a planner for nine years in Erie and Livingston Counties where she specialized in land use planning, smart growth, and the protection of agricultural lands. Rachel is excited to work with our region’s farmers to protect Western New York’s working lands and keep our agricultural heritage alive. 

Gender pronouns: she/her

SARAH COSTLOW

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Land Protection Specialist

Originally from Johnstown, PA, Sarah came to WNY in 2017 because she wanted to help protect the world's largest freshwater system, the Great Lakes!  Sarah received her bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College and attended graduate school at the American University of Paris where she obtained a M.A. in Communication and Civil Society focused on environmental communication.  After graduating, Sarah worked in advertising on sustainability campaigns and then as a translator, living in France for a few years, until she decided to return to the United States to get a master’s degree from Vermont Law School in environmental law and policy.  Her graduate work focused on land use practices to protect water resources. Prior to coming to the Land Conservancy, Sarah worked as a program manager at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper and before that was at the The New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I). Sarah enjoys time spent with her partner and pets, hiking, and time outdoors learning to garden. 

Gender pronouns: she/her

ERIK DANIELSON

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Stewardship Coordinator 

Erik is always asking questions in an effort to understand the relationships between flora, fauna, geology, and society that drive Western New York’s rich and diverse ecosystems. With a background ranging from forestry and pasture management to recycling education with the NYC Compost Project, he began working as an ecological consultant in 2017, surveying plant communities across the northeast for clients starting with NYC-based WildMetro before shifting back towards his home region of Chautauqua County. Erik came on board with the Land Conservancy to assist with The Riverline project and branched out from there. He’s grateful to be able to do so much more as a part of this team in the service of conservation and education. 

Gender pronouns: he/him

KARA FRISINA

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Communications & Development Manager 

Kara grew up in Olean, NY along the Allegheny River and is thrilled to be back in Western New York to help protect the beautiful places here. She received her B.S. in Visual Communication and her M.A. in Communication and Development both from Ohio University. Her graduate work focused on storytelling about growing food and lead her to travel across the country working on organic farms. She has worked in fundraising and communications positions for different nonprofits both in New York and Ohio. She loves creating art, hiking with her dog, and growing veggies, herbs, and cut flowers.

Gender pronouns: she/her

Molly Gadenz

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Support Specialist, The Riverline

Molly recently moved back to her hometown in Western New York after many years away and is thrilled to join the Land Conservancy team.  Molly got her Masters in Education from Suffolk University in Boston, MA and was a high school guidance counselor there for many years.  In 2012, she had the opportunity to move to London, UK and lived there for almost 10 years. It was a re-invention of sorts: she got involved with an environmental waterway charity called Thames21, first as a volunteer and eventually as an employee guiding their Training Program. She also co-founded a grassroots community group called the Lower Regents Coalition (LRC), a group that started with two people who wanted to "just get on with it” and clean up around their stretch of the Regents Canal in East London. The LRC ended up becoming a formidable stakeholder and community resource in the area, making ecological improvements to the canal and surrounding green spaces and running volunteer events and other opportunities for the public to join, experience why urban open spaces are so important, and help us get the work done. Molly’s passion is working with diverse groups of people and getting them excited about connecting to the natural environment. She also loves to hike, cook, knit, and spend time with family and friends. Gender pronouns: she/her

ANDREW LANCE, Ph.D

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Restoration Ecologist

Andy’s passion for the outdoors began growing up in the beech-maple forests of northern Ohio.  He attended Bethany College in West Virginia where he received a Bachelor of Science degree, then earned a Master’s of Science degree Bard Center for Environmental Policy. Following graduation, Andy taught a series of biology and ecology courses at Lorain County Community College in Ohio. He simultaneously worked as a field botanist with Cleveland Metroparks, developing in-depth vegetative assessments of a wide variety of habitats within the Metroparks system. While working with Cleveland Metroparks, Andy returned to complete a Ph.D. in Biology with a focus in Ecology and Evolution from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. His dissertation work focused on the development of best methods for urban reforestation projects. This work has led to multiple publications in the journal Restoration Ecology as well as publication in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. Andy enjoys spending time with his family, including his two children Graham and Rosie, gardening, hiking, camping, and following the Cleveland Indians in his leisure time. Gender pronouns: he/him

KYLE SEMMEL

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Communications Manager

Kyle grew up in Livingston County on 30 acres of land, where he learned to appreciate the beauty of nature by wandering the woods alone or with his siblings. In his career, he has served in a variety of capacities in nonprofits, including, most recently, as the Executive Director of Writers & Books in Rochester, NY. In addition to his work at the Land Conservancy, he’s a writer and literary translator (as K.E. Semmel) whose fiction, nonfiction, translations, and literary criticism have appeared in the Washington Post, Lithub, The Writer’s Chronicle, and World Literature Today, among other outlets. He has translated more than a dozen books from Danish or Norwegian, and he was a 2016 NEA Translation Fellow.

Gender pronouns: he/him

ELIZABETH THOMAS

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Stewardship & Native Plant Assistant

Liz grew up in South Florida but spent her summers in rural Western New York, where she developed a love for nature and a drive to conserve natural resources. Liz graduated from the University of Florida in 2010 with a BS in Landscape and Nursery Horticulture. She subsequently worked in both agriculture and public gardens across the states of Washington, Florida, New York, and Massachusetts. Her passion lies in mitigating habitat destruction through conserving land, promoting sensible landscape management, and understanding local native plant communities. Gender pronouns: she/her

KYRA UMRIGAR

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Development Assistant

Kyra grew up in Ithaca, NY in the Finger Lakes region exploring the woods in her neighborhood and learning about contemporary environmental issues.  At Cornell University she studied History and French, and minored in Climate Change. One summer, she worked on a farm that will soon be protected by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. Through this experience, she learned about the importance of land conservation and the role of land trusts. After a year of serving with AmeriCorps in Gloucester, Massachusetts working with English learners, she was thrilled to find this opportunity with the Western New York Land Conservancy. In her free time, Kyra enjoys hiking, horseback riding, and hummingbird sightings. 

Gender pronouns: she/her

ANGELINE WOODWORTH

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Finance and Operations Assistant

Angeline was born in Santa Fe and spent part of her childhood in Houston, TX, but at a young age she moved with family back to the Western New York region. Some of her favorite memories are in Elma, NY where she grew up exploring in the woods, playing in creeks, apple picking, and helping her family with their flower and vegetable gardens. She has a Bachelor in Fine Arts in Graphic Design and a minor in Psychology from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has worked for over a decade at community and mental health nonprofits. As a mom to three children and a practicing artist, children’s well-being, self-expression through the arts, and preserving and protecting our environment are all very important passions for her. 

Gender pronouns: she/her

ANTHONY ARMSTRONG

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The Riverline Project Consultant

Anthony believes in the power of collaboration to make communities thrive. He is skilled in neighborhood and grassroots development strategies, regional planning, housing and vacant properties, stakeholder engagement and inclusion, data and demographic analysis, quality of life and placemaking. He also provides racial equity training as an affiliate of Just Partners, Inc. and the Race Matters Institute. Anthony is co-founder of Make Communities, a mission driven consulting firm with a vision for accessible, equitable and empowered communities. Anthony holds a B.A. in Media Study from University at Buffalo Honors College, an M.S. in Urban Affairs from Hunter College and teaches a course in Neighborhood Revitalization at Buffalo State College.

Gender pronouns: he/him

Board of Directors

Kathy Bieler

President

Gail Wells

Vice President
 

Theresa Gaglione

Secretary
 

Beth Curtis

Treasurer

Larry Brickman

Katie Costanzo

Kasey DeLuke

Deborah Fenn

Adam Francis

Sarah Gatti

David Hahn-Baker

Gayle Hutton

Bart Roberts

Marcus Rosten

Emma Smalley

Kayla Stocking

Robert Townsley

Emeritus Board

Lyle Toohey