Plenary Sessions

In addition to breakout sessions with technical presentations, NCER features daily plenary sessions with speakers addressing the many pressing challenges faced by restoration professionals across the U.S. We are pleased to bring you an impressive lineup of accomplished individuals who will inform us, inspire us, and sharpen our vision for future restoration success across diverse landscapes.

Monday, April 15, 2024


Regional Plenary on the Desert Southwest

In keeping with tradition, NCER kicks off with a plenary session featuring a full day of talks focused on the region in which we are meeting. This year, our Desert Southwest location entails the Colorado River/Río Colorado and Rio Grande/Río Bravo basins, which include several states in the United States and Mexico as well as dozens of Tribal nations, from more than 14,000 feet above sea level to estuaries in the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico.

Speakers will introduce us to the ecosystems, climate, and hydrology of the Southwest from diverse perspectives:

  • A Native American speaker will provide the kickoff keynote presentation with an ecological and cultural overview of the region from a tribal perspective.
  • Three sessions will follow, discussing key challenges and restoration opportunities in the context of water resources, climate change, fire, and invasive species.
  • A speaker from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification will discuss how the challenges prevalent in the Southwest are representative of global challenges being addressed by the G20 Global Initiative on Reducing Land Degradation and Enhancing Conservation of Terrestrial Habitats.
  • Finally, our closing keynote speaker of the day will discuss the challenges of balancing water management for ecosystems, agriculture, and human communities from the perspective of the Bureau of Reclamation, the second largest producer of hydropower in the United States. Reclamation is charged with helping the Western States, Native American Tribes, and others meet new water needs and balance the multitude of competing uses of water in the West while protecting the environment and the public's investment in water management infrastructure.

There will be ample time for questions and interaction with presenters to explore the applicability of how restoration and conservation challenges in the region relate to your area of practice and the broader NCER community.

We are also pleased to recognize the diverse group of restoration professionals who worked diligently over the past several months to develop a compelling agenda.

  • Matt Grabau, NCER Conference Chair, and Adaptive Management Group Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, Tucson, AZ
  • Matt Whiles, Department Chair, University of Florida, Soil, Water and Ecosystem Sciences, Gainesville, FL
  • Sharon Hausam, Climate Adaptation Planner & Research Scientist, South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, Albuquerque, NM
  • Jake Palazzi, New Mexico Tribal Liaison, South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center, Albuquerque, NM
Opening Keynote Speaker:
  • "Setting the Stage for Restoration: A Tribal Perspective on Historic and Contemporary Ecosystems and Culture in the Southwest"
    Blane Sanchez, Former 2nd Lieutenant Governor, Pueblo of Isleta (Jan 2021 - Dec 2022); and Former Commissioner, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Isleta, NM

    Mr. Sanchez will describe professional and personal experiences, providing commentary from 40 years of direct and indirect involvement with ecosystem restoration in the region. Topics will include grazing management, water resources planning, and “Bosque” (riparian) and riverine habitat. He will also provide his perspective on the realities of contemporary ecosystem restoration, alternative energy development considerations, and the potential to connect efforts to combat degradation across landscapes.
Coffee Break
Session Description:
Diverse ecosystems and human communities in the Southwest are on the front lines of climate change, experiencing increased temperatures, prolonged drought, and extreme wildfires, challenging managers to implement restoration projects in unprecedented conditions. Speakers in this session will introduce forest, grassland, and riparian ecosystems of the region while highlighting cutting-edge research and restoration projects and partnerships.
  • Leslie Haye, SW Region Wildlife Program Leader, U.S. Forest Service, Albuquerque, NM
  • Genevieve Allan, Project Management Specialist, Bureau of Reclamation, Albuquerque, NM
  • "Managing Southwestern Forests in a Changing Climate"
    Matt Hurteau, Professor, Dept. of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM
  • "Planning for Cross-Border Conservation in the Chihuahuan Desert"
    Karen Chapman, Coordinator, Rio Grande Joint Venture (RGJV), Alpine, TX
  • "Engaging Underserved Communities in Urban Restoration"
    Jennifer Owen-White, Refuge Manager, Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque, NM
Session Description:
Learn what the G20 Global Land Initiative is undertaking around the world to address the same climate and restoration challenges we are facing here in the Southwest and beyond, such as pollution, salinization, erosion, overgrazing, deforestation, and desertification.
  • Matt Grabau, NCER Conference Chair, and Adaptive Management Group Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, Tucson, AZ
  • Mohamed Abd Salam EL Vilaly, Programme Officer - Information Management, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), UN Campus, Bonn, Germany
Lunch on Your Own
Session Description:
The Rio Grande/Río Bravo and Colorado River/Río Colorado stretch thousands of miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while supporting millions of people, millions of acres of agriculture, and diverse ecosystems and species in the United States, Mexico, and tribal nations. Speakers in this session will introduce these watersheds and discuss management and allocation of water supplies that climate change, drought, and wildfire are making increasingly unpredictable.
  • Genevieve Johnson, Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, Project and Program Office, Boulder City, NV
  • Elroy Masters, National Wildlife Program Lead, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Washington, DC
Presenters & Panelists:
  • "Overview of the Bureau of Reclamation's Management of the Rio Grande"
    Jennifer Faler, Albuquerque Area Office Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, Albuquerque, NM
  • "Partnerships to Provide Water for Agriculture and Ecosystems along the Middle Rio Grande"
    Casey Ish, Conservation Program Supervisor, Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, Albuquerque, NM
  • "Environmental and Cultural Flows for the Colorado River in Mexico"
    Francisco Zamora, Senior Director of Programs, Sonoran Institute, Tucson, AZ
Coffee Break
Session Description:
As is the case around the world, introduced species are often a primary threat for conservation and restoration programs in the Southwest. Invasive species disrupt ecosystem processes, and disruptions are often exacerbated by drought and climate change feedbacks, particularly in arid environments. Speakers in this session will describe impacts of introduced plants, fishes, and wild horses and burros, efforts to mitigate their impacts, and emerging technology for detection and control of invasive species that are utilized in support of ecosystem restoration projects.
  • Becky Kirby, Southwestern Region Wildlife Ecologist, U.S. Forest Service, Albuquerque, NM
  • Anna Weinberg, Aquatic Restoration Coordinator, Conservation and Adaptation Resources Toolbox/University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
  • "Innovative Tools to Monitor Invasive Grasses and Restore Dryland Ecosystems"
    Seth Munson, Research Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ
  • "A Balancing Act: Managing Native and Non-Native Fish in Grand Canyon National Park"
    Sarah Haas, Deputy Chief, Science & Resource Management, Grand Canyon National Park, National Park Service, Flagstaff, AZ
  • "Non-Native Horses and Burros in the Southwest"
    Tolani Francisco, Wild Horse and Burro Coordinator, U.S. Forest Service, Southwestern Region, Albuquerque, NM
  • Matt Grabau, NCER Conference Chair, and Adaptive Management Group Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, Tucson, AZ
Closing Keynote Speaker:
  • "Historic and Contemporary Water Management in the West"
    M. Camille Calimlim Touton, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation, Washington, D.C. (Invited)
Welcome Networking Social

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Large Scale Restoration - National Perspectives

Session Description:
United States federal agencies steward and manage hundreds of millions of acres of the Nation’s public lands, waters and wetland resources under their jurisdiction. The U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work closely with states, Tribes, stakeholders, and local communities on environmental restoration projects at all scales and build resiliency within ecosystems while providing flood management, shore protection, water supply, navigation, and more to Americans. In this plenary session, honorable Deputy Secretary Sarah Greenberger will describe priorities and initiatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior, while Honorable Assistant Secretary of the Army & Civil Works Michael Connor, will provide perspectives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Fahmida Khatun, Hydrologist/H&H Modeler, Restoration Sciences Branch, South Florida Natural Resources Center, National Park Service, Boynton Beach, FL
  • Gina Paduano Ralph, Science Integration Branch Chief, Planning Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Jacksonville, FL

Wednesday, April 17, 2024


Tribal Perspectives on Ecosystem Restoration

Session Description:
Indigenous Peoples have been stewarding the lands of North America for millennia and are important leaders in implementation of ecosystem restoration - 574 federally recognized tribes have a government-to-government relationship with the United States, including 23 in New Mexico. Incorporating indigenous knowledge and traditional land management practices are examples of highlighting tribal perspectives and leadership in ecosystem restoration projects. Other efforts focus on empowering and encouraging tribal voices in restoration and natural resource management. In this plenary session. Aimee Roberson, the Southwest Regional Director for American Bird Conservancy, is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and of Chickasaw descent. Aimee will talk about Elevating Indigenous Voices, Braiding Ecological Knowledge, and Bridging Across Nations, through the example of the Indigenous Kinship Circle (IKC). The IKC is a cross-boundary community of practice for Indigenous people and allies working to advance the wellbeing of our communities across the Central Grasslands of Turtle Island. As we move into more project specific restoration, a representative of the Santa Clara Pueblo will discuss holistic watershed restoration following the historic Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico. Tina Osceola will then describe the role of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in restoration of the Everglades. Examples of take-away messages from this Plenary include identifying recommendations to agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions on how to better incorporate tribal voices in their work.
  • Darcy Austin, Science Manager, State Water Contractors (SWC), Sacramento, CA
  • Chad Smith, Headwaters Corporation, Kearney, NE
  • Aimee Roberson, Director, Southwest Region, American Bird Conservancy, Rio Arriba County, NM
  • Santa Clara Pueblo Representative
  • Tina Marie Osceola, Director, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Naples, FL

Thursday, April 18, 2024


Closing Plenary with Keynote Speaker

  • Nick Aumen, Regional Science Advisor, South Florida Region, U.S. Geological Survey, Davie, FL
  • Matt Grabau, NCER Conference Chair, and Adaptive Management Group Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, Tucson, AZ
Keynote Speaker:
  • Secretary Deb Haaland, U.S. Department of the Interior (Invited)

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