New York

Meet the Board of Trustees for Central & Western New York

brian baird, j.d. (co-vice chair)

Brian Baird of Buffalo is an attorney at Kavinoky Cook LLP, where he specializes in trusts and estates. Brian is a long-time supporter of The Nature Conservancy, and is a graduate of Haverford College and the University of Buffalo School of Law. He has been a Board member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Nichols School, and the Greater Buffalo Opera Company. Brian resides in Buffalo and also maintains a home in Eden. 

melissa balbach

Melissa Balbach is the owner of LS&S LLC, a national and international distribution company selling products for the visually impaired and hard of hearing.  She has owned it with her husband, John Bace, since 2001 and relocated the company to Buffalo in 2008.  As a family-owned company serving the disabled community, LS&S offers lots of rewards as well as challenges. In 2013, LS&S acquired one of its main competitors and since that time Melissa and her husband have worked hard to relocate that company's operation to Buffalo and to meld the two organizations together. As a native of Buffalo, NY, Melissa grew up camping, hiking, fishing, skiing and spending a lot of time outdoors.  Where others belonged to a pool club, her family belonged to a pond club!  For seven summers, she did father/daughter canoe trips with another father and daughter in Algonquin Park.  While still in high school, she completed the NOLS Wind River Range backpacking course.  In college she led backpacking orientation trips for incoming freshman and weekend excursions.  These varied experiences have helped instill in Melissa a true love and respect for nature and the outdoors. They also leave her keen to share similar experiences with her identical twin girls.  Back in Texas, pre-business and pre-kids, Melissa loved fly-fishing, kayaking, and mountain and road biking.  Now she goes for an occasional run! Melissa holds a BA from Yale, and an MA/MBA from the Lauder Institute at the Wharton School of Business.


Dr. Bruce Bongarten is provost of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse and a member of the Nature Conservancy for more than 30 years. He is a specialist in the genetics and breeding of forest trees and the physiology of tree growth. Bruce received his bachelor's in forest biology from SUNY ESF and his doctorate in forestry and genetics from Michigan State University. Prior to joining ESF, Bruce worked for the University of Georgia, served as a visiting scientist at Weyerhaeuser Company, and as a forester with St. Regis Paper Company.


Barry Boyer has supported The Nature Conservancy and conservation causes for many years. A recent retiree from the University of Buffalo, he taught environmental and administrative law, and served as dean of the law school from 1992-98. His research focused on regional performance indicators for environment, economy and government services, and on the environmental legal history of Western New York. Barry holds a bachelor’s from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of Michigan. He is an emeritus Board member of the Buffalo Niagara RiverKeeper. Barry lives in East Aurora, and enjoys history, travel, gardening, hiking and photography.

michael brace

Michael Brace is a former trustee for The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York Chapter who moved from Buffalo to Bermuda five years ago. He is now returning to Buffalo and has rejoined our Board. Michael has over 20 years of experience in the investment management and banking industries. He was previously a portfolio manager at UBS and Key Private Bank and a relationship manager at Clarien Bank and EFG Wealth Management Bermuda. He has an MBA in Finance and is currently a partner and director of 64 NorthWest Partners Ltd (Bermuda), an investment consulting business, and also director and chair of the investment committee for the Bermuda Community Foundation.


Peter Brennan, M.D., is a physician, senior partner at Gastroenterology Associates of Ithaca, and former president of the Tompkins County Medical Society. He is originally from Guilderland in Albany County and graduated from Williams College and Upstate Medical College. He trained at the University of Virginia in internal medicine and the Medical College of Virginia in gastroenterology. Peter and his wife, Beth, a real estate broker, helped us engage neighbors when we rebuilt trails and refreshed the visitor experience at Eldridge Wilderness Preserve in Ithaca. Peter is an avid downhill skier, and he and Beth have three grown sons.

cathleen burnham

Cathleen Burnham has lived in Rochester for thirty years. She's a writer and photographer specializing in endangered species and indigenous peoples. Her six-book children's book series profiles real kids around the world helping wildlife. She's has traveled to over fifty countries with a special interest in visiting traditional peoples and wildlife and examining the relationships between the two. She's written articles for non-profits profiling aboriginals helping their tribes bridge the gap between the modern and traditional worlds. She is currently working on a long-term project about African wild dogs. Cathleen rescued orphaned wildlife for over twenty years. Her love of nature and commitment to protecting it is a lifelong passion.


Enid Cardinal is senior sustainability advisor at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Enid is a LEED-accredited professional with a background in socially responsible investing and environmental policy. Previously, she served as director for sustainability at Illinois State University and has held positions as an independent consultant, social analyst, and project controller. A native of Baldwinsville, she earned a master’s in environmental policy from Bard College and a bachelor’s in biology and history from Binghamton University. 

Emanuel j. carter, jr.

Since 1985, Emanuel has been a faculty member at the Department of Landscape Architecture at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. Emphasizing teaching and academic practice/public service, he has worked on a wide range of city planning, urban design, and urban ecosystem design projects in New York, Quebec, Chile and Spain, while teaching courses in comprehensive land planning and urban design and design studios in urban design and landscape & urban ecology. He has a bachelor's degree in government form Cornell and a master's of regional planning and urban design from Cornell.  At Cornell, he also was an All-American sprinter, recording a 47-second quarter mile!  Emanuel has taught high school history and served as a planner/urban designer for the Ithaca Department of Planning & Development, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Recreation & Conservation, Chase Architectural Associates (Syracuse), the Syracuse Department of Community Development, and at Cornell University's Department of Landscape Architecture. Emanuel is the father of four adult children and has four grandsons. He is originally from Philadelphia and now lives with his wife, Cynthia Carrington Carter, a historic preservation consultant, in Syracuse.


Laurie Dann is a native Buffalonian who retired from careers with the news department of Buffalo’s morning newspaper, the Courier-Express, and as a licensed real estate agent with Gurney, Becker & Bourne. She has been a board member and officer of several nonprofits, including Women for Downtown; Waterfest, Inc.; and the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, which operates the Buffalo Museum of Science and Tifft Nature Preserve. Laurie is an avid bird watcher and enjoys traveling to find new birds. She lives in the City of Buffalo, but also has a home on Lake Erie’s north shore in Canada.

BRUCE GILMAN, PH.D., emeritus

Dr. Bruce Gilman is a professor of environmental conservation at Finger Lakes Community College. Bruce has been involved in many aspects of freshwater conservation, serving as a Board member of the Honeoye Lake Watershed Taskforce, consulting scientist for the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Council, gubernatorial appointee to the NYS Open Space Committee, and FLCC appointee to the Ontario County Water Resources Council. He conducted research for his doctoral thesis, which he received from SUNY ESF, at the Conservancy’s Limerick Cedars Preserve. Bruce lives in Middlesex, near Canandaigua Lake, and has a home on Honeoye Lake. 

evan dreyfuss

Evan is a chartered financial analyst and portfolio manager with Twin Lake Total Return Partners at RMB Capital, an independent investment advisory firm with offices in Chicago, Denver, Jackson Hole and Washington, D.C. His career has also included management positions at Talon Asset Management, Seneca Capital Management and several other investment firms.  Evan earned a B.S. with honors in business administration from the Eberhardt School of Business at University of the Pacific in 1986. He has been a regent of the University of the Pacific since July 2015. Evan is also a trustee and treasurer of the Manlius Pebble Hill School in Dewitt, an independent college preparatory school founded in 1869. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Burrows Paper Corporation in Little Falls, New York, and serves on the finance committee of the Skaneateles-based Allyn Foundation, which has a mission of improving quality of life in Central New York. He is past president and a member for nine years of the Skaneateles Board of Education. He lives on Skaneateles Lake with his wife Elizabeth and has three children, ages 8 to 14.


Dick Hill is a retired managing engineer who enjoyed a 35-year career at General Electric.  He has a bachelor’s from Harvard University and a master’s from the University of Rhode Island, both in physics.  He has been involved with the Nature Conservancy as a Trustee and volunteer since 1987 and served as volunteer monitor at our 900-acre Lake Julia Preserve for two decades.  During WWII, Dick served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a detachment that worked on the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tenn.  Dick now lives in Utica; he enjoys birding, and is an experienced traveler who has visited all seven continents.


Sarah Mercier Hurlbut received her bachelor’s from the University of Rochester and J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law; she was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1988. Sarah’s volunteer support has touched the Allendale Columbia School, the Al Sigl Center, Lollypop Farm, WXXI, and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In addition to serving on the Chapter’s Board, Sarah also works closely with Future Care Planning Services of Al Sigl Center, the Rochester Female Charitable Society, and Rochester Garden Club. She and her husband, Robert, reside in Rochester, and have a home on Canandaigua Lake.


William Jacques, Jr. is the CFO for Catalyst Direct in Rochester. He is a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, received his MBA from ESSEC Business School in Paris, and has a CPA license in New Hampshire. William’s volunteer support has included the Friends of Ganondagan, Camp Good Days & Special Times, and the Greater Rochester Businesses for Conservation. Currently, William serves as treasurer for both the Chapter and for Friends of Ganondagan. He lives with his partner, Diego, in Rush.


Victoria Kennedy has been a member of The Nature Conservancy’s Central & Western New York Board since the early 1990s, serving as Board Chair and chair of the Nominating Committee. Victoria has more than 40 years of environmental policy experience. She helped found the U.S. EPA in Washington, D.C. and the Environment Finance Center at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. Victoria is a former board member of the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation. She has a degree from the University of Wisconsin, and lives in Fayetteville.


Ryan McPherson is the University at Buffalo’s first Chief Sustainability Officer, a position in which he reduces UB’s footprint and enhances quality of life by improving environmental stewardship, increasing economic efficiency and augmenting cultural values and awareness.  Prior to this, Ryan was the Associate VP for Government & Community Relations.  He played a pivotal role in creating the President’s Environmental Stewardship Committee and the university's Climate Action Plan, established the WNY Sustainable Business Roundtable and currently chairs the WNY Environmental Alliance. Ryan received his B.A. in political science from the University of New Hampshire and graduated magna cum laude from the University at Buffalo Law School with a concentration in environmental law.  He and his wife Alexandra live with their daughter and son on their farm in East Aurora, NY.

CHUCK RUFFING, PH.D. (co-vice chair)

Dr. Chuck Ruffing is the Director of Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainability for Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, where he is also a divisional Vice President. His department is responsible for compliance support to both operations and products worldwide, as well as for the coordination of sustainability initiatives throughout the company. Chuck’s training is in chemistry. He has a B.S. from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois.


A resident of Rochester, Stan is a former plant manager at RG&E’s Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Wayne County.  He is recently retired, but remains active helping family-owned businesses find buyers and writing books.  He recognized in the 1960s that carbon-based energy sources were not sustainable, and pursued a B.S. in nuclear engineering from Missouri University of Science & Technology.  Stan also has an MBA from the University of Rochester.  Stan has been an active volunteer for the chapter for some time now, helping us with stewardship and staffing tables at events.  He lives in Pittsford, owns a home on Canandaigua Lake, and is a native of St. Louis. 

john stella

John Stella is a field-based ecologist and Associate Professor of Forest and Natural Resources Management at State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), and holds an Adjunct appointment (Geography) in the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. His applied research areas include riparian and stream ecology, forest disturbance and dynamics, ecological restoration, and tree-ring and stable isotope studies. He teaches courses in watershed ecology and management, restoration ecology, and ecological modeling. He earned his Ph.D. in Ecosystem Science from the University of California, Berkeley (Dept. of Environmental Science, Policy and Management). His research sites are located in Central New York, the Adirondacks, semi-arid regions of California and the U.S. Southwest and Mediterranean Europe. For the last decade he has collaborated with The Nature Conservancy in California on riparian forest conservation and research on the Sacramento River. More information about his research is available at


Sue Suwinski is a conservation-minded landowner and longtime supporter of environmental causes. She is an international traveler with a global vision, and well-aligned with The Nature Conservancy’s mission. She and her husband, Jan, live on a horse farm in Ithaca, and also have a home in Charleston, South Carolina.


A Rochester native, Sue van der Stricht joined our board in 2007 and continues the legacy of her late husband Rob, a former chair of the Chapter Board and namesake of our Rob’s Trail Preserve. Sue has experience in business, policy, and real estate, and chairs our Nominating Committee. She is a Board member of the Genesee Country Museum and currently serves as Chair of the Central and Western NY Chapter Board.  Sue spends much of her summers at her home on Canandaigua Lake.


Diana Vesosky is the Director of environmental health and safety for Constellation Brands, Inc., one of the leading wine, beer and spirits companies in the world. In this position, she is responsible for oversight of environmental health and safety for Constellation’s global operations in the US, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, and Mexico. Prior to joining Constellation, Diana was the senior environmental engineer at Goulds Pumps. Diana started her career as a chemist, working both as an inorganic chemist for a metal smelting company in Syracuse, and as an environmental chemist at Galson Corporation. Diana graduated with a master’s in environmental health & safety management from RIT and has a bachelor’s in chemistry from Clarkson University. A native New Yorker, Diana grew up fishing the Finger Lakes and has recently taken up fly fishing.