Management Team

Protecting the natural and cultural resources of the Santa Monica Mountains

Debbie Sharpton, Executive Director

Debbie Sharpton joined MRT in January of 2001 as a Project Manager and then became the executive director in 2008. A Los Angeles native, Debbie has over 35 years of experience in the real estate industry ranging from planning and land acquisitions for master planned developments to natural resource protection, financing and appraisal, and construction. Deeply inquisitive about stream and river systems, she focuses the MRT restoration work on re-establishing ecosystem functions. She spends her free time fly fishing, volunteering on fisheries-related conservation work. Passionate about her work, she enjoys working with the community towards a more sustainable future.

Vegetation Ecology

Tom Hayduk, Restoration Supervisor and Plant Nursery Manager

Tom is our resident horticulture expert and heads up the Vegetation crew in habitat restoration. Tom is in charge of seed collection and processing, plant propagation, transplanting, nursery maintenance, restoration planning and reporting, non-native plant control and installation of restoration plantings. He has been working with native plants for over three decades, as the plant propagator at Ranch Santa Ana Botanic Garden and Weber Nursery, in landscape design and construction, biological monitoring and Arborist services. He began working for MRT in August 2009, collecting native seed part time for a Cold Creek Valley Preserve mitigation project, joining full time in December 2009. Tom developed the nursery that is supplying native plants for restoration projects using site-collected seed and cuttings. The starter nursery is located at Headwaters Corner, and transplants are stored at a State Park-owned greenhouse and shade house. Native plants grown from Santa Monica Mountain sources will be available for native plant restoration sites.

Our Staff & Volunteers

This year we celebrate 35 years and continue our vision to protect and preserve the Santa Monica Mountains.

We hold volunteer events nearly every weekend, providing people with opportunities to take part in restoration.

We run a plant nursery where we sow and grow native plants used in restoration projects.

Our Cold Creek Docent program leads monthly nature walks, sharing opportunities for youth to experience nature first-hand.

With the ongoing support of donors and the community, our Staff and Volunteers will continue to broaden the scope of environmental protection.

  • Emily Beck – Restoration Manager
  • Betsey Scheets
  • Emmanuel Gomez
  • Jerry Matthews
  • Gustavo Ruiz
  • Jack Smith
  • Alexandra Fulham
  • Ken Niessen
  • Morgan Eales

Wildlife Biologist

  • Mark Mendelsohn

Aquatic Biological Technicians

  • Joseph Curti – Project Manager
    • Erik Sode
    • Bradley Youngerman
    • Mark Soliva
    • Michael Brown
    • Jared Heath
    • Brandon Huang
    • Sara Gabel

    GIS and Land Forms Specialist

    • Kevin Gaston
    • Stephen Bednar

    Historic Resources Specialist

    • Eva Larson

    Volunteer Coordinators

    • Brandon Huang
      • Emily Beck

      Cold Creek Docents

      • Nancy Helsley, Head of Docents and Board Member
      • Stephanie Bower
      • Hollie Dickinson
      • Mike Konier
      • Oscar Ortiz
      • Cathleen Sarte
      • Claudia Spellman
      • Paul Waller


      Board of Directors

      Jim Hughes, President, is a practicing land use and real estate attorney with nearly 30 years of experience in project development and related matters. As a large national law firm partner for most of his career, Jim has handled all manner of development, redevelopment, land use, CEQA, entitlement, and related matters on behalf of a variety of clients including owners, operators, lenders, and third parties in support and opposition. An ex-New Yorker, Jim spent many a youthful afternoon dreaming of experiencing California and the open spaces of the West. In 1978 he finally realized that goal. He is active in a wide variety of real estate organizations. His personal interest is in the crafting of win-win outcomes resulting in the successful co-existence, where feasible, of urbanization and our diminishing wild places. Jim joined the MRT Board in 2010.

      Bob Wayne, Vice-President, joined the board in 2008. He is a professor at UCLA where he holds joint positions in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Institute of the Environment. He directs a research program with a strong focus on conservation and as a resident of the Cold Creek area, is familiar with local issues. He has been involved with research projects at Stunt Ranch and throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. At UCLA he teaches conservation biology and is editor of a leading journal in the field.

      Marika Erdely, Treasurer, joined the board in 2009. She is a California native and lives at the base of the Santa Monica mountains. Marika is a LEED AP BD+C and her business focus is on sustainability through her consulting firm Marika is also Chief Financial Officer and Vice President at New Millennium Homes, and has had held financial positions at Xavient Technologies, Contractors Wardrobe, and Tandon Corporation. Marika brings her financial expertise to direct the development of statements and analyses that assist in directing the financial future of MRT. She brings her business experience and love of the natural environment to her position on the Board. Duties: Treasurer.

      Nancy Helsley, as President of the Cold Creek Docents who operate MRT’s education program at the UCLA Stunt Ranch Reserve, joined the board in 1993. As a charter member of the Cold Creek Docents in 1978, Nancy worked to develop the docent program that received the Take Pride in California award and the Governor`s Historic Preservation Award in 1992. Nancy has been an activist in the Santa Monica Mountains since the 1960`s and a life-long teacher of ecology, archeology, the environment and the cultural history of the Chumash. She is a director of the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains, past board member and president of the Cold Creek Community Council. Nancy taught in the L.A. Unified School District, managed a YMCA summer camp and participated in numerous outdoor education programs. She was the co-chair of the Trust`s Celebrity Auction which netted over $85,000.

      Jo Powe joined the Board in 2010. A long-time resident of the Santa Monica Mountains Jo comes to the Board with a great enthusiasm for helping continue to protect this unique resource. Jo has been a lawyer since 1983 and has devoted her legal career to environmental causes. For more than 10 years she was lead attorney for the Friends of Ballona Wetlands. She was a founding partner of Hedges, Powe & Caldwell, a Los Angeles law firm that represented numerous environmental organizations. Jo was very active in the legal opposition to the SOKA development at King Gillette Ranch and worked with many environmental groups in opposition to development of Ahmanson Ranch. Jo has served on the Board of Trustees of the Center for Law in the Public Interest and is currently serving as a consulant to the Los Angeles Parks Foundation.

      Suze Randall Knipe was born and raised in England where she was trained as a nurse and midwife. She and her husband-to-be Humphrey Knipe were lucky enough to move to Los Angeles in 1975 where she became an established photographer. They discovered the Monte Nido area in the Santa Monica Mountains in 1992 when they were looking for a good school district for their 3 children. As Suze has been a keen horsewoman since childhood, the area was a dream come true. Now retired, Suze spends time running Dark Canyon Ranch and discovering the beauty of our native habitat with the help of MRT. Suze became a board member in 2015.

      Dr. Lee Kats received his B.A. from Calvin College in Michigan and the Ph.D. in biology from the University of Kentucky. From 2001 until 2011 he served as Associate Dean for Research at Pepperdine University and since 2011 he has served as Vice Provost for Research and Strategic Initiatives. He began teaching at Pepperdine in 1990. In 2000, Dr. Kats was named as the Frank R. Seaver Chair in Natural Science at Pepperdine University. He conducts research in the areas of animal ecology, tropical ecology and conservation biology. For over 25 years he and his students have studied the conservation biology of local amphibians. He also conducts research and teaches in Costa Rica and Argentina. As Vice Provost, Dr. Kats works closely with Pepperdine’s information technology department, office of institutional effectiveness and assessment, and research and sponsored programs. Dr. Kats is also involved in the university’s strategic planning process and implementation.

      Join us now to make your impact

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