Wisconsin's Green Fire Staff

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Meleesa Johnson

Executive Director

Email: mjohnson@wigreenfire.org

EXPERIENCE: Meleesa Johnson became Executive Director of WGF in 2023 after a 20+ year career directing solid waste management for Marathon County and Portage County. She has been an adjunct faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. Meleesa has been a member of Wisconsin's Green Fire’s Science Council and Contaminants of Emerging Concern Work Group.
 
Meleesa served seven terms as president of Associated Recyclers of Wisconsin (AROW) and over the last 20 years has held leadership roles in both the Solid Waste Association of North America-Badger Chapter and for the Wisconsin Counties Solid Waste Management Association. She was appointed to Governor Jim Doyle’s Blue-Ribbon Taskforce on Waste Materials Recovery and Disposal, the DNR’s Waste and Materials Management Study Group and the DNR’s PFAS External Policy Advisory Group. Meleesa has also served four terms as alderperson for the City of Stevens Point and three terms on the Portage County Board.  
 
EDUCATION: Meleesa received her A.A. in 1998 and B.S. in 2000 from the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. She served as the diversity affairs coordinator of the Student Government Association and graduated summa cum laude. Meleesa was named a Morris K. Udall Congressional Scholar for Excellence in National Environmental Policy. She was awarded the Chancellor’s Leadership Medallion.  
 
PERSONAL: Meleesa has three grown children, a son-in-law, two grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.  She enjoys community capacity building, gardening, cooking (and dreams of a gourmet kitchen!) and riding her bike—Brenda—as much as possible.  
Meleesa Johnson in a purple jacket with a green backpack in front of a forest and pond.

Paul Heinen

Policy Director

Email: pheinen@wigreenfire.org | wigreenfire@gmail.com

EXPERIENCE: Paul joined Wisconsin's Green Fire in October of 2018. He works closely with Green Fire’s work groups and volunteer members to share their expertise and knowledge with policy makers and their staff and other conservation and environmental groups statewide. Paul started his career as a legislative aide to the Chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He was the Legislative Liaison for the Department of Natural Resources for over 34 years. He has worked to pass hundreds of new laws including the Acid Rain law, Recycling Program, the first Groundwater bill in the United States, the Stewardship Program, numerous deer and wildlife management program changes and air quality standards for the state. He has also directed legislative affairs for the Nature Conservancy of Wisconsin. Continuing his work with many former colleagues in and around state government is one of the most satisfying parts of his job.

PERSONAL: Paul is married to his artist wife Kathleen and spends time at art shows and galleries with her, marveling at people who have talent. His daughter Priya, who turned out to be interested in all sports, allowed him to see the state’s venues for basketball, softball, soccer, and tennis. There are a lot of venues. His golden retriever Harper and black cat Barlioz welcome him when he returns home.

Paul Heinen

Nancy Larson

Senior Water Resources Specialist

Email: nlarson@wigreenfire.org

EXPERIENCE: Nancy Larson has been with Wisconsin’s Green Fire since it formed in 2017. She currently focuses on special projects, having served as Assistant Director until 2021. Nancy retired from Wisconsin DNR after 27 years with the state of Wisconsin. Her background in aquatic ecology and interest in communications led her to positions including Deputy Director of the Bureau of Watershed Management, Northern Water Program Leader, and UW-Extension Natural Resource Educator. Prior to that, she worked for the state of Minnesota and EPA contractors. Nancy spent a good portion of her career working to protect the greatest lake in the world– Lake Superior. She was recognized for her work with partnerships in 2003 with the DNR’s Rebecca Wallace award.

EDUCATION: Nancy has a B.A. from St. Olaf College and M.S. from the University of Minnesota in biology.

PERSONAL: Nancy lives in Drummond where she splits her time between being in town and at her cabin in the woods built by her late husband John Spangberg (also retired DNR), where she indulges her love of writing.

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Mike Meyer

Senior Scientist

Email: mmeyer@wigreenfire.org

EXPERIENCE: Mike joined WGF as Senior Scientist in 2022. He works closely with the Science Council in developing and organizing WGF's research projects. Previously, he worked as a Research Scientist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources until retirement in 2015. Mike’s research emphasis was wildlife toxicology but also oversaw projects on lakeshore protection and restoration, climate change impacts on wildlife, and common loon conservation. Mike has also served on the Wisconsin Green Fire Board and co-chaired the WGF Climate Work Group. 

EDUCATION: Mike received his PhD in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Wisconsin in 1989.

PERSONAL: Mike lives in Manitowish Waters and owns and operates Nova Ecological Services which specializes in lakeshore projects in the Northern Highlands Lake District.

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Carolyn Pralle

Communications and Outreach Coordinator

Email: cpralle@wigreenfire.org

EXPERIENCE: Carolyn Pralle joined WGF in May 2023 as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator. She previously served as the Land Conservationist technician for the Adams County Land & Water Conservation Department. Carolyn has a dual background in environmental science and communications. She has worked in the private sector as a wetland biologist and in academia and nonprofits as a wildlife biologist researcher specializing in coastal ecology and herpetology. She has technical science communication experience from leading the University of Rhode Island Graduate Writing Center and as an author for SciCommBites. She has won awards for her creative work including a yearlong international Thomas J. Watson fellowship and various prizes for her poetry, essays, podcast, and short documentary film. 

EDUCATION: Carolyn holds an M.S. in biological and environmental sciences from the University of Rhode Island (URI) in 2021 and a B.A. in environmental science from Wheaton College (Massachusetts) in 2014. She also received graduate certificates in Science Writing and Rhetoric and the Diversity and Inclusion Badge Program from URI.  

PERSONAL: Carolyn lives in Wisconsin Rapids with her husband, son, and two indoor cats. She loves poetry, gardening, and scuba diving. 

Carolyn Pralle, a smiling 30-ish year-old white woman with squarish glasses, a yellow baseball cap, and a blue t-shirt. She is holding an adult female diamondback terrapin in a sunny leafy outdoor area.

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Philanthropy and Membership Coordinator

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Please visit our Employment page to learn more and apply!

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Farm Sustainability Rewards Project Staff

Ben Becker

Agricultural Projects Coordinator - Farm Sustainability Rewards Project

Email: bbecker@wigreenfire.org

EXPERIENCE: Ben joined Wisconsin’s Green Fire in 2024 as the Agricultural Projects Coordinator. His experience includes research and project work at the intersections of agriculture, sustainability, food security, and the economic resilience of local and regional food systems. Prior to joining Green Fire, he worked for over a decade as an administrator, project manager, instructor, writer and cooperator for the Williamson Street Grocery Cooperative where he championed corporate sustainability efforts. As a graduate student, Ben completed capstone work with Grassland 2.0 through UW-Madison Extension, and has also performed conservation planning work focused on Wisconsin’s watersheds. 

EDUCATION: Ben is a proud graduate of the UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute where he received a Professional Masters of Science in Environmental Conservation. He holds an MBA in Sustainable Business with a focus on Natural and Organic Resources from Marylhurst University, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Iowa. Ben is also a certified Project Management Professional.

PERSONAL: Ben resides in Madison, Wisconsin where he enjoys hiking, photography, hunting, beekeeping, and volunteering at the UW-Arboretum in his spare time. 

Ben Becker headshot with trees in background

Fred Clark

Project Director - Farm Sustainability Rewards Project

Email: fclark@wigreenfire.org 

EXPERIENCE: After a 30+ year career in Wisconsin conservation, Fred was the first Executive Director of Wisconsin's Green Fire. Fred was previously the director of The Forest Stewards Guild – a national organization dedicated to sustainable forestry and forest science. He has worked as a forest ecologist for Wisconsin Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, as a forester for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and as a consulting forester and owner of a forestry contracting business. He was appointed by both Governor Doyle and Governor Walker to the Wisconsin Council on Forestry from 2004 – 2014. He served three terms as a Representative to the Wisconsin State Assembly between 2009-2014 representing Sauk and Columbia Counties, and he has served on the Assembly Committees on Forestry and the Environment, and the Committee on Natural Resources. 

EDUCATION: Fred received a B.S. from Michigan State University in 1985, and an M.S. in Forest Science from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1992. 

PERSONAL: Fred lives in Bayfield, Wisconsin. His son Joe is a graduate of the UW-Stevens Point in the Conservation Law Enforcement program. He enjoys hunting, sailing, maple sugaring, and volunteering. 

Fred on boat headshot vertical

Jim VandenBrook

Project Co-Executive - Farm Sustainability Rewards Project

Email: jvandenbrook@wigreenfire.org

EXPERIENCE: Jimmy VandenBrook, a life-long resident of Wisconsin, served as the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association from 2012 until his retirement in 2018. Since his retirement, Jimmy has been working with Wisconsin’s Green Fire on agricultural conservation issues. He served as Water Quality Section Chief with DATCP from 1986 to 2012 developing and implementing rules to improve agricultural resource management including: regulation of pesticides to protect groundwater quality and improved agricultural management of nutrients to protect groundwater and surface water.

Prior to his role at DATCP, Jimmy was a county conservationist in Vernon and Trempealeau counties. He worked with farmers on the Farmland Preservation program and DNR’s Priority Watershed Program to reduce farm runoff. He was also a member of the Dane County Regional Planning Commission, a member of the Wisconsin Land Information Board. He is a current member of the Wisconsin Institute on Climate Change Impacts – Ag Working Group and served on the Natural Resources Board in 2023 for a short period.

EDUCATION: Jimmy has a degree in Soil Science-Natural Resources from UW–Madison.

PERSONAL: Jimmy lives in Mount Horeb and is an avid cross-country skier. He completed his 40th American Birkebeiner in February 2024.

Jimmy is Project Co-Executive alongside Sara Walling of Clean Wisconsin

Jim VandenBrook