Our Values

At Community Conservation, we believe that local people are the best stewards of their lands. We promote the highest level of participation on the part of the local community, and encourage the formation of community-based organizations that empower local people to manage their own projects and lands with minimal outside influence.

Our Mission

In order to promote global biodiversity and sustainable land use, Community Conservation catalyzes, facilitates, and empowers local people to manage and conserve natural resources within the social, cultural, and economic context of their communities and facilitates widespread, global adoption of community-based conservation.

Below, learn more about our:


Board of Directors

In Memory of our Founder: Rob Horwich


Smiling female conservationist in front of rocky river

April Sansom, Executive Director April Sansom holds a PhD in Environment and Resources from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. April’s dissertation focused on the intersection of community-based conservation and rural development and how these disciplines can be combined to empower local people to be stewards of their own landscape. She worked with groups of dairy farmers living in the buffer zone of a protected area on the eastern slope of the Andes in Napo Province, Ecuador, during her dissertation research process. April holds a Master’s Degree in Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development, also from the Nelson Institute. For this degree her research focused on women’s groups in rural Bolivia and their participation in natural resource management decision-making. Before graduate school, April lived in the Philippines for over three years, first as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer and then as a Community Organizer for the Philippines program of Conservation International. April led environmental education programs for a local non-profit organization, and she worked with an indigenous group of people on Coron Island that had just received legal rights over their ancestral land and water. She coordinated a conservation enterprise project, which focused on the processing of cashews by the local people.  April has a BS degree in Wildlife Ecology from the Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences Department of Texas A&M University.

Shelly Torkelson, Communications and Outreach Coordinator Shelly has a Masters in Environmental Conservation from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After completing her undergraduate degree in biology from Arizona State University, she realized she would rather work with animals than in a lab, and ended up doing administration, fundraising and public relations for a dog and cat rescue in Arizona. She has now worked in nonprofit communications and development for ten years, most recently at Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo. When she has a spare hour, she spends it on photography, gardening, crafting, and biking everywhere. She lives in Madison with her family including her very own “pygmy hog” –  a pug mix named Grub.

Board of Directors

Dr. Teri Allendorf (President) Dr. Teri Allendorf is a conservation biologist who has been working on issues of local communities and protected areas since 1994. She is a scientist in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a research associate with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. She is also an Honorary Fellow in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Land Tenure Center at the UW. She has been a member of USAID’s Biodiversity Team and a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal.  She conducts research on local communities’ attitudes and perceptions of protected areas and how those can be used to manage protected areas more sustainably.  She has worked in Nepal, Myanmar, China, India, Uganda, Guyana, and Guatemala, to develop the capacity of local and national NGOs to design and implement biodiversity conservation projects in collaboration with local communities.

Joe Rising (Vice-President) has a strong background in not-for-profit organizations and law. He has a Juris Doctor Degree and undergraduate degrees in Psychology and Anthropology. Joe is a licensed Minnesota attorney with nearly 25 years of experience advocating for the environment and assisting communities with resource conservation. His environmental commitment came off the prairie where Joe grew up spending summers near St. Cloud, MN. He has written for numerous publications and enjoys writing haiku to reach further into nature. Community Conservation has always been an integral part of Joe’s work.

Dr. Terry Beck (Secretary) has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric & Composition from the Union Institute and taught in the English Department at UW-La Crosse from 1978 to 2008. He has a small farm near Avalanche, Wisconsin where he raises sheep and chickens, and tends the family gardens, fruit trees, bushes, and vines. He was a founder and long-time board member of Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School in Viroqua, Wisconsin. He currently serves on the Board of Youth Initiative High School in Viroqua and volunteers at the Kickapoo Reserve, and organizes spoon carving classes and activities for the Driftless Folk School.

Dr. John Delaney (Treasurer) grew up less than an hours drive from Viroqua, Wisconsin, in Harpers Ferry, Iowa. He received his PhD from Iowa State University in 2014 where he researched biodiversity and pollinator conservation in cattle pastures and tallgrass prairies.  John coordinates the citizen science water quality research program for Valley Stewardship Network (VSN) by providing trainings and support to volunteers. As VSN’s agroecologist, John serves farmers and landowners with information and technical services for promoting biodiversity and improving water quality.

Shelly Gradwell-Brenneman was raised in a small farming community in central Iowa. Shelly credits her grandparents with inspiring her life’s work in natural resources with their example of conservation leadership in their community. Shelly attended Colorado State University where she earned a B.S. in Environmental Interpretation and completed her internship in Rocky Mountain National Park. After college, she served as a volunteer environmental and ecotourism educator in the rainforests of Costa Rica. She went on to Iowa State University, where she studied sustainable agriculture and earned a M.S. degree in Agronomy and Rural Sociology, while helping launch one of the first community supported agriculture projects in Iowa. She worked with Practical Farmers of Iowa and Iowa State University Extension on several sustainable agriculture and natural resource education projects. The call of wilderness and sustainable fishing brought her to Alaska, where she worked for the Kenai Watershed Forum and also helped harvest wild salmon at her family fishing camp for many summers. She now lives in Viroqua, where she enjoys sharing the wonders of the Driftless with her two boys.

Mark Fenn has a BS in Natural Resources Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and an MS in Agricultural Education and Extension from the University of Minnesota.  His current position is the International Expert for Curriculum Development for Agricultural Extension for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Cambodia.  He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Burkina Faso from 1983-1986.  His interests and work experience include ecosystem services maintenance, protected areas management, development of community managed conservation areas, climate change policy development, ecosystem service valuation training programs and capacity development for government leaders, and networking and coordination among development partners and donors.


In Memoriam: Community Conservation Founder Rob Horwich

Dr. Rob Horwich, smiling man with white beard

Dr. Rob Horwich founded Community Conservation in his living room in Gays Mills, Wisconsin, in 1989. Rob was first inspired to work alongside local people to protect their forests in Belize. He initially travelled to Belize to study black howler monkeys, locally known as baboons, and quickly realized that without joining forces with local people to protect the howlers’ forest home, there might not be any more howlers to study in the future. Working with local human community members provided the opportunity to protect habitat via what is now known as the Community Baboon Sanctuary, a model for local community management of natural resources and ecotourism that is managed by and directly benefits the local people.

Rob continued his work focusing on people-centered conservation in 14 additional countries. His passion for protecting endangered habitat was limitless.  His friends reflect on his endless kindness and generosity, and twinkling sense of humor. From his base in his rural home in Gays Mills, he inspired a generation of conservation professionals across the globe.  We are grateful for his mentorship and legacy as we continue to work with local people to protect habitat around the world.

Please take a look at this wonderful video describing Rob’s pivotal work in Belize with the Community Baboon Sanctuary.