As the daughter of a West Texas dryland farmer and a community health nurse, the concepts of sustainability shaped my childhood. Regular conversations around the dinner table included the longevity of the Ogallala aquifer, public health issues, the carrying capacity of the land and most importantly, how we could improve all of those things for the betterment of our community. Through these casual discussions I began to understand that I could be a catalyst for positive change - an ideal that has carried through in my professional and personal life.
I am a bit of a dreamer and seem to have developed a pattern of envisioning work environments or projects that excite me, then accepting the challenge of making those things happen. So far, it's worked out well and has led me to gain wonderful project experience with teams of scientists, designers, and educators on projects emphasizing sustainable design, landscape restoration, and environmental education. After completing the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks in 2009, I resigned from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to stay home with my newborn son and see what the world had to offer. When not attending playdates, exploring Austin's greenbelts or checking out parks, I continue to work on projects that excite me and have found that “professional escapes” from motherhood give me a better life prospective.
Since being out on my own I have had the pleasure of being a contributing author to the Sustainable Sites Handbook, writing my own book Designing the Sustainable Site, and working with leading design firms across the U.S. on exciting and inspiring projects. I am constantly dreaming, planning, and scheming about the future and always look forward to the next adventure. A more detailed description of my background and professional experience can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/heathervenhaus
W. Matt McCaw
I grew up in northeast Texas and as a child it seems I was happiest in the outdoors, often completely unsupervised with the world to roam. In adolescence I saw the woodlot behind our old neighborhood razed and developed and the grandparents’ farm sold and subdivided. I began to realize that these places, and all others like them, where I made my best memories needed protection.
I studied biology and chemistry at Southwestern University. After college, I worked in the Landscape Restoration Program at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Here I was exposed to the practice of ecological restoration - to the notion that ecosystems change perpetually in response to external drivers and that we can improve their functioning with careful management.
After earning a M.S. in Land Resources from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I returned to Texas and landed a job with the City of Austin Wildland Conservation Division which protects and manages over 40,000 acres south and west of Austin for the protection and improvement of water quality, aquifer recharge, and endangered species habitat. As a senior biologist, my primary responsibilities are planning and overseeing ecological restoration treatments and conducting monitoring and research to help answer key questions regarding restoration and the provision of ecosystem services.
Over the last decade of restoring and managing natural communities, my ultimate aim has shifted from nature to people. I have come to view these pursuits not as a means of benefiting nature unto itself, but as one in a suite of tools for achieving sustainability and a fair standard of living for all people.