The Founders


Maria Ellis & Jeff Cook


Maria Ellis and Jeff Cook are the founders of Spring Rivers Foundation. 

Maria has a doctorate in Aquatic Ecology from the Department of Biology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a master’s degree in Marine Science from the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Maria first came to the Intermountain Area of northeastern California in 1990 and has been studying the ecology of aquatic species in northeastern California ever since. Maria is an expert on the federally and state-listed endangered Shasta crayfish. She wrote the draft recovery plan for CDFG and assisted USFWS in the preparation of the final recovery plan for the Shasta crayfish, which was approved in 1998.

Jeff has a bachelor’s degree in Conservation and Resource Studies from the University of California, Berkeley and more than two decades of consulting experience studying aquatic ecology and geomorphology of rivers and streams. He has extensive experience in both fields and has worked throughout California, as well as in Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Georgia. Jeff worked out of the San Francisco Bay Area for EA Engineering and Stillwater Sciences before moving to northeastern California in 1995 to work with Maria in the business that would become Spring Rivers Ecological Sciences.

The impetus to start Spring Rivers Foundation came from their deep interest and commitment to this area of northeastern California and the numerous native, endemic species that call it home. Shasta crayfish is just one of several species that are known only from this area. After observing the rapid decline of the Shasta crayfish during the 1990s, Maria and Jeff knew that a more proactive approach would be necessary if they did not want to document the extinction of the species. By forming a non-profit entity, Spring Rivers Foundation could better work with the state and federal regulatory agencies that have overlapping legal responsibility for protecting the species and be eligible for additional grant funding. Spring Rivers Foundation seeks to bridge the gap between regulatory agencies and private landowners and to create the momentum necessary to work with the academic and scientific communities to research, design, and implement habitat restoration projects.

Maria and Jeff also saw opportunities for a non-profit to bring real-world science and technology into local schools and create place-based, outdoor education experiences for students by getting them involved with habitat restoration activities.

Board Members


Michael Kerns

 Michael is an experienced business professional with forty years in business management and leadership development. During his thirty year tenure with IBM, Michael was a member of the team that developed the IBM New Executive Development program for newly appointed IBM Executives from all over the world. As general plant manager of a medium power transformer manufacturer, Michael reopened a closed manufacturing operation, recruited and hired over two hundred production, administrative, and technical employees, and increased production from zero to ten units per month in a twelve-month period. Since 1997, Michael has operated his own consulting practice specializing in leadership, management, and personal development topics including the design and delivery of custom culture change initiatives for medium and large organizations. Michael has a B.A. degree in Public Administration from San Jose State University and extensive management training and technical training in production planning, production control, consulting methodologies, and the design and implementation of both lecture and activity-based training. Michael was also selected to attend a senior management seminar in manufacturing methods at Stanford University. An active volunteer at Mayers Memorial Hospital District, Michael has coordinated Board of Director Retreats, conducted staff leadership development programs, and participated in the Hospital Citizens Advisory Committee. 


Beatriz Vasquez, Ph.D.

Beatriz is a retired scientist and educator. She did research in Neuroscience for over 19 years at UC Irvine and Loma Linda VA Hospital where authored publications in the areas of Mechanisms of Tolerance/Addiction, Memory, Learning, Aging, and the effects of Electromagnetic Radiation on Circadian Rhythms. Next she entered the California Community College arena first as a Biology Professor and then as an administrator (Dean, Vice President) at three different colleges. After retirement in 2014, Beatriz transferred her skills sets (leadership, governance, quality, and finances) to enhance her community volunteer efforts. She became an active Board Director at Mayers Memorial Hospital District, the Fall River Valley Library, Spring River Foundation, and lately the Association of California Healthcare Districts. Beatriz is very dedicated to STEM education through the Tech Trek and Scholarship programs sponsored by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Beatriz resides in Fall River Mills with her husband and both look forward to visits from their two children and three grandchildren.


Ann Chrisney

Ann is coordinator of the Riparian Habitat Joint Venture (RHJV), a partnership of eighteen federal, state and private organizations (National Audubon Society, PRBO Conservation Science, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, River Partners, Trust for Public Lands, The Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Conservation Board, California State Lands Commission, California Department of Water Resources, Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Service). In her role with RHJV, Ann is working on a statewide map of riparian habitat across California and developing quantifiable habitat objectives and priority areas. She helped publish California Riparian Systems: Processes and Floodplains Management, Ecology and Restoration, the proceedings from the 2001 Riparian Habitat and Floodplain Conference. Prior to RHJV, Ann had eighteen years of experience in resource conservation in California, primarily with the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. During her tenure with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ann worked on Shasta crayfish issues for several years and helped produce the Shasta crayfish recovery plan in 1998. Ann has a B.S. degree in Animal Science from the University of Maryland and an M.S. degree in Wildlife Management from Humboldt State University. 


Theo Light, Ph.D.

Theo is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. Theo has a B.S. degree in Conservation and Resource Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, where she graduated with highest honors. Her senior thesis research was on the Shasta crayfish. Theo completed her doctorate in Ecology with a Conservation emphasis from the University of California at Davis, where she was awarded a US Environmental Protection Agency STAR Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. Her research has focused on the effects of biological invasions on native aquatic communities, including the role of abiotic and other factors in determining success and failure. Theo is a member of the Shasta Crayfish Recovery Team formed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Shasta Crayfish Technical Review Committee, which assists Pacific Gas and Electric Company in the design and implementation of the terms, conditions, and conservation measures included in the Hat Creek and Pit 1 licenses for the protection and recovery of the Shasta crayfish. Theo is a member of the Ecological Society of America, Society for Conservation Biology, North American Benthological Society, American Fisheries Society, and Pennsylvania Academy of Science. 


Henry  Giacomini

Focused natural resource manager, Henry Giacomini, is the steward for many properties in the Hat Creek & Fall River watersheds. Prior to carbon farming or regenerative agriculture being in focus, Henry was applying the concepts to the land and watershed. Utilizing livestock as a regenerative tool, Giacomini significantly changed the soil on the properties he and his wife manage. Henry served as California State FFA President, earned a scholarship to California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo from the Bertha-Russ Lytle Foundation where he completed his Bachelor of Science Degree. He has and continues to serve in many capacities, from a local 4-H leader, Northeastern CA Water Association, Shasta County Farm Bureau, Fall River Big Valley Cattlemen, Fall River Joint School District Board Member, Range Management Advisory Committee to the CA State Board of Forestry and more. His management garnered the Society of Range Management Stewardship recognition. Giacomini is a stockman and natural resource manager. He is married to his wife Pam. They manage property that has been in continuous family management and ownership since 1903.


Andy Sih, Ph.D.  

Andy is Chair and Professor of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California at Davis. Andy has a B.S. degree in Biology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he received a Regents Scholarship of New York. He has a Ph.D. degree in Ecology from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he received a Regents Fellowship of California and a Graduate Opportunity Fellowship of California. Andy received an Ohio State University Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and University of Kentucky University Research Professorship. Andy was the Marshall Hahn Sr. Endowed Professor of Biology and the Director of the Center for Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Kentucky. He was a recipient of the Murray F. Buell Award of the Ecological Society of America, is an ISI Current Contents ‘Highly Cited Researcher’ in Ecology/Environmental Science, and a Fellow of the World Innovation Foundation. He served a four-year track as President of the Animal Behavior Society: 2nd president elect, 1st president elect, president, and past president. Andy’s research focuses on the evolution of ecologically important behaviors (predator-prey, mating, and social behaviors), and life history traits, and how these influence population and community ecological patterns in aquatic systems. Graduate students from Andy’s lab have worked with the Shasta crayfish and other native freshwater fauna in northeastern California.


Todd Sloat

  Todd is an independent consultant and contractor who specializes in biological surveys, habitat and geomorphic assessments, compliance and permitting, multi-stakeholder collaboration, and design-build stream restoration projects. He currently conducts most of his work within northeastern California where he develops restoration projects on private and public lands working through the Fall River and Pit Resource Conservation Districts. Todd received his B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology and M.S. in Ecology at the University of California, Davis. He lives in the Fall River Valley where he and his wife enjoy recreating throughout the region, and visiting their three kids who recently fledged and live in the Davis-Sacramento area.