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2021 Event Plenary Sessions & Presenters
The theme of the 2021 Midwest Fish and Wildlife Conference was “Fostering Diversity”. In addition to the work natural resource professionals do to encourage species diversity in the habitats they manage, it is critical that we also foster diversity in participation in the outdoors among the people we serve and who work in our professional ranks.
PLENARY SESSION I:
Monday, February 1, 8:00 AM – 10:30 AM (Central Time)
The Plenary Session on Monday will feature Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces, a seminal work on the roots of gaps in outdoor participation between white people and other ethnicities.

Carolyn FinneyCarolyn Finney, PhD is a storyteller, author and a cultural geographer. She is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience. Carolyn is grounded in both artistic and intellectual ways of knowing - she pursued an acting career for eleven years, but five years of backpacking trips through Africa and Asia, and living in Nepal changed the course of her life. Motivated by these experiences, Carolyn returned to school after a 15-year absence to complete a B.A., M.A. (gender and environmental issues in Kenya and Nepal) and a Ph.D. Along with public speaking, writing, media engagements, consulting & teaching (Wellesley, UC Berkeley and the University of Kentucky), she served on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board for eight years which assists the National Park Service in building relationships of reciprocity with diverse communities. Carolyn is presently doing a two-year residency in the Franklin Environmental Center at Middlebury College. Her first book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors was released in 2014 (UNC Press).
PLENARY SESSION II:
Tuesday, February 2, 8:00 AM – 10:30 AM (Central Time)
The Plenary Session on Tuesday will feature programs being used to close some of those gaps both among different ethnicities and genders.
Michael Isham Jr.Michael J. Isham, Jr.
Michael “Mic” Isham Jr. is the Executive Administrator for the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission. He also has 22 years in Elected Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Government, including 2 terms as Tribal Chair. His professional Experience includes: Wisconsin Conservation Corps, Wisconsin DNR, USEPA, Lac Courte Oreilles Natural Resource Director.
Christine ThomasDr. Christine Thomas
Christine Thomas, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point. She served as dean and professor of resource management at the College of Natural Resources until her retirement in 2020. In addition to her role as a university educator, Thomas developed the Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, designed to teach women outdoor skills. Thomas has been active in the past in regional issues related to women in natural resources, having co-chaired two Midwest Regional conferences related to workforce diversity. She has served on numerous appointed boards and councils at the state and federal level related to conservation, and has received many awards and honors for her career’s work.
Linda BylanderLinda Bylander
Linda Bylander is the Minnesota DNR coordinator for the Becoming an Outdoors women program. Linda works with volunteers, DNR staff, and outside agencies to offer around 60 women skill programs yearly. Prior to BOW, Linda was the northern MN aquatic education specialist for the DNR’s MinnAqua program. Linda has a BS and MS from the University of Michigan in Natural Resource Management.
Alora JonesAlora Jones
Alora K. Jones (she/her, @alora_danan) works for The Nature Conservancy's MN-ND-SD chapter. Alora is proud to commit her skills in marketing and communications to advance the missions of great outdoors and conservation nonprofits. A Minnesota lifer, she's also served as a volunteer leader with Oakland-based nonprofit Outdoor Afro since 2016. Outdoor Afro's mission is to celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. In her free time, Alora enjoys hiking in forests with the very best adventure dog, Ella, and taking her loved ones on camping trips up north.
Jeff PagelsJeff Pagels
Jeff Pagels received his label, disabled, in 1984 when a tree fell on him. A wheelchair user since then, he has gone on to become the USA’s most decorated cross-country skier with 5 Paralympic medals. His venue is all outdoors including many of the highest places in this world. He is always trying to go deeper into the woods and climbing higher. Jeff spends much of his time helping others to challenge themselves in the outdoors. He retired from the Wisconsin DNR in 2004.
Ray RuizRay Ruiz
Ray Ruiz is a Fishing and Hunting Skills Liaison for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He develops partnerships and fishing programs focused on Latino communities. In addition to being a very accomplished angler (Former Gopher Bassmaster Angler of the Year), Ray has an extensive marketing background and has a Masters of Arts degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Minnesota.
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