In the 20th Century, we preserved the land. In the 21st, let’s restore it.

Conservation and Policy Council

The Conservation & Policy Council guides overall efforts to implement the Next Century Conservation Plan.  The council’s eleven civic leaders—including ex-officio member Commissioner Robert Steele, reviews the Forest Preserves annual budget and makes recommendations on conservation policies, practices, and strategic priorities. 

Members of the Conservation and Policy Council

Robert Castaneda

Executive Director, Beyond the Ball

Robert Castaneda is the executive director and co-founder, along with his wife Amy, of Beyond the Ball. Beyond the Ball is a nonprofit organization that uses the power of sport to change lives, give hope, reclaim space and create a culture of opportunities for youth and families in Chicago. Based in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, Beyond the Ball not only develops youth through sport and play, but also develops the community. The organization was chosen from among more than 400 entries from over 120 countries to be honored with the “Most Courageous Use of Sport” Award at the 2010 Beyond Sport Summit. Castaneda has shared his expertise at international events, such as One Young World in Zurich, Switzerland, and Beyond Sport United at Yankee Stadium. In 2010, the Castanedas were honored with the Private Bank Norman Bobins Leadership Award at the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards.


Michael DeSantiago

Founder, President & CEO, Primera Engineers, LTD.

Michael DeSantiago is the President of Primera Engineers. He has more than 30 years of experience in the practice of sustainable design and energy management and has a life-long interest in conservation and sustainability. He is also a LEED Accredited Professional. In addition to designing environmentally responsible and budget-compliant solutions, he is also actively engaged with local and national code-writing bodies and regularly contributes to the industry’s professional organizations. He also participates in promoting engineering as a profession to children and young adults from communities that are under-represented in the profession through his involvement with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago and several other programs. He is also a trustee of the Conservation and Education Committee and a member of the Planning and Facilities committee at the Chicago Zoological Society. He is the President of the American Council of Mechanical & Electrical engineers and has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards related to engineering design, community development, and diversity leadership.


Peter Ellis

Partner, ReedSmith LLP

Peter Ellis is a partner at ReedSmith LLP with a focus on business and commercial litigation with a specialty in franchising and distribution law. He has been an active member of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Botanic Garden since 2006. He has served on several committees and currently serves as Board secretary as well as a member of the Board’s Executive, Nominating and Governance, and Science and Education Committees. He is also a member of the Juvenile Justice Leadership Council, on the Board of the Harris Theater of Music and Dance, a Fellow of Leadership Greater Chicago and is actively involved with other legal and civic organizations.


Terry Guen

President, Terry Guen Design Associates

Terry Guen is president and principal at Terry Guen Design Associates, Inc. Her practice focuses on enhancing the quality of the outdoor environment and designing landscapes that are both aesthetically and environmentally successful. Projects include the West Side Waterfront Master Plan of the Hudson River front in Manhattan; landscaping and public space design for the Metropolitan Commission in Boston; and, designing the F and G Streets Retail District in Washington, D.C. In Chicago, Terry has worked on the South Lakeshore Drive Reconstruction Project, as well as conducting landscaping design and construction review for Millennium Park. Her firm has won awards from the American Institute of Architects, the Chicago Building Congress, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and Midwest Construction, among others. Terry is a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects. She also served on the Next Century Plan Commission. About the Plan


Sylvia M. Jenkins, Ph.D.

President, Moraine Valley Community College

Dr. Sylvia M. Jenkins is the president of Moraine Valley Community College. She began her involvement with Moraine Valley Community College in library science, twice receiving Master Teacher of the Year honors for incorporating technology into her teaching. Dr. Jenkins also served as dean of cademic Development and Learning Resources and vice president of Academic Affairs before being elected as the College’s fifth president in 2012. She has received the Innovator of the Year Award and the Vernon O. Crawley Leadership Award from the college, and has chaired its reaccreditation Systems Portfolio team, Strategic Technology Planning team, and Diversity and Leadership task group. Dr. Jenkins has been appointed to serve on numerous boards and committees, including Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Council, the Chicago-Cook County Workforce Investment Board and the Northeast Illinois Transit Task Force. She also served on Next Century Plan Commission. About the Plan


Falona Joy

President, SNP Strategies

Falona Joy is the President of SNP Strategies – a consulting firm that helps to build the vitality of non-profit institutions and increase the abilities of non-profit leaders to achieve their visions. She was a vice president of The Alford Group, a national consultancy also focused on the not-for-profit sector. Her clients have included Chicago Metropolis 2020, the Museum of Science and Industry and the DuSable Museum. She was the founding executive director of the National Park Foundation’s African American Experience Fund (AAEF), where she developed a leadership team, grants program, and philanthropic support to help the National Park Service effectively reach diverse constituencies. Falona developed her passion for the non-profit sector when she led delegations to the United Nations in Geneva to address issues of human rights for minority populations. Falona is a board member of the Chicago History Museum, a Committee member of the African Women’s Development Fund and an Officer of the Illinois Humanities Council.


Linda Mastandrea

Attorney at Law

Linda Mastandrea is an attorney specializing in disability law and civil rights. Diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, Linda has represented the United States at the Paralympic Games, World Championships and Pan American Games. She won 15 gold and 5 silver medals in wheelchair track, and set numerous national, world and Paralympic records. Linda co-authored an encyclopedia of people, events and organizations associated with sports and the physically challenged. She was named one of Crain’s Chicago Business “Forty Under 40,” and received the International Olympic Committee President’s Disabled Athlete Award, as well as the David Award from the Italo-American National Union. Linda was the first female Paralympian inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. Linda serves on AT&T’s Advisory Panel on Access and Aging, the City of Chicago’s Building Board of Appeals and the IPC Legal and Ethics committee. She also serves on the boards of Access and Living, Midwest Olympians and Paralympians, and Variety International’s Legal and Ethics Committee on Paralympians.


Wendy Paulson

President, Bobolink Foundation

Wendy Paulson holds numerous leadership positions within the local and international conservation communities.  She is Chairman of the Bobolink Foundation, which supports conservation efforts.  Additionally, Wendy holds or has held leadership positions with Rare, the Student Conservation Association, the National Forum on Children & Nature, the American Bird Conservancy, BirdLife International/Audubon U.S. and the Illinois, New York and National boards of the The Nature Conservancy.  Locally, Wendy is on the board of Openlands and the Field Museum’s Science Action committee.  A long-time educator, she has taught public school in Boston, New York and Barrington, Illinois, as well as at the Potomac School in Virginia.  She serves as education associate at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, has written a nature activity series for children and edited a conservation newsletter for many years.  Wendy is a long-time participant in prairie and savanna restoration, and has been leading bird walks for more than 30 years. Wendy served as co-chair of the Next Century Plan Commission. About the Plan


Laurel Ross

Former Director of Urban Conservation, Field Museum

Laurel Ross has served in numerous leadership positions within the conservation community of Chicago, demonstrating a tremendous commitment to conserving the native environment of Illinois. Laurel was the director of Urban Conservation for the Field Museum from 2004 to 2014. In this role, she developed and oversaw programs that connected people to nature through environmental education, habitat restoration and collaboration between related environmental and cultural organizations. She has also served as chair of Chicago Wilderness, director of Conservation Programs for the Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and director of the North Park Village Nature Center. Laurel has many years of experience as a committed volunteer and leader in environmental stewardship through the Volunteer Stewardship Network of Illinois.


Robert Steele

Cook County Commissioner

Robert Steele serves as President Pro Tempore of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Chair of the Cook County Contract Compliance Committee, and Vice-Chair of the Cook County Health and Hospitals and Environmental Control Committees.  He also serves as Chair of the Contract Compliance Committee and Vice-Chair of the Finance and Environmental Control Committees of the Forest Preserves.  Nationally, he serves as Chair of the Defined Contribution and Retirement Advisory Committee for the National Association of Counties. Commissioner Steele has contributed to the establishment and growth of North Lawndale small businesses and has brought Empowerment Zone economic development programs to the City of Chicago. He also has supported employment programs for North Lawndale youth and was instrumental in organizing the Chicago Park District councils to improve community parks. Commissioner Steele is an ex-officio member of the Conservation and Policy Council.


Mark N. Templeton

Director, Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago

Mark N. Templeton has an extensive background in government finance and strategic planning with a demonstrated focus on environmental issues. He currently serves a director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago. Prior this role, Templeton was executive director of the Office of Independent Trustees for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust, where he helped ensure that the $20 billion pledged by BP was available to address claims of affected individuals. He also served in the cabinet of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon as director of the Department of Natural Resources, where he managed approximately 1,759 employees, oversaw a $310 million annual budget, and directed allocation of $350 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Additionally, Templeton was associate dean and COO at Yale Law School, developed strategies for environmental sustainability at McKinsey & Company and was special assistant and senior adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Commission of Human rights.