David Sumpter, Executive Director
Dave Sumpter is Wildlands Executive Director and one of the founders of Wildlands Conservation. He has an MS in Wildlife Biology and has focused much of his professional career trying to better understand how to ecologically manage Florida. This has resulted in a couple decades of experience developing resource management plans, conducting directed research on selected species, and figuring out creative ways to conserve the lands needed to sustain wild Florida. He has assisted several counties with establishing and implementing their land acquisition and management programs. He was previously responsible for managing all the preserves and natural areas in Pinellas County. In addition to professional collaborations with local Universities and local governments, Mr. Sumpter has also been very active within the community. He has been particularly effective as a liaison between the scientific community and the public-at-large. In this role, Mr. Sumpter was the vice-chair and chair of the Hillsborough River Greenways Task Force, one of seven Coooperative Ecosystem Management Initiatives recognized by the state. He also was the adhoc chair of the Mayor of Tampa’s Environmental Advisory Committee, continues to serve as Conservation Chair for Tampa Audubon, and as an advisor to the Tampa Bay Conservancy. He also serves on the BP RESTORE fund advisory committee as an appointee for Pasco County, where he resides. Dave is also one of the founding members (and later chaired) west Central Florida’s Frog Listening Network. Mr. Sumpter gives numerous presentations each year on birds, frogs, wildlife survey techniques, and various elements of resource management and directed research.
Fritz Musselmann of Pasco County is semi-retired and has been involved in water resource and land conservation for over 40 years. After retiring from Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) in 2008, Fritz founded Land & Water Associates, LLC, providing consulting services to landowners to facilitate private and government land sales/purchases including services related to current and future land use and management strategies.
Musselmann currently serves as Volunteer Legislative Liaison for the Friends of Florida State Parks and serves in an advisory capacity to the Tampa Bay Conservancy. He previously served on the Boards of the Tampa Bay Conservancy, Friends of Florida State Parks and the Coastal Rivers Basin Board of SWFWMD.
Musselmann began work at SWFWMD in 1975 and was promoted to Land Resources Director (July 1982 to December 2008) providing direction and oversight to the District’s Land Resources Department including Land Acquisition, Land Management, Land Use and Survey Sections. With oversight of a $35 to $50 million annual department budget, Musselmann recognized the important roles of responsibility, authority and accountability. Some of the accomplishments during Musselmann’s tenure as Land Resources Director include:
- Establishing the District’s conservation land acquisition and management programs including associated Governing Board Policies and Procedures related to implementing the Water Management Lands Trust Fund (Save Our Rivers), Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever Program appropriations;
- Establishing the District’s less-than-fee (conservation easement) acquisition program;
- Approximately 435,000 acres acquired – 341,000 acres in fee and 94,000 acres in less-than-fee (conservation easements) consisting of over 3,500 parcels within 77 projects at a total cost of $704.5 million including $132.2 million in partnership contributions;
- Developing land acquisition/management/use partnerships with local governments/school districts, regional water supply authorities, various agencies of the State of Florida and several not-for-profit organizations such as Florida Trail resulting in the establishment of:
- Four state parks and a large addition to a fifth park;
- Three state forests;
- More than 20 local government parks;
- Green Swamp segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail and 18 sites identified as part of the Great Florida Birding Trail;
- Ten wildlife management areas for hunting, fishing and other activities;
- Three environmental education centers and the renovation of two existing centers, and
- Five water supply wellfields and two water supply reservoirs.
- 305 miles of rivers and streams protected including lands for the Surface Water Improvement and Management Program (SWIM);
- District’s Recreation Guide Identifying recreational opportunities on 61 areas;
- Land Resources Department Volunteer Program;
- 857+ miles of multi-use trails established by the District and/or its land management/recreation partners; and 13,600 acres of uplands/wetlands restored.
Walt Thomson, Director
Walt Thomson joined our Board of Directors in 2012. Walt brings decades of experience in conservation field. He currently is a private consultant in the field of natural systems land management. He was formally the Director of Terrestrial Conservation Services for the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He began his career as a Ranger in the Florida Park Service in 1983. He later worked as an Aquatic Preserve Manager, State Reserve Manager, Biologist, Environmental Specialist and ultimately as a Regional Biologist for the Florida Park Service. In 1993 Walt became the first Preserve Manager for the Nature Conservancy’s 12,000-acre Disney Wilderness Preserve, one of the country’s premiere mitigation projects using prescribed burning and wetlands restoration. Walt has 32 years experience in conservation lands management and 30 years experience in prescribed fire implementation. Subject specialties include: Conservation lands management, prescribed fire management, fire planning and ecology, fire program design and development, plant ecology, preserve design and large-scale resource management implementation. Walt holds a Bachelors Degree in Biology from Stetson University and a Masters Degree in Biology from the University of Central Florida.
Henry Mushinsky, Director
Dr. Henry Mushinsky, a Professor in Biology and Graduate Director at the University of South Florida, has been on the Board since 2007. Dr. Mushinsky has served as an advisor and a collaborator with Wildlands since the organization’s inception in 2003. Henry has published over 120 papers on Florida’s indigenous herpetofauna, habitat restoration, and Florida ecology. He is a past president and Board member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists and the Herpetologists’ League. He has received numerous teaching and excellence awards over the past 30 years including most recently the prestigious Kosove Society as Graduate Professor.
Heidi Bogardus McCree, Director
Heidi McCree of Tampa is an attorney who has been involved in water and land conservation policy throughout her career. Heidi is a member of Leadership Florida, Class XXV. She is the honored recipient of the 2009 Audubon of Florida, Women in Conservation, Special Places Award.She is a founding Board member and President of the Tampa Bay Conservancy. In 2008, she served as President of Preserve Hillsborough, the successful campaign to renew Hillsborough County’s Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP).
Heidi served on the Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board from 2000 through 2008. In 2005, she was unanimously elected the first female Chairperson of the Governing Board. She served as liaison to the Florida Greenways and Trails Council and to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Additionally, McCree was Chair ex officio of the Hillsborough River Basin Board.
McCree served as Executive Director of the Hillsborough River Greenways Task Force from 1996 to 2000. She is a member of the Alliance of Florida Land Trusts, was a delegate to the Florida Water Congress and member of the Tampa Bay Partnership Vision 21 and One Bay efforts. She was Chair of the Cone Ranch Advisory Committee. Other involvement has included the Hillsborough County Bar Association, Hillsborough Association of Women Lawyers, Hillsborough County League of Women Voters and the Water Issues Coalition.
Heidi is on the boards of Audubon Florida, the Florida Greenways and Trails Foundation, the Children’s Campaign and the William A. Gregory Scholarship Foundation. She has also served the Hillsborough Education Foundation, supporting Nature’s Classroom and the Foundation’s fundraising efforts. She is a Junior League member and has served on various Boards and committees for her children’s schools and church activities.
McCree received a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Vanderbilt University in 1986 and a juris doctor from George Mason University School of Law in 1992. She received certification from the Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium in 1996 for negotiating and resolving public disputes. Prior to serving as Executive Director of the Greenways Task Force, she worked for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Prior to moving to Florida in 1995, she worked for two governors of Maryland in their Chesapeake Bay and Save Our Streams programs. Prior to law school, Heidi was Director of Membership Services for the T. Boone Pickens United Shareholders Association in Washington D.C
Julie Morris, M.S. Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Director
Julie Morris is the Florida and Gulf Programs Manager for the National Wildlife Refuge Association. Previously she was a Principal and Wildlands Conservation from 2007-2015. Julie has over 18 years’ experience working in the conservation field. Julie’s areas of expertise include Florida ecosystems, conservation issues, planning and policy, listed species, land acquisition and easement programs, as well as payments for ecosystem services, human dimensions of conservation, and stakeholder outreach. She has developed conservation programs with state and local governments and stakeholder groups throughout Florida.
Julie has been involved in numerous conservation endeavors throughout the state. She is experienced in working with the various federal, state and local programs to successfully put lands into conservation; she works with governmental agencies, private landowners, and other conservation organizations (or NGOs). Her work includes assisting landowners in protecting their natural and agricultural lands; she has a strong knowledge and experience in land acquisition and easement programs, and other conservation incentive programs that can assist landowners and achieve conservation goals.
Julie is an experienced field ecologist: she regularly provides ecological assessments of potential conservation lands and conducts species-specific wildlife surveys. She has specialized in gopher tortoise conservation for the past 16 years, and taught Gopher Tortoise Certification Classes around the state for several years.
Julie previously worked for the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida as a Research Scientist and with the Ashton Biological Preserve on gopher tortoise research and conservation policy. Julie was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and land manager and ecologist for Charlotte County. Julie sits on FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Technical Advisory Group and the Florida Ecological Greenways Technical Advisory Group; she is a past member of the Environmental Policy Task Force for Sarasota County.
John Laxx, Director
Professor Lax began teaching for Saint Leo as an adjunct at the MacDill AFB Center in 2008 and joined the Campus full time faculty in Fall of 2010. Prior to Saint Leo, he taught at the University of South Florida Polytechnic and Hillsborough Community College.
John holds a M.B.A and a M.S, in Marketing, both from the University of South Florida and will soon complete his Doctorate in Marketing. Prior to his academic career, John spent more than 25 years in corporate roles including retail management, National Field Sales Manager, VP of Product Marketing for a software firm, Director of Marketing and Communication for a trade association and served as a consultant in several industries. He is the faculty advisor for Pride Consulting, SLU’s student managed consulting firm. John is a Rays and Bucs fan and lives in Lutz with Robin, his wife of 31 years, and three very indulged cats.