Board Members and Staff

Sandhills Task Force Board members are selected in accordance with established bylaws. Nine of the members are associated with ranching while the other six are non-ranchers. Board members serve life-long terms or until they chose to resign.

Back row (L to R): Ashley Garrelts (Project Coordinator), Steve Waller (UNL), Nancy Peterson (rancher), Barb Cooksley (rancher), Melody Benjamin (rancher), Ted LaGrange (Nebraska Game and Parks), Dave Sands (Nebraska Land Trust), John Denton (Ducks Unlimited), Greg Gehl (rancher), Shelly Kelly (Executive Director).
Front row (L to R): Homer Buell (rancher), Kenny Dinan (US Fish and Wildlife Service), John Ravenscroft (rancher), Bethany Johnston (rancher), AB Cox (rancher), Eric Hansen (rancher), Doug Christensen (Nebraska NRCS), Tim McAbee (rancher)

Current STF Board Members                                 

  • Mike Abbott – Ogallala, NE – Rancher
  • Ben Bailey – Lakeside, NE – Rancher                                                                                      
  • Melody Benjamin, Secretary/Treasurer – Lakeside, NE – Rancher
  • Homer Buell – Bassett, NE – Rancher/Nebraska Cattlemen
  • Lemoyne Dailey – Thedford, NE – Rancher
  • John Denton – Grand Island, NE – Ducks Unlimited
  • Steve Fairbairn – Grand Island, NE – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Greg Gehl – Ericson, NE – Rancher
  • Eric Hansen, Vice President – North Platte, NE – Rancher
  • Ted LaGrange – Lincoln, NE – Nebraska Game & Parks Commission
  • Nancy Peterson – Gordon, NE – Rancher
  • John Ravenscroft, President – Nenzel, NE – County Commissioner
  • Mary Reese – North Platte, NE – Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Rich Walters – Kearny, NE – The Nature Conservancy 

 

 

Rich Walters 

Rich is entering his 11th year at TNC. As Director of Conservation for the Nebraska program, he is responsible for the oversight of TNC-owned lands, land protection program, sustainable grazing strategy, freshwater riverine projects, and representation of the Conservancy in numerous statewide partnerships. Rich has led large-scale collaborative partnerships that implement conservation management actions on private lands. As GPD SGL implementation manager he assists in the strategic development and implementation of SGL strategies. Rich serves on the Governance Committee for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, representing the environmental interests of the Platte River. The Program is focused on implementing a shared vision for creating and maintaining habitats on the Platte River with a focus on environmental water flows. Rich also is on the board of the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture. Prior to joining TNC Rich worked at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission as a private and public land manager and waterfowl biologist. Rich holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.               

 

 John Denton

“I was born and raised in a small town in southern Arkansas. I grew up an avid hunter, which I still am, and pursued my passion for conservation with a degree in Wildlife Management at the University of Arkansas-Monticello. Upon graduating, I worked numerous temporary habitat conservation and research jobs, primarily waterfowl related, across the continent from Louisiana to the Arctic Circle with even one stop in Wood River, Nebraska radio-tracking Sandhill Cranes. I then went to graduate school at Southern Illinois University Carbondale where I received my M.S. degree with my thesis on cavity-nesting waterfowl. Upon graduating, I became an Upland Gamebird Research Biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (State of Florida) followed by being a Supervisory Wildlife Biologist (Region Supervisor) for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. I began my job as Manager of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited, Inc. in Nebraska on July 1, 2014, residing in Grand Island. My wife is Dr. Dana Varner and is also a wildlife biologist employed as Science Coordinator for the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture in Grand Island. We have 2 children, Lydia who is 8 years old, and Clark who is 2 years old.”

 

 Ted LeGrange 

Ted has worked as the Wetland Program Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 27 years.  As Wetland Program Manager he works on a wide variety of wetland issues throughout Nebraska including partnerships, private land restoration programs, public lands management, research, regulations, and outreach.  Prior to moving to Nebraska, he worked for 8 years as a Waterfowl Research Technician for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.   Ted received B.S. and M.S. degrees in wildlife biology from Iowa State University.  His professional interests are in prairie wetlands and waterfowl/waterbird ecology. He has been on the Sandhills Task Force Board since 1993!

 

Lemoyne Dailey

Lemoyne started on the board in 2019 and brings a bit of ranching experience with him.  Lemoyne has had several occupations during the years while caring for his ranch, one of the jobs was being a Deputy Sherriff with Lincoln Co. for 13 years!  Lemoyne has been married to his wife for 20 years and he has 6 children.  The last graduating this spring.  He has been active in conservation and has received several awards including Nebraska Grazing Conservative Award, Rangeman’s Award- Nebraska section for range management, and he has taken the Nebraska Ranch Practicum course.  Lemoyne enjoys camping, fishing, and traveling in his spare time.  He jokingly says that ranching is a hobby too, right?

 

  Homer Buell

Homer is the fourth-generation co-owner of the Shovel Dot Ranch near Rose, Nebraska, and the recipient of the 2012 Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award. Buell has been an advocate for agriculture and the cattle industry through his service in trade organization leadership roles. He is a former President of the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association and the Nebraska Hereford Association as well as holding many positions within the National Cattlemen Beef Association in his 14 years of board service. He has been President of the State 4-H Foundation, Campaign for Nebraska, Committee Chair, Sustainable Animal Production Systems, and currently serves on the board of the Sand County Foundation and President of Agricultural Builders of Nebraska.  A graduate of the University of Nebraska, he is a strong supporter of youth activities and has worked with the University of Nebraska for the benefit of students and research programs, as well as serving on the University of Nebraska President’s Advisory Council.  

 

Melody Benjamin

Melody is the Vice President of Member Services for Nebraska Cattlemen.  Melody was born and raised on the eastern plains of Colorado.  Her earliest memories of her childhood are coming out of her bedroom to see the house full of baby calves being warmed from a severe storm.  She started in the cattle industry at the age of eight when she received her first heifer.  She was active in 4-H for ten years raising both breeding stock and finished animals.  Melody has been a member of a Cattlemen’s organization since 1975 when she began her life as a full-time cattle producer.  She has a ranch at Lakeside which is east of Alliance, where her son Rob and daughter-in-law Kate join her in raising commercial cows and calves.  Over the years she has gone from the daily work on the ranch to being an advisor and sounding board.

 

Eric Hansen

Eric grew up as a 5th-generation rancher in North Platte, NE.  The ranch began in 1877 and has the oldest registered brand, to one family, in the state of Nebraska.  Eric attended Nebraska Westland College, where he played football and did track.  He returned to the ranch in 1994 and married his wife a short time later.  Together, they have 4 daughters, ages 23, 21, 15, and 3.  The oldest is a teacher in Lincoln and the next is attending school at UNL for physical therapy.  Eric also has been a part of the Twin Flat NRD for 18 years and is currently the Vice-Chair for the Nebraska Cattleman Natural Resources and Environmental Committee.  He has been a board member on the Sandhills Task Force for approximately 15 years and enjoys the way ranchers can work with the government agencies and reach goals that are important to each other.

Employees

  • Shelly Kelly – Executive Director

Growing up on a family Sandhill ranching and farming operation near Brewster helped Shelly gain a sincere appreciation for the Sandhills ecosystem and the associated ranching industry. A college degree in Range Science from South Dakota State University and previous employment with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as Range Management Specialist in North Platte and other locations allowed her to gain new perspectives on ranching and conservation and how the two can fit together. She has a passion to ensure ranching remains viable in the Sandhills and that the grassland remains intact. To do this, Shelly has established a broad network of peers, professionals, and ranchers that can all work together to achieve the common goal of conserving our natural resources while remaining profitable and maintaining the ranching way of life. Shelly started working for the Sandhills Task Force in 2014 and operates out of her home. She is responsible to promote the Sandhills Task Force, acquiring grants and funds for projects, coordinating with partner agencies/groups, and overseeing all projects. Shelly and her son Conley live near Broken Bow, Nebraska.  Reach her at shelly@sandhillstaskforce.org

 

  • Ashley Garrelts – Project Coordinator

Ashley comes to the Nebraska Sandhills from Wyoming, where she grew up on a hay and cattle farm near Torrington.  She attended the University of Wyoming, earning a bachelor’s of science degree in Animal Science with an emphasis in rangeland management.  She furthered her education there and obtained a Master of Science degree in Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management.  After graduating she worked for two years with the Utah Natural Resources Conservation Service as a Rangeland Management Specialist on a Soil Survey crew, contracted by the National Park Service.  While there s e was a contributing author on many Ecological Site Descriptions and State and Transition Models for the Colorado Plateau.  In 2008 she moved back to Wyoming and took a position with the University of Wyoming Extension and specializing in rangeland and livestock management.  This allowed her the experience of working with ranchers and other landowners across East Central Wyoming.  Her passion for working with women landowners and helping them learn new technologies was a focus of her programming.  Ashley started working for the Sandhills Task Force in 2018.  Most days she can be found in her vehicle in the Sandhills coordinating the many Sandhills Task Force cost-share programs.  She is an animal lover and lives in Broken Bow, NE, with her dog, three cats, and two chickens. Reach her at ashley@sandhillstaskforce.org   

 

  • Cheryl Anderson – Administrative Assistant 

Reach Cheryl at cheryl@sandhillstaskforce.org

 

  • Cody Trump – Sandhills Stewards Coordinator 

Cody Trump grew up ranching in the sandhills, where some of his earliest memories were riding across the sandhills, moving cattle, and going to brandings. Most summers were spent Haying, fencing, moving cows, and working with 4-H calves. He also spent two years working for the fish and wildlife service, which helped grow his desire to work in a mutually beneficial field for both ranching and wildlife. After graduating high school, Cody went to Chadron State College, where he majored in Rangeland Livestock Management and minored in agribusiness, animal science, and equine management. It was also at CSC that Cody met his wife Jayde, and after attending The West Institute, a seminary master’s program in Laramie, Wyoming, they were married. They currently live in Chadron, and some of his favorite activities include hunting, fishing, grazing cattle, and training horses. He is looking forward to growing the Sandhills Stewards Program and being a resource for the community of ranchers he grew up in.  Reach him at cody@sandhillstaskforce.org