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ASHEVILLE, NC (November 18, 2021): Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) announced today that Kaitlin Burroughs de Varona will become its next executive director on December 1st after a nationwide search over the summer and fall. De Varona assumes the position after spending nearly five years working at SAWS in seasonal, managerial, and leadership positions.

“Kaitlin is a dynamic leader, and we’re excited to have her expertise guiding our organization, especially as we chart our strategic plan for the next five years” said Tye Tavaras, Board Chair for SAWS. “Kaitlin is deeply committed to working towards equity and inclusion in the outdoors and celebrates diversity in outdoor conservation. She believes that wild public lands are important to the health and wellbeing of every individual. It’s gratifying to know that after reviewing numerous applications and interviewing nearly a dozen candidates that we found our next E.D. amongst our own staff, which is a testament to the caliber of our people within SAWS.”

“It’s an incredible honor to be chosen to lead SAWS,” de Varona said. “I’m continually inspired by the enthusiastic, talented staff and their boots-on-the-ground wilderness stewardship work. I look forward to working with the board and staff in expanding SAWS programs and deepening our partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service, other federal agencies, and our conservation allies as we bring attention to wild lands and work to create safe, inclusive spaces for all Americans to connect to nature.”

Prior to her time at SAWS, de Varona worked as a wilderness fellow with the National Park Service. She earned her Master of Science in Natural Resources from North Carolina State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from University of Nevada, Las Vegas. De Varona previously held positions with California State Parks, Montana Conservation Corps, and the U.S. Forest Service. She is certified in crosscut saw and wildland firefighting and holds a Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Information Science. De Varona is also a board member of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance

De Varona most recently succeeds Executive Director Meryl Harrell, who joined the Biden-Harris Administration in May as the new Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. De Varona assumes the position from Interim Executive Director Eric Giebelstein, who ably led the organization for the last six months and will serve as Deputy Director once de Varona begins her new role.

“SAWS is an important partner of the Forest Service in managing and preserving America’s wild lands. We are excited to learn of Kaitlin’s selection and are extremely grateful for her stellar project and program management with us and SAWS over the last 5 years. We look forward to continuing our work with her in this new role and are confident our partnership will be well served under her leadership” said Regional Forester Ken Arney with the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region.

SAWS is a conservation non-profit dedicated to providing stewardship to wild public lands in the Southern Appalachia region, including in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Arkansas. Founded in 2010, SAWS partners with federal agencies, including the Forest Service, to supplement existing stewardship efforts and provide additional support for training, skill-building, and community engagement. SAWS works to support safe, equitable access to public lands, preserve natural resources, and develop the next generation of conservation stewards. SAWS is also a member of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, providing paid work experience for youth, members of the military, and veterans to connect to the outdoors and become the next generation of conservation stewards and natural resource managers. SAWS has grown to a core staff of seven leaders with an average of 25 additional year-round and seasonal employees each year. In the past 10 years, SAWS employed and trained over 300 individuals, generated over 200,000 wilderness stewardship service hours on public lands, added $3.5 million in stewardship value and capacity, educated 50,000 people about wilderness and Leave No Trace, and engaged hundreds of volunteers across 75 wildernesses and 10 national forests in the Southern Appalachia region.


Media Contact: Preston Jacobsen

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