The Admin Team:

Mason Smith is our trusted Field Operations Manager and Owner here at OKES. He grew up in Southern Illinois and says he was fortunate enough to spend his childhood running through creeks, climbing trees, and camping. Mason says, “There are a lot of magical places in the world and this is one of them. At the end of the day Southern Illinois just feels like home.”

He elaborates:

“It’s no secret that Southern Illinois is an exceptionally diverse ecological area. I appreciate how many different natural areas you can visit with a short drive. These areas attract a lot of enthusiastic naturalists and you find that communities focus on a lot of different outdoor activities in the region.”

When asked why Mason chose to work in land management, he said:

“I’ve spent most of my life playing in the woods in one capacity or another, and getting paid for it seems almost too good to be true. I enjoy the challenging nature of this work. Every project and site is different and it can require deep preparation, quick thinking, and good communication to make a day in the field come together.”

Mason’s favorite part about working at OKES is the quality of work OKES puts on the ground:

“We have an exceptional staff that truly values the work that we do and that allows us to plan and carry out complex large scale restoration projects that very few other organizations could. Our innovative use of mapping and GPS tracking allows us to deliver extremely accurate treatment maps that set us apart in this industry.”

Mason says he appreciates people who respect the land.  He says, “Our clients are a diverse group with a wide range of needs and goals, but they are largely united in seeing the value of restoring native ecosystems in one capacity or another.”

Mason feels the work that we do is necessary because “decades of neglect and mismanagement have left our region in sorry shape. In order to keep this truly unique environment from disappearing forever we need to take cues from nature and work with natural systems like fire to undo a lot of man-made damage.”

Mason offers this advice to landowners:

“Learn your land! Taking the time to educate yourself about the native and invasive plant species, geological qualities, and history of your land is more entertaining than many people would suspect. This can help you appreciate your land more deeply, and leads many to feel more invested in and connected to their property.”

Mason wants to encourage landowners to reach out to OKES for all their land management needs, saying, “OKES has been hard at work restoring ecosystems for over a decade. Our passion for our work has attracted talented and dedicated individuals who care about your property for reasons beyond a paycheck.”

Taylor Hepp is our Field Crew Lead. Taylor is originally from Pinckneyville, IL. She says Southern Illinois was an area she had always planned to move away from, but after she finished her B.S. in Forestry at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale 2019 and began working at Ozark Koala Ecosystem Services, her appreciation for Southern Illinois’ flora and fauna grew.  Taylor appreciates the amount of people in Southern Illinois that are interested in conservation and restoration. She enjoys the closeness of the community, the beauty of the area, and the friends she’s made here greatly.

When asked why Taylor decided to work in land management, she recalled:

“Growing up, my parents raised monarch butterflies and ran a business that promoted pollinators and pollinator-friendly flowers that are native to the area. They also created and maintained the pollinator garden at my mother’s school as well as in our backyard. They are who I have to thank for developing my interest in conservation. I wanted to join the Ozark team to get hands-on experience in the field, but over the last few years, I’ve gained far more than just some experience. I’ve learned so much from my coworkers and other members of the community about land stewardship, met many wonderful people, and found a company that I love being a part of. My favorite part of working at Ozark are my coworkers, seeing beautiful areas, and being able to spend my time outdoors! Ozark is a one-of-a-kind company.”

Taylor values “how much our clients care for their properties and the ecosystem.” She “loves when clients are involved in the process and are eager to see the outcome.” Taylor says, “Some of our clients wind up being more like friends than clients.”

Taylor advises landowners to get to know their property well and research the species found on their property. She suggests learning which species belong on landowners’ properties and which ones need to be eradicated.  She says, “We want to help you meet your objectives as a landowner and we will work with you to find the best solution possible. Our entire team cares about your property.”  Taylor emphasizes that land management is very important for the preservation of Southern Illinois’ native species and creating healthier forests!

Jeremy Schumacher is our Lead Forester and Operations Manager. Jeremy is from a small grain town in Iroquois County, IL, called Ashkum. Jeremy gradually moved south throughout his adult life, living in Gibson City, Rantoul, and now in Carbondale.  Jeremy says he quickly fell in love with the area and its forests, especially its critters.  He jumped on the opportunity to call Southern Illinois his home, and spent almost every waking moment exploring the area, mostly looking for snakes.   At 36 years old, he enrolled in the Forestry Department at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and says he’s never regretted the decision!

Jeremy says “Southern Illinois is special to me because I get to take an adventure across many ecosystems with hardly any travel at all.  In a short drive I can visit the grasslands of Iowa, The hills of Appalachia, the Ozarks of Missouri, and the swamps of Louisiana, all without leaving the state.”

When asked why Jeremy chose to work in land management, he explained that he felt he was destined to be a wildlife biologist until he discovered forestry.  He appreciates that he is able to apply his love of animals, particularly reptiles and amphibians, directly to forest management.  Jeremy has since learned to apply ecological concerns to forest management and he no longer views forestry from the traditional lens of cutting trees for profit. 

Jeremy graduated from SIU in 2018 and started contracting out forest management plan writing.  Ozark Koala contacted him  to write a few plans.  Jeremy says “After I turned in the first plan, the proprietor asked to have a meeting with me and one week later I was a fulltime employee of a burgeoning company! I was overjoyed at a chance to work with a company that views ecological restoration as a primary goal.  I was also encouraged to never give up my love of educating people about reptiles.  Ozark Koala accepted me as a new forester and helped me develop into the Lead Forester of the company, and now an administrator of the company as well.”

Jeremy’s favorite part about Ozark Koala is the camaraderie:

“We work hard and have fun doing it.  There are times when work is stressful and rough, but there is always a smiling face and a hand reaching out ready to help.  Ozark Koala views us all as the future of ecology in Southern Illinois, not just as laborers.  Ozark wants us all to leave here as trained ecologists.”

When asked what he values most about current clients of Ozark Koala, Jeremy said:

“Our clients are the only reason we exist.  Many of our clients are looking for personal relationships with land managers.  They want to be involved in decision-making, and we want to do our best for them as well.  We would rather spend a day in your woods with you viewing the land and discussing management strategies rather than just having one phone consultation and showing up to do the job.  We value repeat customers and develop amazing relationships with them along the way.  Even if you do not have a dime to put into management, we would love to show you things you can do on your own to help improve your land.”

Jeremy feels forest management is so important because invasive species, declining oak seedling recruitment, proliferation of mesic species, and lack of fire have drastically altered our forests and contributed to forest decline.  Jeremy wants to emphasize our goal of helping landowners to regain healthy, productive forests before they are lost. 

One piece of advice Jeremy offers to landowners when dealing with invasive species is, “Kill it at first site! Early control is key!  Once invasive species get out of control, it becomes financially burdensome for most landowners and they give up.  Even some work is better than giving up!”

Jeremy says you should call Ozark Koala for your land management needs because from the first call to implementation, we are always available for our clients.  We like to meet in-person with clients on their property to understand their concerns and to share our concerns.  We tailor management plans to specific properties and budgets with the intention of teaching landowners to properly manage their property over the long-term.  We seek to develop long-term relationships with our clients that will benefit the property, as well as everyone involved.

Jeremy says, “Really, I just want to do my part as a land steward.  I want to educate landowners on simple things they can do.  I also want to be there to answer any questions I can.  I view your property as I would my own and I always ask myself, “What if this was mine?; What would I do?”  I do not want to overwhelm a landowner, and it is quite easy to do so when managing land.  I would love to come talk to you and let you know what Ozark Koala can do for you and the ecosystem as a whole.”

Marsha Bockmann is a Trainer and Mentor at Ozark Koala.  Marsha grew up in the south side of Chicago. Since Southern Illinois University, Carbondale is situated near the Shawnee National Forest, Marsha chose to pursue her interest in forestry there.  Upon graduating with a B.S. in Forestry and Outdoor Recreation Management, she chose to remain in Southern Illinois with the hopes of landing a job in the field of forestry.  Marsha says, “Needless to say, during the passing years, I’ve come to love and appreciate the wonderfully amazing natural areas that are disappearing throughout the world at an alarming rate.”

When asked what Marsha likes most about the people and culture of Southern Illinois, she said “For the most part, I find the people and culture of Southern Illinois to be more relaxed, yet passionate when it comes to preserving the natural treasures found here.  The ‘stuffiness’ of large metropolitan areas is absent and folks, in general, are real and approachable.”

Marsha began working with Ozark Koala during its early stages in 2014.  She said at that time she was ready to “take the plunge” and make a difference in the forests, which was her original intent upon graduating from SIUC.  She says “After making this decision, I never looked back; it’s been the best decision of my career.  At the time, I wasn’t aware that I was doing land management.  I now understand what we are/were doing and why it is so important.”

Marsha says she is thoroughly impressed at how the company has “flourished and morphed into Southern Illinois’ premier land management team.”  She says “The efforts of all involved to become the best and most professional ecological entity is undeniable and is evident in the demand for our services.”

Marsha’s favorite part about Ozark Koala is “the beautiful places that we get to experience that might not otherwise be seen and the opportunity to help preserve as much of that beauty as we can!”  She said knowing that other members of the Ozark Koala team feel the same way makes her even more appreciative.

When asked what Marsha values most about the current clients of Ozark Koala, she said she appreciates the fact that clients value their property. She also appreciates their desire and vision to return the land to what it was intended to be before human interference.  She values that current clients of Ozark Koala are willing to invest in accomplishing these goals and she values their dedication to land stewardship.

Marsha says, “With the convergence of multiple ecotypes here, the natural resources that abound in Southern Illinois are a treasure!  As the world turns, these resources are becoming more and more important and precious.  We all need to do our best to protect our ‘corner of the world’ from the degradation of natural environments.”

When asked to provide a piece of advice to landowners, Marsha suggested that landowners invest in their properties and leave them better than they found them.  Marsha wants to emphasize to landowners that calling Ozark Koala will be worthwhile; at the very least, landowners will learn about and understand the health of their properties.  She says after contacting Ozark Koala, “the clients will be informed enough to make better decisions regarding their land management.”

Patrick Monaco is the Bidder here at OKES. Patrick is originally from Oak Park, Illinois. Patrick was able to stay in Southern Illinois after receiving a job at Ozark Koala a few months after graduation. Patrick loves the small-town feel of Southern Illinois. Since Patrick is from a big city, he says “it’s awesome to be out in the woods within minutes from [his] house.” Patrick appreciates that everyone is pretty friendly in Southern Illinois and he enjoys getting to know people who also live in Carbondale.

Patrick has always enjoyed working outdoors. Patrick fondly remembers the excitement he felt when one of his professors always used to say “This is our office!” when out in the field. Patrick has been working for Ozark Koala for two years now. He had a friend who worked at Ozark Koala, who inspired him to be like her. He says his friend referred him and helped him get a job with Ozark Koala. Patrick recalls, “Forest management was new to me but seemed like a very rewarding job to help landowners, state parks, and federal parks.” When asked what his favorite part about Ozark Koala is, Patrick enthusiastically said “The crew!” He says he “loves being around people with the same goals, especially in our field work. Teamwork makes the dream work.” Patrick says another one of his favorite parts about Ozark Koala is being able to work in some of the most beautiful areas in Southern Illinois, whether they are on private or public land.

When asked what he values most about current clients of Ozark Koala, Patrick said he values “their willingness to work towards improving their land.” He says “It’s great to share the same goals of forest management and to get to take in some of the amazing features on their land that not everyone gets to enjoy.”

Patrick says land management involves a very comprehensive prescription for any particular ecosystem. He emphasizes the importance of making long-term plans to improve wildlife health, prescribed fire regimes, invasive species removal, or even timber growth to bring Southern Illinois forests back to their original conditions. Pat says “Humans, for better or worse, have their hand in how our ecosystems progress. With good management, we can increase the value of our forests greatly.”

Patrick suggests that landowners get involved in local educational programs surrounding their area. He says “I’ve been amazed at how many new things you can learn at just one event. Local educators have such a passion for improving land and ecosystems. They dedicate their life just to help others get involved in the fight for our local ecosystems.”

Patrick says “At Ozark Koala, we are starting to get a name for how well we accomplish jobs. From start to finish, we strive for excellence, creating a great management plan and executing with precision. There’s nothing we enjoy more than helping the landowner achieve everything they want while keeping the environment in mind with our treatments.”