Blog Post Ashley Mocorro Powell, Alejandro Soto Jan 4, 2018

NPCA's 10 Under 40

Meet the next generation of leaders protecting national parks and public lands

Engaging the leaders of tomorrow is critical to ensuring the protection of America’s parks. This year, NPCA is highlighting 10 leaders that proudly represent different perspectives, values, communities and backgrounds in their work to strengthen and protect America’s favorite places. By celebrating the diversity of voices and stories of those protecting our public lands, we hope to inspire more people to get involved with their national parks.

Through our work on NPCA’s Next Generation Advisory Council, we selected the following honorees from over 100 nominations. With their backgrounds, skills, expertise and unique voices, these leaders encapsulate the exciting positive change we see in our country.

Maka Monture

Maka Monture

Maka Monture

Tribal affiliation: Tłingit/Kanien'kehá:ka/Ilocano
Age: 24
Hometown: Yakutat, Alaska
Current location: Anchorage, Alaska
Title: Youth programs coordinator for the U.S. Arctic Youth Ambassadors at Alaska Geographic

What she does: Monture empowers youth to become politically active to protect their culture, communities and public lands.

What she finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“One of the most beautiful things is to see the growth of the young individuals I am privileged to work with in our program.”

Why we are celebrating Maka Monture: Monture is an environmental activist, model and poet who is passionate about First Nations cultures and their ties to Alaska’s vast landscapes. As a teen, Monture led her local chapter of the Alaska Youth for Environmental Action to support protection for wild salmon populations, earning her the Danny Wilcher Award for Young Activists from Alaska Conservation Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Carroll Jorgensen Leadership Award. As a mentor for the Arctic Youth Ambassadors program, Monture personally interacts with each of the program’s ambassadors, ages 16 to 20, to help build their skills and articulate issues involving Alaska’s public lands to elected officials. Her intention is for youth to confidently share their perspectives on sustaining their communities and cultures, including at the annual Arctic Circle Assembly, where they are the voices of a changing Arctic environment. In 2017, she completed her Masters of Public Health from the University of Alaska Anchorage as a Gates Millennium Scholar.


James E. King, Jr.

Age: 31
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia
Current location: Seattle, Washington
Title: Environmental educator and graduate student at Islandwood/Antioch University Seattle

What he does: King has more than 10 years of experience coordinating environmental stewardship projects throughout the nation and internationally.

What he finds most meaningful/inspiring about his work:

“Nature inspires me every day to be able to explore the known unknown. As an environmental educator, I am able to provide opportunities to experience life in a reinvigorated way.”

Why we are celebrating James E. King, Jr.: King has been credited with opening doors that connect diverse people to the land. His teaching encourages hands-on experiences through hikes, urban outings, educational opportunities and community-building partnerships with an emphasis on environmental justice. He has worked with governmental agencies, including the National Park Service, and with Sierra Club Inner City Outings, Outdoor Afro, the Student Conservation Association and the Greening Youth Foundation. King also helped found and shape the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders program, which fosters equitable access to nature. King will receive his Masters in Urban Environmental Education in 2018. Currently, King serves as the research intern at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in downtown Seattle where he focuses on representing the untold stories of the Stampeders, particularly women and African Americans seeking gold along the Klondike Trail in the Alaskan Yukon from 1897 to 1899.


Eanas Alia

Age: 23
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Current location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Title: Environmental scientist for engineering firm HDR

What she does: Alia supports, mentors and promotes opportunities for underrepresented minority scientists.

What she finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“Watching scholars progress and feel empowered at their place in conservation are the most inspiring moments of my work.”

Why we are celebrating Eanas Alia: Alia is a proponent of science communication and advocates for greater inclusivity in the realms of science, technology, engineering and math; her work on the subject was recently published in the journal Science. Alia’s experiences have taken her out into the field as a technician, into the lab as a research assistant, and outside again as a plant and microbiology instructor. Collaboration is at the heart of her work, whether she is analyzing the saltwater wedge of the Río Grande de Arecibo estuary in Puerto Rico, conducting a bird census in Great Smoky Mountains National Park or observing American oystercatcher populations in Cape Hatteras National Seashore. She continues to build links between culture and science for emerging underrepresented minority students and scientists, and for the past few years has served as the program coordinator for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Florida. Alia’s work helps retain students in higher levels of science, technology, engineering and math who seek to better serve their communities.


Angelo Baca

Angelo Baca

Angelo Baca

Tribal affiliation: Diné/Hopi
Age: 37
Hometown: Blanding, Utah
Current location: Blanding, Utah
Title: Cultural resources coordinator for Utah Diné Bikéyah

What he does: Baca brings together a diverse group of indigenous communities and does public outreach and education to protect national monuments and public lands, including Bears Ears National Monument.

What he finds most meaningful/inspiring about his work:

“I take great pride in attempting to make conservation, preservation and land management practices better through the indigenous perspective with the federal agencies, conservation groups and the general public.”

Why we are celebrating Angelo Baca: Baca is a cultural activist, scholar and Native American filmmaker who creates fiction and nonfiction educational films. A graduate of both the Native Voices Program at the University of Washington and New York University’s Culture & Media Program, he has worked on numerous documentaries and collaborative films. His latest award-winning project is “Shash Jaa’: Bears Ears,” an ethnographic film about the five tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition that worked together to protect 1.9 million acres of Utah wilderness through a national monument designation. Angelo directed this production with the support of an all-Navajo team and continues to showcase it across the country. Angelo combines oral storytelling with contemporary media to visually represent tribes and advocate for indigenous American health and wellness, food sovereignty initiatives, and indigenous international repatriation efforts.


Kaiwen Lee

Age: 30
Hometown: New York, New York
Current location: Seattle, Washington
Title: Wilderness Inner-City Leadership Development (WILD) program manager at InterIm CDA

What they do: Lee promotes wilderness and inner city environmental education and leadership skills development to encourage the next generation of civic-environmental leaders.

What they find most meaningful/inspiring about their work:

“At my job, youth and staff feel a sense of family because we accept people for who they are, encourage them to be their best and authentic selves, and understand the complexities of growing up as people of color in the U.S.”

Why we are celebrating Kaiwen Lee: Lee honors the stories of people of color, putting their experiences at the center of their relationships to the environment and partnering with a variety of groups to facilitate community-based service learning projects in Seattle’s historic Chinatown/International District and the nearby Cascade Mountains. For the past 20 years, WILD’s leadership projects have engaged diverse high-school-aged youth from the greater Seattle area, including those from Asian Pacific Islander, immigrant and refugee families. Lee has worked with a variety of partners to provide opportunities for youth, including outdoor leadership training and intergenerational enjoyment of the outdoors. Lee empowers the unique voices of the students while honoring their cultural-ethnic identities and perspectives. In the fall of 2017, Lee participated in the LGBTQ Outdoor Summit, the first-ever national gathering of its kind, at REI’s iconic flagship store in Seattle. Lee also continues to advocate for the safety and wellness of LGBTQ people in public spaces.


Ruth Aloua

Tribal affiliation: Kānaka Maoli/Native Hawaiian
Age: 29
Hometown: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Current location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Title: Kia'i loko (fishpond guardian), mahi'ai (organic farmer), and peace and justice advocate

What she does: Aloua is a cultural practitioner, researcher, scholar, former National Park Service interpretive ranger and archaeologist.

What she finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“I find working within my ancestral homelands and protecting the forces that gave my ancestors life most meaningful and inspiring.”

Why we are celebrating Ruth Aloua: Aloua is dedicated to grassroots community organizing from the mountains to the sea in Hawai’i. Aloua’s academic work focused, in part, on perpetuating Native Hawaiian cultural practices and education around caretaking of land, fish, coral and local foods. Her past projects include collecting ethnographic accounts from local fishermen and mapping and surveying cultural sites at Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail. She completed her graduate studies in Archeology at Simon Fraser University in Canada and has used her skills to educate the public on these topics at her local national parks over the years. Now, her activism includes protecting the fishponds at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, which hold a very special place for Aloua. Working within her ancestral homelands throughout the archipelago, feeling her connection to the elements that fed her ancestors, and ensuring the land will provide for generations to come all deeply inspire her.


David Riera

Age: 37
Hometown: Hialeah, Florida
Current location: Hialeah, Florida
Title: Fellow with The Mission Continues and PhD candidate at Florida International University’s College of Education

What he does: Riera leads veteran-focused volunteer programs at Florida parks and studies curriculum and instruction in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

What he finds most meaningful/inspiring about his work:

“My fervent belief is that the path to conserving and restoring our natural capital can be achieved by cultivating the next generation of advocates, innovators and educators.”

Why we are celebrating David Riera: Riera is a first-generation Floridian who advocates for the largest subtropical wilderness in the nation, Everglades National Park. As a fellow with The Mission Continues, Riera has worked with NPCA to organize service projects and advocacy efforts for veterans and their communities. Before Hurricane Irma made landfall, he and his comrades prepared more than 25 homes in three days to weather the storm. Riera and The Mission Continues also established an annual 9/11 trip to Dry Tortugas National Park to complete a variety of volunteer projects. Their loyal service earned them recognition as Platoon of the Year in 2017. Riera aims to raise awareness of national parks and their environmental issues and has visited with politicians locally and in D.C. to speak in support of the National Park Service Legacy Act and about the importance of military family and veteran wellness initiatives. Through his academic work, he has helped develop biotechnological advancements for preserving the genetic material of rare wetland orchid species.


Brett Ramey

Tribal affiliation: Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska
Age: 38
Hometown: Lawrence, Kansas
Current location: Seattle, Washington
Title: Director for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program at the University of Washington

What he does: Ramey empowers urban and rural students to have a voice in changing the environmental conversation to one that reflects their perspectives and reinforces their connection to land-based knowledge through relationships with others in an inclusive community experience.

What he finds most meaningful/inspiring about his work:

“I love witnessing young people deepen their relationships with land and each other. These relationships are the foundation for building collective power to restore what it means to be human.”

Why we are celebrating Brett Ramey: Through his work with one of the prestigious Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Programs, Ramey has enriched his students by exposing them not just to academics and environmental professionals, but also to the grassroots leaders, community stakeholders, tribal members and other diverse teachers and storytellers he actively seeks out through events and partnerships. His unique approach to mentorship inspires the next generation of leaders to value learning through relationships with others and to view conservation practice as an inclusive community experience. Throughout the year, Ramey arranges summer visits and internships for the students at Olympic, Mount Rainier and North Cascades National Park and beyond. Ramey is also passionate about indigenous food sovereignty initiatives, collaborative public art projects, and the integration of western and traditional foods as medicines in cancer treatment. Ramey continues to work on the ground in local Coast Salish communities to support these ancestral values and public health strategies.


Justin Yee

Age: 24
Hometown: San Diego, California
Current location: Los Angeles, California
Title: Biological science technician for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

What he does: Yee supports a variety of botanic initiatives for the National Park Service and is the Los Angeles Watershed Ambassador at Urban Waters Federal Partnership

What he finds most meaningful/inspiring about his work:

“As a young employee at the National Park Service, I have felt empowered to wear multiple hats, continuously learn and cultivate relationships in the environmental community.”

Why we are celebrating Justin Yee: From the Santa Monica Mountains to urban garden settings in America’s second-largest metropolis, Yee is drawn to California’s rich plant biodiversity and fauna. His biological science studies at the University of California-Los Angeles eventually led him to Audubon Center at Debs Park and the National Park Service. As the resident seed saver of native plant species, Yee grows, manages and restores healthy and genetically diverse plant communities in fragile landscapes throughout the greater Los Angeles area. He also builds and strengthens relationships among more than 40 federal and local partners to promote on-the-ground projects that restore and revitalize the Los Angeles River Watershed. Yee’s enthusiasm for urban ecology and ethnobotany instills a greater appreciation and curiosity for the wonderful world of plants found right within the city.


Madeleine Carey

Age: 25
Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Current location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Title: Greater Gila guardian at WildEarth Guardians

What she does: As the Greater Gila guardian, Carey works to retire grazing permits in the Greater Gila Bioregion as part of a long-term conservation strategy for the area.

What she finds most meaningful/inspiring about her work:

“The way the West was won is not the way the West will always be. The future is an emotionally charged topic for so many people, and it inspires me when I meet tribal members, ranchers, energy investors, politicians, agency employees and citizens who are thinking hard about what our future in the American West looks like.”

Why we are celebrating Madeleine Carey: Carey spent her childhood exploring the Rio Grande. A chance encounter with a rare Mexican wolf at Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge during her late teens changed the course of her life, inspiring her to advocate for their protection. During college, Carey spent her summers working for the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program, researching pikas in the Valles Caldera National Preserve, tracking and capturing porcupines, and conducting jackrabbit surveys. She also worked with New Mexico State Forestry to create a post-wildfire assistance guide. Today, she supports Mexican wolf recovery throughout the Greater Gila, America’s first wilderness area. Carey and her work have been highlighted in a variety of media. Since 2015, she has also organized the late-spring Plaza2Peak bike, run and ski event held annually in New Mexico.


All photos were provided by the honorees and are used with their permission.


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About the authors

  • Ashley Mocorro Powell Former Next Generation Advisory Council

    Ashley Mocorro Powell is a member of NPCA's Next Generation Advisory Council.

  • Alejandro Soto Former Next Generation Advisory Council

    Alejandro Soto is a graduate student from East Anchorage High School and currently attends the University of Alaska Anchorage where he is majoring in Environment & Society with a concentration in Social Science, and minoring in Political Science.