This Women’s HIstory Month, we’re highlighting Wonder Women in our Watershed currently making history by impacting the environment and communities within our James River watershed in positive and important ways.

We’ll be featuring four women whose work aligns with the four pillars of delivering our mission – Action, Advocacy, Appreciation, and Awareness.

This highlight is all about Action (engaging partners and members to put projects on the ground that protect the James and connect people to it), with a big shout out to our partner, Patti Nylander, who is a Senior Area Forester – Mountain Valley Area for Virginia Department of Forestry, and how her work intersects with our riparian buffer initiatives.


Tell us about your current role and how you incorporate the James River in your work.

I work with private landowners interested in establishing riparian buffers on their property. Oftentimes, the project is associated with a cost-share program they are participating in (AgBMP, EQIP, CREP, etc.) I help the landowners develop a planting plan for their project, giving them recommendations for site preparation prior to planting, a species list of native trees that will grow in the area, and tips for maintaining the trees after they are planted to ensure survival.

I also inspect active logging jobs within my work area, which includes the upper reaches of the James River.  I work with the loggers and our local Water Quality specialists to make sure that the timber is harvested in such a way as to minimize erosion and sedimentation of any creeks or streams located within or near the harvest. 

The Virginia Department of Forestry inspects every timber harvest that is notified in the entire state; this adds up to roughly 5000 harvests a year. Our staff perform close to 18,000 inspections every year. We provide recommendations to loggers to ensure that water quality is protected through the duration of the harvest. Statewide, BMP compliance on logging jobs is at 95%; this is especially significant considering Harvesting Best Management Practices are voluntary in Virginia.

What originally sparked your passion for protecting our natural resources?

I have always enjoyed being outside and spending time in the woods and I knew I wanted to have a job where I could be outside and continue to have a connection with nature in some way. And forests are the ultimate multi-taskers. They provide us with clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat. Forests generate income, contribute to our economy and provide recreational areas for us to enjoy. We can’t survive without trees, so we need to manage, conserve, and continue to ensure they will continue to exist within the landscape long into the future.

Do you have any advice for young women who wish to make a difference for our environment, especially young women who see themselves underrepresented in the environmental field?

There may be times working in natural resources where you may be the only female in the room. But if you know your stuff and can speak to the importance of actions that will conserve and protect the environment, your voice will be heard. I think an attitude of diplomacy is also key. Caring for the environment takes the work of many different groups, organizations, and people, so it is important to help create relationships with those different groups through good listening and sharing of ideas. I find that as women, we tend to be a little more willing to set our ego aside and work toward a greater common goal, rather than seeking to push our own agenda.

What is your favorite thing to do on or around the river?

I love hiking, and some of my favorite hikes have been along rivers that lead to beautiful waterfalls. There is nothing more beautiful than a mountain stream winding its way through the forest!

We are so grateful to Patti and all our women James Changers, and we know there are many other Wonder Women out there making a big difference for our waterways! Please share a story about a Wonder Woman you know by emailing us at, and we’ll share your story with our community!