Leadership Team

Guided by our Board of Directors, our Leadership Team leads our staff in carrying out our mission to protect and restore redwood forests and connect people with their peace and beauty so these wonders of the natural world flourish.

Sam Hodder. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Sam Hodder

President and Chief Executive Officer

Sam Hodder joined the League as its President and CEO in September of 2013. Sam brings more than 25 years of conservation experience in California, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire and Maine to guide the League into its second century of protecting redwood forestland.

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Sam has spent his career managing and overseeing land conservation programs from the remote wilderness to the inner city, conserving forests, waterways, green spaces, working farms, urban trails, and all manner of wild places for people to enjoy. Inspired by the social and environmental benefits that open spaces provide, his passion for protecting and connecting people with the outdoors has guided his career and ultimately brought him to the League after nearly 20 years with The Trust for Public Land.

Since joining the League in 2013, Sam has guided the development of its Centennial Vision, a bold 100-year plan to accelerate the pace and scale of the League’s mission to Protect and Restore the redwood forest and Connect people to its peace and beauty. As the League’s Centennial year of 2018 approaches, Sam has overseen: the protection of over 8,800 acres of redwood forestland from the Prairie Creek Corridor in Redwood National and State Parks to the Case Mountain Reserve in the southern Sierra; the stewardship and restoration of thousands of acres of young redwood forest; the advancement of pioneering discoveries in the canopy of the old-growth forest through the League’s Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative; and the inspiration of millions of moments of awe and transformation through investments in redwood trails, education programs, and park improvements.

A graduate of Princeton University and an enthusiastic explorer of California’s parks and trails, Sam lives with his wife Kendra and four sons in the East Bay, where they enjoy the great redwoods of the East Bay Regional Park system.

 

Jennifer Benito-Kowalski

Jennifer Benito-Kowalski

Chief Marketing and Communications Officer

Jennifer joined the League in 2007 to lead the organization’s marketing communications and outreach efforts to connect people to the peace and beauty of the redwood forests.

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A Bay Area native, Jennifer brings several years of journalism, marketing communications and media relations experience in the public and private sectors to her work. She has worked for Entertainment Tonight, KQED Public Broadcasting, MTV Networks and EXTRA. Jennifer holds a BA in communications from the University of California, San Diego and an MS in integrated marketing communications from Golden Gate University. She is also the recipient of many marketing communications awards including IABC’s Gold Quill, PR News’ Nonprofit PR Award, PR News’ PR People Award, the Communicator Award, California Special Districts Award, California Association of Public Information Officers MarComm award and more. When Jennifer is not working she loves to cook, hike and travel with her husband to random destinations throughout the U.S. to explore cities large and small to learn about our nation’s history.

 

Rolando Cohen. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Rolando Cohen

Chief Financial Officer

Rolando joined the League in 2004 as the Chief Financial Officer.

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He was born in the Congo, lived in Brazil, South Africa and in New York, before finally making his home in San Francisco in 1990. He was a graduate of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and became a Chartered Accountant in South Africa, as well as a CPA in the United States. He has always been passionate about the preservation of the environment, and he finally decided to make the move to marry that passion with his professional vocation in joining the League. He says, “I am so gratified to be able to make my contribution towards the attainment of the League’s mission to save the redwoods. I am humbled when I reflect on these glorious trees and contrast the length of their existence with human history.”

 

Jeff Hoelsken

Jeff Hoelsken

General Counsel

Jeff Hoelsken joined Save the Redwoods League in October 2022 as its General Counsel. Hoelsken brings more than 20 years of legal, business management, and nonprofit leadership experience to Save the Redwoods League.

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Being born and raised in the Bay Area gave Hoelsken the opportunity to explore the numerous lakes, rivers, beaches, and mountains throughout Northern California. “From an early age I have felt a deep connection to nature and animals, and there has always been something special about being in the redwoods,” says Hoelsken.

Hoelsken brings more than 20 years of legal, business management, and nonprofit leadership experience to Save the Redwoods League.

He began his legal career litigating large-scale, complex construction and environmental cases in state and federal courts. He then spent the next several years in the renewable energy sector. He co-founded and served as general counsel to a distributed wind energy project development company, and later was general counsel to a multi-state solar energy business.

“My career has always been focused on supporting the greater good and taking practical action on the causes that I care deeply about,” Hoelsken says. His love of animals led him to focus the next phase of his career on animal-related nonprofits, first as the executive director of a horse rescue and sanctuary in the Napa Valley, and then as the director of operations and in-house counsel to a national service-dog organization supporting veterans with disabilities.

Prior to joining the League, Jeff was senior counsel at Paragon Legal, where he provided in-house counsel services to both corporate and nonprofit clients. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from UC Berkeley and his law degree from UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

Hoelsken says, “It is an honor for me to be part of Save the Redwoods League and to support its critical mission protecting and restoring California redwoods, and connecting people to the peace and beauty of redwood forests.”

 

Paul Ringgold. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Paul Ringgold

Chief Program Officer

Paul joined the League in July 2015. He came to us with nearly 30 years of land management and conservation experience.

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Most recently, Paul was vice president of land stewardship at Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) in Palo Alto, Calif. He was at POST for 16 years, creating strategies for the permanent protection of conservation values and natural resources on all POST-protected lands and easements. Prior to that, he worked as a policy research associate at the Pinchot Institute for Conservation in Washington, D.C., and served as staff forester, lands manager and ecosystem research program director with the University of Washington. He holds a master of forest science degree from Yale University and a bachelor of science degree in forest resources management from the University of Washington. He currently serves as advisory council chair of the Bay Area Open Space Council. A Los Angeles native, he lives in San Francisco with his wife and son.

 

Jennifer Tapken. Photo by Gina Logan Photography

Jennifer Tapken

Chief Operating Officer

Jennifer Tapken joined the League as chief operating officer in 2022. Tapken oversees and directs all aspects of the League’s human resources and operations needs while advancing the organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion values.

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She joins Save the Redwoods League with more than 15 years of experience in human resources, organizational operations, and financial management for nonprofit, healthcare, and academic institutions. She most recently held the role of COO at The ACLU of Northern California, where she was responsible for the organization’s operations and administration of more than 100 employees across offices in San Francisco, Fresno and Sacramento. Tapken previously held several positions at the University of California, San Francisco, for 11 years and prior to that worked for several nonprofit organizations

Tapken is a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Social Welfare with a concentration in psychology. She is also a board member and treasurer for the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco.

 

Tim Whalen. Photo by Paolo Vescia

Tim Whalen

Chief Development Officer

Tim Whalen has over 20 years of fundraising leadership experience in the San Francisco Bay Area and a proven track record of creating and implementing comprehensive development programs and campaigns to achieve fundraising goals.

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Recognized as a creative, dedicated team leader and a highly effective manager, Tim was most recently the Associate Director of Development at the San Francisco Symphony where he was responsible for the Symphony’s individual giving programs, raising over $23 million annually. Prior to the Symphony, Tim was the Senior Director of Development and Gift Planning a the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco where he conceived and implemented a $25 million endowment campaign, exceeding the campaign goal by raising a total of $31 million while significantly increasing the annual giving programs during the same period. Additionally, Tim has served in development leadership roles for Cal Performances at the University of California, Berkeley, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and KQED, San Francisco’s public television and radio station. Prior to his fundraising career, Tim was a Captain in the United States Army. Originally from the Black Hills of South Dakota, Tim received a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

“Ever since I arrived in the Golden State over two decades ago, I have been in awe of the redwoods which are emblematic of California’s natural beauty,” Tim said. ” As we gain new understandings of the redwoods and their benefits to mitigating the impacts of climate change, I’m even more inspired to help protect and restore the redwood forests.”