Trout Unlimited Invests in Partnerships and Restructures Across the Rockies 

New leadership and investments in people reflect growing federal partnerships and project funding across region


DENVER – Today, Trout Unlimited (TU) announced a series of new investments in its people to accommodate the growing number of innovative partnerships across the Rocky Mountains. Over the last decade, TU has secured roughly $133 million in funding partnerships to initiate and build more than 300 projects across the region. To accommodate this growth, TU is synchronizing staffing and elevating key leaders to prioritize regional, statewide, and local priorities across six states (e.g., Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico, and Arizona). TU’s investments will allow TU to advance an ambitious conservation agenda across the Rocky Mountains, including longstanding water policy priorities and federal lands protection campaigns.

“With significant conservation funding made available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Trout Unlimited is well-positioned to advance a scope of work that will build new infrastructure, mitigate the impacts of climate change, improve and expand native trout habitat, enhance wildfire prevention and recovery efforts, restore the Colorado River Basin, and continue to set the standard for how motivated staff and volunteers can improve our public lands and waters,” said Emily Olsen, Vice President of the newly formed Rocky Mountain Region. “By investing in leadership and promoting employees with longstanding relationships in their respective communities, we’ll continue to serve as a highly effective, entrepreneurial, and locally-focused organization.”

Since 2022, TU has also secured more than $100 million in federal partnerships across the nation from the BIL and IRA with agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This funding has empowered TU to realign and scale up its workforce. As it relates to the Rocky Mountains specifically, the new state leadership listed below was selected to oversee staff, projects, federal funding, and policy and advocacy campaigns based on their successful track records in the organization and across the conservation community.  

Colorado State Director: Drew Peternell

Formerly the Director of TU’s Colorado Water Program – which protects and restores Colorado’s rivers and creeks to sustain healthy coldwater fisheries – Peternell has a strong track record of building and leading TU’s growing Colorado team. He has decades of experience overseeing conservation projects and working closely with farmers and ranchers, state and federal agencies, water rights holders, landowners, and TU staff and volunteers to advance trout habitat, recreation, agriculture, and water policy initiatives. In his new role, Peternell will work closely with David Nickum, Executive Director of the state council, Colorado Trout Unlimited.

A well-respected attorney who has argued on TU’s behalf before the Colorado Supreme Court, Peternell has handled significant cases benefitting Colorado’s trout populations and the broader Colorado River Basin. Peternell represented TU in a series of cases that resulted in stream flow water rights for the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and several cases prohibiting unneeded municipal water diversions. He also served on the boards of the Central Colorado Conservancy, the FIBArk Whitewater Festival, and the Arkansas River Basin Roundtable. Peternell holds a B.A. in political science from Vanderbilt University and a J.D. and Certificate of Specialization in Environmental Law from the University of California, Berkeley. He lives in Steamboat Springs with his wife and two daughters.   

Colorado Highlights:

Utah State Director: Jordan Nielson

Working for TU since 2015, Nielson has risen through the ranks after completing more than 80 projects in the Colorado River Basin and Great Salt Lake watersheds. Nielson also sits on the $40 million Great Salt Lake Watershed Enhancement Trust that was formed in 2022 by the state legislature to work with water rights holders across the watershed to protect, lease and/or acquire portions of their water supply to keep it for in-stream needs and restore the watershed’s habitat. Nielson has developed innovative projects and partnerships with local communities, state and federal agencies, Tribes, and corporate partners, and has advanced TU’s pragmatic approach to conservation to increase the pace and scale of conservation across Utah. 

Nielsen received his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University – Idaho before pursuing a master’s degree in Fisheries Resources at the University of Idaho. He lives in Spanish Fork with his family and coaches mountain biking to youth across the region.

Utah Highlights:

Wyoming State Director: Leslie Steen

Steen has successfully led TU’s Snake River Headwaters Initiative since 2016 and has secured new funding streams to grow TU’s programs and staff team across Wyoming. As Northwest Wyoming Program Director, Steen has forged significant partnerships with a broad suite of agencies, nonprofits, and private landowners to advance on-the-ground stream restoration and reconnection projects for native trout. She has also convened other collaborative watershed and community-driven efforts, and increased philanthropic support, youth education programming, communications, and grassroots engagement. Prior to her role at TU, Steen worked at the Jackson Hole Land Trust, where she led and expanded communications and outreach efforts for the organization. Her previous work experience also includes fisheries monitoring, environmental consulting, science communications, adventure film festival production, and outdoor education. Steen holds a M.S. in Fish and Wildlife Management from Montana State University and a B.A. in Environmental Biology from Columbia University. Steen has lived in Jackson Hole since 2007 and enjoys spending time in the Tetons and on the Snake River with her husband Scott and son Oliver. She serves as Vice President of the board of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation, co-director of the Mountains of Color Film Fest, and is a member of the Jackson Hole DEI Collective.

Wyoming Highlights:

Montana State Director: Casey Hackathorn

Hackathorn has led TU’s Upper Clark Fork Program since 2011 while working to reconnect tributaries, reclaim abandoned mine sites, conserve water, and restore riparian habitat in western Montana. Prior to joining TU, he worked on rivers and in mountains across the West as an outfitter, guide, and wilderness instructor. Casey started his natural resource career in the Air Force while managing environmental cleanup projects at Department of Defense facilities around the country. He also holds a B.S. in civil engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and has lived in Missoula since 1999. He enjoys exploring Montana rivers, prairies, and mountains with his wife Tina, and Roxy, their golden retriever. In his new role, Hackathorn will work closely with David Brooks, Executive Director of the state council, Montana Trout Unlimited.

Montana Highlights:

  • TU currently employs 11 staff in Montana (with an additional 6 staff working for MTU).
  • Over the last 10 years, TU has implemented 110 projects leveraging more than $22 million in protecting and restoring wild and native trout populations and their watersheds in Montana. Hackathorn has also worked closely to improve Bull trout restoration in the state. 
  • TU projects have reconnected and restored more than 700 miles of rivers and streams and improved streamflows in 36 streams and rivers across the state. 

Southwest Program Director: Kevin Terry

New Mexico State Lead: Dan Roper

Arizona State Lead: Nathan Rees

TU is making three new leadership appointments across the Southwest to elevate its growing restoration portfolio, as well as state and federal advocacy efforts, across the region.  

Kevin Terry has been with TU since 2013, leading our work across the Upper Rio Grande region in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Terry has pioneered TU’s innovative Winter Flow program since 2014 and has also developed and grown a portfolio of restoration and fisheries projects across New Mexico. Previously, Terry spent 7 years as the Fisheries Program Manager with the Jicarilla Apache Nation and also worked on the range-wide Rio Grande cutthroat trout conservation team over the last 17 years. He was chosen to oversee TU’s rapid growth in New Mexico and Arizona, where he has longstanding relationships with existing staff and partner organizations. Terry holds a B.S. in Fisheries Science from Oregon State University.

With more than ten staff across the two states, TU continues to grow its presence, projects, and staff to accomplish its conservation goals.

Dan Roper will lead TU’s growing staff team and day-to-day operations in New Mexico as State Lead. Based outside of Santa Fe, Roper has led TU’s state policy and advocacy efforts since joining TU in 2019. Dan has a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree from Oregon State University and legislative experience in three western states, and has worked on natural resource issues for state and federal agencies. Since joining TU, he’s been instrumental in growing TU’s influence at the state-level and establishing the organization as a leading voice for healthy rivers and coldwater fisheries in New Mexico. Dan lives outside of Santa Fe with his wife and two children. He enjoys time along the trails and on the water, and tends a big garden fed by New Mexico’s centuries-old acequia system.

In Arizona, Nathan Rees will serve as State Lead to advance TU’s federal land protection campaigns and restoration priorities. Rees oversees multiple staff focused on community engagement, stream restoration projects, and state/ federal public land policy. Rees has developed and implemented winning strategies on numerous Arizona place-based campaigns with diverse partners. He also has extensive experience working with federal and state agencies to identify and implement stream restoration projects, forest management plans, and native trout monitoring and reintroduction in Arizona. Rees holds a B.A. in Business Sustainability from Arizona State University.

Southwest Highlights:

  • Collectively, New Mexico has more than 20 projects totaling nearly $2 million in federal and state funding. In Arizona, we have ramped up our hiring and are expanding our footprint across the state for the first time, taking on projects in the West Fork of the Black River and the South Fork of the Little Colorado River worth nearly $1 million in funding.  
  • New Mexico: After years of leadership on the issue, Roper spearheaded TU’s efforts to establish the state’s first permanent source of funding for conservation and habitat restoration programs, the $100 million Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund.
  • Arizona: Rees worked collaboratively with Arizona’s congressional delegation, the Grand Canyon Tribal Council, and partner organizations to successfully protect nearly 1 million acres of greater Grand Canyon region from future uranium mining after President Biden established Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in August 2023.


Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to caring for and recovering America’s rivers and streams so our children can experience the joy of wild and native trout and salmon. Across the country, TU brings to bear local, regional, and national grassroots organizing, durable partnerships, science-backed policy muscle, and legal firepower on behalf of trout and salmon fisheries, healthy waters and vibrant communities.