Cincinnati Nature Center Blog

Meet Olivia & Danie

Olivia Espinoza: Natural Areas Manager & Burn Boss

It’s not often that you get to set something on fire to help it grow. But that’s just what Olivia Espinoza does as our Natural Area Manager when it comes to taking care of our fields and prairies.

“When I started in 2016, I really wanted to be able to launch a prescribed burn program here, as a way to control invasive plant species in our wild areas and reduce herbicide use when possible,” Olivia says, smiling. “Luckily, our leadership was 100% behind the idea.”

From her previous experience, Olivia already had many of the prerequisites needed to attend the Ohio Prescribed Fire Manager training and obtain her certification to conduct prescribed burns. After her training was complete, she led staff and volunteers through training and shadowing exercises with other Fire Managers, gaining experience before bringing it back to the Nature Center.

Finally, in 2018, with the help of grants from the Division of Forestry for fire equipment, Olivia earned her informal title of “Burn Boss” when she led a team to set 34 acres at Long Branch Farm & Trails ablaze.

That wasn’t her only accomplishment that day. As she led her first burn, she became one of a small group of women nationwide who can claim the title “Burn Boss.”

Each February, Olivia trains new volunteers and staff—both men and women—to help with the prescribed burns.

“We’re still in the baby stages of this program, but we’ve come so far from where we started,” Olivia says. “The grants from the Division of Forestry made this possible, but I also have to give a lot of credit to the dedication of our staff and our volunteers for making this a reality.”

Managing prescribed burns isn’t all that Olivia does, however. As our Natural Areas Manager, she’s responsible for managing and maintaining our nearly 1,800 acres of forests, fields, and wetlands at both Rowe Woods and Long Branch Farm & Trails. From invasive species control to wildlife management, she oversees all the work we do on the ground to maintain and conserve our lands.

One day, she might be in the forest, cutting and clearing invasive honeysuckle. The next, she’s meeting with the Ohio Division of Wildlife to determine the best management plan for the white-tailed deer population on our lands. The next, she might be knee-deep in one of our ponds, planting lotus seeds she gathered and cured.

“It’s a job that looks a little different every day, and I love that about it,” says Olivia. “I love leading our land management team and volunteers in the diverse work we do. We have a lot of incredible people dedicated to helping us conserve our spaces.”

Olivia isn’t the only woman who’s leading the way in conservation at Cincinnati Nature Center, however. For the past two years, Danie Frevola has led the way in expanding our research efforts.

Danielle Frevola: Applied Conservation Apprentice and Research Leader

In September 2019, Cincinnati Nature Center welcomed our first Applied Conservation Apprentice, Danielle (Danie) Frevola, as part of a generous grant from the Charlotte Schmidlapp Foundation to create more opportunities for women in conservation and land stewardship work.

Danie is a Cincinnati native, who came back to our area after traveling the country working in conservation jobs from Hawaii to Montana. She also has some hefty research under her belt, having studied everything from Carolina Chickadees to wetland plant succession. However, joining our Center for Conservation gave Danie something she’d yet to find professionally—the opportunity to explore all aspects of land stewardship and conservation research.

“Most available direct conservation or land stewardship jobs are seasonal,” Danie explains. “I was moving every six months or so to my next job. It didn’t give me a lot of time to develop a supportive network of colleagues or explore all of my interests. But here, everything changed.”

Thanks to the supportive nature of our Conservation team, Danie has flexed and grown her skills to become the lead on several of our diverse conservation projects.

“One day, I’m out in the field pulling out invasive plants or helping with prescribed burns,” she says, her eyes lighting up. “The next, I’m collecting and putting together research data on trees to find out how to best manage our forests. It’s the best of both worlds for me. I get the physical work of tending to the land outside and I get to suggest and lead research. That’s a completely unique and incredibly impactful gift for me, both professionally and personally.”

From our perspective, we’re lucky to have the Charlotte Schmidlapp Conservation Apprentice program to recruit more women into conservation work. But we’re even luckier to have someone like Danie, with her depth of experience and passion for research and field work, to lead the way in our conservation efforts.