Core Staff, Adjunct Faculty, and Guests

With a wealth of knowledge and many years of experience, each of the staff and guests at Alderleaf Wilderness College brings a high level of instructional excellence and professionalism to our courses.

Core Staff:

Jason Knight is the director, a co-founder, and an instructor at Alderleaf Wilderness College. He has taught nature skills for nearly two decades, with expertise in wildlife tracking and wilderness survival skills. He is a seasoned wildlife biologist and wilderness educator, having worked with conservation organizations, government agencies, and in the private sector. Jason is certified as a Senior Tracker (Track & Sign Specialist and Trailing Specialist) through CyberTracker Conservation International. He received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology & Environmental Education from The Evergreen State College and holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. Jason has managed cougar studies for the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife and assisted with gray wolf research in central Idaho. He worked on many wildlife projects through Wetland Resources, Inc and consulted as a local wilderness expert for the "Coastal Catastrophe" episode of the Discovery Channel's Dual Survival television program. He contributed photos to the field guide "Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest" and conducted fieldwork for the book "Tracks & Sign of Reptiles & Amphibians". Jason also enjoys construction projects on the farm, spending time with his family, and playing guitar. 
More information on Jason Knight

Bernard F. van der Weerdt is a core instructor at Alderleaf and assists with outreach and land stewardship. A graduate of both the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program and the Wilderness Instructor Apprenticeship Program, Bernard is a passionate naturalist and educator. He holds a Permaculture Design Certificate and a Track & Sign Certification. Prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest, he earned an MBA from Webster University, served as a combat medic & nurse in the United States Army, and co-founded a web-design consulting company. When he is not in community with other naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts, you can find Bernard in the woods practicing bushcraft, wildcrafting & studying plants, engaging the fungal kingdom, and continuing to build his relationship with the natural world.

Brooke Nelson is a core instructor at Alderleaf and coordinates the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program. A Seattle native, Brooke is an experienced naturalist who aspires to help preserve the remaining wild spaces of the Pacific Northwest. Working at the Seattle Aquarium as an educator, biologist, and conservationist gave her the opportunity to collaborate with leading organizations on regional species protection efforts, particularly around Puget Sound’s endangered orca population. A graduate of both the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program and the Wilderness Instructor Apprenticeship Program, Brooke holds a Level III Track & Sign certification through CyberTracker Conservation International and a Permaculture Design Certificate. She earned a BA in Literature from the University of Washington, and has taught English as a foreign language in Singapore, horseback riding in Pennsylvania, and environmental education in Maine. When Brooke’s not in the woods she’s exploring art in Seattle or chasing after her daughter, dog, or city chickens, sometimes simultaneously.

Chris Byrd is a core instructor at Alderleaf. He has been a naturalist in the Pacific Coast states for the last fifteen years. Chris holds a Track & Sign Specialist Certification and has been trailing animals in the Pacific Northwest intensively for the last six years. Chris has taught tracking and ecology for a number of local organizations including The North Cascades Institute, Wilderness Awareness School, Wild Whatcom, The Cascade Land Conservancy, and Western Washington University.  He has a post-graduate degree in education from Humboldt State University, and in 2009 completed WAS's year-long outdoor skills program.  Chris also currently co-runs the Cascadia Naturalist Association, a community outdoor program for adults based in Bellingham, WA.

Leah "Sparrow" Houghton is a core instructor at Alderleaf. She has worked as a camp director in the remote wilderness of the Cascade Mountains teaching children outdoor skills and horseback riding, as an instructor at Quiet Heart Wilderness School, and in a Montessori classroom. She holds a Level III Track & Sign Certification, a Level II Trailing Certification, and Permaculture Design Certificate. Leah is a graduate of the Wilderness Instructor Apprenticeship Program, Advanced Wilderness Skills Program, and the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program. Leah enjoys practicing homesteading skills such as gardening & food preservation and has experience raising & processing goats, rabbits and chickens.

Jessie Johnson is the office manager at Alderleaf Wilderness College. With her warm and welcoming personality, she serves as a central point of communication at the school. She holds many hats with poise, attention to detail, and keen organization. Jessie oversees all correspondence, assists incoming students, processes registrations & applications, coordinates student housing, and assists with outreach. Before joining Alderleaf she created graphic design campaigns and websites for non-profit animal rescues and worked in veterinary animal-care staff management. She holds a BFA in painting and photography from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Previously, Jessie has worked at the Center for Great Apes in Florida as a chimpanzee and orangutan caregiver. Jessie is from New Mexico originally, but has grown up all over the United States. She loves to travel, and spends most of her free time exploring Washington with her family and three dogs.

Kerry Knight serves as the farm manager and provides logistical support at Alderleaf Wilderness College. She has spent many years studying herbal medicine and permaculture, and is certified as a Community Centered Herbalist (CCH) through Ravencroft Garden. Before co-founding Alderleaf, she worked in a variety of positions maintaining small farms and large greenhouses. Kerry was an assistant curator at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, involved with artifact preservation at The Glen Black Lab, and also worked on a Mayan archeological site in Central America. Kerry holds a BA in Anthropology from Indiana University and has also completed a Permaculture Design Certificate. At Alderleaf, Kerry leads Friday farm project days. She enjoys sharing her knowledge of herbal medicine, animal husbandry, and working in the garden with volunteers, her family, and students in the Wilderness Certification Program.

Adjunct Faculty:
Adjunct faculty offer their expertise as regular guests at our Core Programs. Several of the adjunct faculty also teach workshops through their own organizations.

Dave Boehnlein leads the permaculture design curriculum at Alderleaf Wilderness College. He co-authored the book "Practical Permaculture". Dave is the principal at Terra Phoenix Design, where he helps clients around the globe achieve their sustainability goals through integrated master planning. He also serves as the Education Director at the 30 year old Bullock’s Permaculture Homestead on Orcas Island, WA. His freelance “gun-for-hire” teaching services are highly sought after by organizations including universities, non-profits, and trade associations. Dave holds a B.S. in Natural Resources & Environmental Studies from the University of Minnesota. He worked in outdoor education for a number of years and while guiding eco-tours in Costa Rica he stumbled upon permaculture design. He jumped in with both feet and hasn’t looked back since. Dave is passionate about plants - especially weird, but useful ones. He also loves mushroom hunting, plays games of all kinds, and works to mainstream permaculture with integrity.

Heather Swift is an ethnobotany instructor at Alderleaf. Heather is passionate about wild plants and regularly harvests wild plants for medicine and food. She has been an ethnobotany instructor at Cascadia Community College and taught private classes in wild edible and medicinal plants. She is the founder of Cohabitats, a consulting collective that fosters conservation, restoration and stewardship. She has applied her tracking skills working on wildlife studies for Cascade Land Conservancy and Conservation Northwest. After converting her backyard to be a certified wildlife habitat, she now instructs homeowners on enhancing wildlife habitat on their properties. Heather is a regular speaker for organizations including Built Green, the Northwest EcoBuildling Guild, and WSU Extension. She holds an M.S. in Management from Antioch University Seattle where she was on the faculty. She completed WSU's Forest Stewardship program and is certified as a CyberTracker Level II for Track & Sign. Heather is an artist and enjoys hiking, cycling and rock climbing with her husband Ben.

Filip A. Tkaczyk is an experienced naturalist who has extensively studied the ecosystems of Washington state for over fifteen years. At Alderleaf he shares his tracking, birding, and naturalist expertise. He is certified as a Track & Sign Specialist, holds a Permaculture Design Certificate, and earned a B.S. in Wildlife Science from the University of Washington. Included in his experiences as a naturalist, he has lead bird walks with Seattle Audubon and taught tracking/outdoors skills to adults and youth for various organizations such as the Wildlife Society. Filip has also worked with the Olympic National Park conducting bat research, and for the University of Washington, leading an in-depth study on nutria in the Seattle area. He is also a professional nature photographer who has captured wildlife images around the world. He is the author of "Tracks & Sign of Reptiles & Amphibians" through Stackpole Books.

Heidi Bohan is an educator specializing in native plants and their traditional uses. At Alderleaf Heidi teaches several ethnobotany classes at the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program. She is the author of ‘The People of Cascadia-Pacific Northwest Native American History’, ‘Starflower Native Plant ID Cards’ and ‘Journey Plant Medicine Cards’. She is a member of the Snoqualmie Tribe Canoe Family, works full time for the Snoqualmie Tribe as a cultural educator and advisor, and consultant for their native plant restoration projects. She is also adjunct faculty for Bastyr University and teaches at other local colleges including Northwest Indian College and Alderleaf Wilderness College. Learn more about Heidi Bohan

Allan “Hawkeye” Sande has over twenty years of experience teaching young people about nature and Native American life. At Alderleaf Allan shares his expertise in education, mentoring, and program development. Allan is the director of Quiet Heart Wilderness School , which he founded in 1997 when he saw the need for children to have the opportunity to explore and understand the wilderness. Since that time, Quiet Heart has grown into an educational program for people of all ages with a child’s heart for the outdoors. Allan has a degree in Business Management and a background in Childhood Education. His desire to bring young people back in touch with the Earth fuels his passion to teach. More information on Allan "Hawkeye" Sande

Guest Instructors, Evaluators, and Presenters: Alderleaf also hosts guests from time-to-time for special workshops, events, or at our core programs. They are often visiting experts from different parts of the world. Examples of current and past guests include:

Dan Stueber has been flintknapping for thirty years and has been teaching flintknapping classes for over two decades, and was a student of world renown flintknapper and experimental archaeologist Dr. Errett Callahan.  At Alderleaf, Dan teaches the weekend flintknapping course as well as special classes at the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program. Dan's interest in stone tools encompasses stone tool technologies from around the world and he has done research on collections in many museums in North America, Europe, New Zealand and Hawaii. He also teaches a summer course in prehistoric technologies at the University of Victoria in BC, Canada and works in Portland, Oregon for Archaeological Investigations Northwest as a stone tool analyst. Learn more about Dan Stueber at his website,

Casey McFarland is a CyberTracker Evaluator and a co-author of "Bird Feathers: A Guide to North American Species" (Stackpole 2010). Alderleaf hosts Casey each spring to run Track & Sign Evaluations at the Wilderness Certification Program. Casey contributes to various wildlife projects, including wildlife connectivity and carnivore studies, and has worked extensively in mountain lion research. He trains and certifies biologists, research teams and the general public across the US and Europe through the CyberTracker Conservation evaluation system, an international standard for gauging and enhancing one’s in-field knowledge of track, sign and behavior of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.

Katie Russell skinned her first squirrel at age six, and has been in love with dead things ever since! At Alderleaf, Katie has taught the 3-day Braintanning Course. She loves the alchemy of transforming a stinky wet mass of skin and hair into luscious, durable, sustainable buckskin. A 2007 alumni of the Living Wild School with Lynx Vilden, she has gone on to lead internships in animal processing, deer skinning, brain-tanning, and buckskin clothes-making. Katie started, where she sells her raw skins and custom work. She also runs primitive skills day camps for kids and organizes Saskatoon Circle Gathering ( Katie is based in Twisp, Washington where she lives with her beloved horse and donkey.

Rob Speiden has been an active member of the Search and Rescue (SAR) community since 1993. He holds a NASAR SARTech I certification, is a Virginia Search and Rescue Tracking Specialist, Search Team Leader, and Search Mission Coordinator. Rob co-authored "Foundations for Awareness, Signcutting and Tracking" (FAST). At Alderleaf, Rob teaches a human tracking unit in the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program. Rob is also an active member of the Search and Rescue Tracking Institute (SARTI), and currently holds positions as Tracking Specialist and Treasurer in SARTI. Rob instructs search and rescue volunteers, law enforcement officers and military servicepeople in tracking and awareness skills that enhance search efforts for lost or missing persons. He has logged over 450 tasks on more than 230 documented search missions to date. Recognitions have included being presented the Lisa J Hannon Award by the Virginia Search and Rescue Council in 2007 and being cast as a tracking team member in the Red Brick Entertainment TV show, “The Chase: Trackdown” aired on Court TV in 2005. Rob has been tested on animal tracking skills and is certified according to Cybertracker standards as a Level III Tracker (Level III Track & Sign Interpreter and Trailing Specialist).

David Tuthill has been working with metals since the age of fifteen. At Alderleaf, David teaches the knife making weekend courses and at the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program. He began forging as part of a sculpture course at Santa Barbara City College in 1988. He has been operating his business, FIRE HORSE FORGE in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle since 1994, where he produces architectural commissions, as well as furniture, sculpture, and jewelry. David’s years in the Northwest have been the most formative in his metalworking career. With his love for the outdoors, being surrounded by the vast and expansive nature of the region, as well as a rich industrial history, including timber, maritime trades, and railroads, he has continued to learn and has been able to more fully appreciate and understand how the influence of his surroundings can be reflected in the pieces that he produces. Learn more about David Tuthill at his website,

Adriaan Louw is a professional wildlife tracker from South Africa. He co-authored the book "Practical Tracking" and specializes in trailing dangerous game such as African lions and leopards. Adriaan has worked for fifteen years in formal conservation including five years at Kruger National Park. He has trained rangers, guides, and trackers, and is a certified tracking evaluator for CyberTracker International. Alderleaf has hosted Adriaan Louw for a special Trailing Workshop and Evening Presentation on Wildlife Tracking in South Africa.

Phil Bennett works as an urban forester for the City of Snoqualmie and city arborist for the City of Clyde Hill. He also serves as education director for the Pacific northwest chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Phil is currently working on the Green Snoqualmie partnership, a multi-agency effort to steward and restore 983 acres of forestland in Snoqualmie.  Passions include hiking, cycling, tree climbing, and arguing about the merits of various landscape tree varieties with friends! At Alderleaf, Phil teaches a forest stewardship unit at the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program.

Susan Morse is a nationally recognized naturalist and habitat specialist with thirty years of experience tracking and interpreting wildlife uses of habitat. Her research has focused on cougar, bobcat, black bear, and Canada lynx. In 2001 Susan was the recipient of the Franklin Fairbanks Award for her lifelong creative and dedicated service to enriching the awareness and understanding of the natural world among the residents of New England. Susan founded Keeping Track in 1994. Alderleaf has hosted Susan Morse for special bear, cougar, and bobcat tracking workshops.

Brian McConnell became a Senior Tracker in 2008 and has been an evaluator for Cybertracker specializing in trailing since 2009. Brian contributed stories for the book "Practical Tracking" and photos for the field guide "Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest". He is an avid hunter and outdoorsman, a member of the Washington state Master Hunter program, and a passionate naturalist. Brian enjoys mentoring new hunters and watching people working their first bear trail. He currently conducts trailing evaluations, trainings and workshops around his home in Washington state and throughout North America. Alderleaf hosts Brian each spring to run Trailing Evaluations at the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program.

Nate Harvey evaluates trackers for CyberTracker Conservation in both Trailing and Track & Sign Identification.  Additionally, he teaches Trailing in workshops near his home in southern Vermont and around the country. He created the website, and is the author of Trailing Wildlife, the curriculum to which the "Trailing" section of the website refers. Alderleaf hosts Nate each spring to run Trailing Evaluations at the Advanced Wilderness Skills Program.

Peter Yencken has been making bows for over 20 years. He started making bows while working for Tom Brown's Tracking & Wilderness Survival School. He is a guest teacher at many wilderness schools around the country. He has taught the art of making bows to well over 500 people of all ages. Peter is a native of Australia and is a talented woodworker. At Alderleaf, Peter offers his expertise at our Wooden Bow Making Course each summer.

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