About NICHES Land Trust
Protecting cherished lands in west-central Indiana and connecting people to nature.
Responsible conservation through collaboration.
Founded in 1995 by a small group of citizens concerned with conservation of natural areas, NICHES actively seeks to protect a broad array of natural areas ranging from small green spaces to pristine nature preserves of high biological integrity.
NICHES is non-adversarial; we work cooperatively with land owners, other nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and various entities.
Native Plants and Animals
The Northern Indiana landscape is home to ecosystems of native plants and animals and should be protected.
The study of our natural resources contributes to our understanding and appreciation of the lands and waters.
Public Access and Private Landowners
Access to and connection with natural areas and open space improves the quality of people’s lives. People in our region should be able to live among sustainable, healthy, attractive landscapes.
Private landowners have an important role to play in helping to provide larger ecological and social benefits for the local community.
Stewardship and Sustainability
Fostering an ethic of stewardship for the land and water is an important step to achieving lasting protection of native plants and animals.
The long-term viability of our organization is a critical to achieving our vision so that future generations can enjoy the same quality natural experiences as we do today.
Meet the Staff
Deputy Director and Interim Executive Director
Julie Rubsam grew up in Southern Indiana on the north side of Evansville. Her love of the outdoors began at an early age and was fostered by many family excursions hiking and camping at Indiana State Parks.
Her interest in studying plant genetics lead her to apply to Purdue University. Julie was accepted and began her studies in the Botany & Plant Pathology Department in the mid-90s. During this time, Julie worked in the Botany & Plant Pathology Greenhouse where she helped grow and care for plants used for the department’s classes. Her work in the greenhouse lead to a change in educational focus and she transferred into the Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture and the Department of Forestry & Natural Resources where her studies merged to fulfill her desire to study the design of habitats.
After graduating from Purdue University, Julie worked for the Indiana Arborist Association due to a serendipitous meeting with Harvey Holt from Purdue’s Forestry Department. She served as their business manager for almost 10 years and helped plan and implement educational programming events for urban foresters.
In 2008, Julie and her husband, Jason, co-founded Lafayette PC, a computer consulting company, in downtown Lafayette. While Jason focused on IT services, his area of expertise, Julie stepped into the role of CEO where she was responsible for business development, sales, efficient operations, marketing strategies, and all other obligations that come with owning a small business. In just a few short years, Lafayette PC won several community awards including, Small Business of the Month, Small Business of the Year, and received the Journal & Courier’s Reader’s Choice Award. During this time, Julie personally received the Top 10 Under 40 Award and was named Central Indiana’s BNI (Business Networking International) Member of the Year. She is a founding member of the BNI Flashpoint Chapter and Lafayettech, and has served as a mentor for the student entrepreneurship program at Purdue and Ivy Tech.
During this time, Julie became interested in Social Entrepreneurship and over a 2-year period, completed Philanthropy University, a series of online classes through Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley. While working through these classes, Julie collaborated with individuals from all over the world on projects to tackle social issues.
After selling Lafayette PC in 2014, Julie used her business and development skills as Resource Development Associate at United Way of Greater Lafayette. Her background and passion for our core mission made Julie the perfect person to be hired as NICHES’ first Development Director in 2016. Soon after, she was transitioned into the role of Deputy Director where her business acumen has helped put NICHES in solid financial standing and made her the ideal person to step into the Interim Executive Director role.
Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator
Sam Cody was born and raised in Southeastern Indiana and spent much of his childhood exploring and developing an intense love of the natural world. When tracing the origins of this deep-rooted passion, the lines between “nature” and “nurture” become blurred. Sam’s mother Karen Cody often utilized the quick and nimble hands of her two young sons to help collect a variety of woodland and wetland creatures to be used as temporary outreach animals in her career as a naturalist. Sam’s father, a biologist, was a well-known figure at the Cincinnati Zoo where he developed and ran several youth engagement programs.
Perhaps foreshadowing his eventual career as the Volunteer Coordinator for NICHES Land Trust, Sam was a regular volunteer with his county park system helping conduct prescribed fires, build trails, and working once a week at the local seed nursery. Also during this time, Sam volunteered for a conservation partnership focused on raising and reintroducing endangered American Burying Beetles to the Midwest. During his high school summers, Sam founded and ran an Unplugged Nature Camp that helped engage local children with the outdoor world.
After graduating with honors as a top 10 student in his high school class of 600, Sam enrolled at Purdue University and pursued degrees in Environmental Science and Wildlife. With an interest in bridging the growing gap between individuals and nature, he also pursued minors in Communication and Anthropology. As a student, Sam worked with Northwestern Indiana’s regional NPR station WBAA creating and editing broadcast content. One fateful day, NICHES Stewardship Director, Bob Easter, gave a passionate lecture to one of Sam’s classes about the conservation and engagement work NICHES was doing in the region and from that day forward he was hooked. He decided then and there he would do whatever it took to eventually join the team at NICHES and play his part in the conservation mission. After that class, Sam went home and wrote the word “NICHES” on the inside of his front door so he would see it every day as he left. Sam utilized one of the final projects of a communication class to get his foot in the door and created a video for NICHES promoting volunteerism, perhaps another subtle foreshadowing of his future role with the organization.
For the next two years, Sam volunteered with NICHES and spent two summers interning with the organization's Communication Director at the time, Nyssa Lilovich. Through these experiences, he gained an intimate familiarity with the environmental and outreach goals of NICHES. After graduating, Sam joined the team in 2019 as the organization’s first Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator and set to work building up the organization’s outreach capacity. Within 3 years, Sam was able to move the number of annual volunteer hours from roughly 2,000 to almost 10,000. Also, during that time, enrolment in NICHES Summer Camp tripled and an extra week was added to accommodate the growing waitlist. Sam is looking forward to playing a part in NICHES bright future helping to connect those interested in the natural world to one of the most robust conservation visions in the state. It is his belief that the sustained protection of our local ecosystems hinges on the public being aware, involved, and passionate about the issues the natural world currently faces.
Bob was born and raised in Tippecanoe County near the Benton County line and graduated from Benton Central High School in 2001. Upon his graduation from Benton Central, he was accepted into Purdue University and completed a year in a Liberal Arts program. After a gap in enrollment, during which he joined the professional world as a restaurant manager, he returned to Purdue and was accepted into the College of Agriculture where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Plant Science. During this time, Bob also helped to start a new institution at the university, the Purdue Student Farm, which is still thriving a decade later. During the last summer of his time in the Botany Department at Purdue, Bob worked for Ecologic LLC out of Bloomington and shifted his focus to natural areas management as a career goal. After his experience with Ecologic, Bob returned to the Lafayette area and began volunteering for NICHES Land Trust.
Bob was hired by NICHES as a Land Steward with temporary status on February 27th of 2013 and was promoted to a permanent position of Stewardship Manager after less than 3 months on the job, on May 13th, 2013. In 2019, Bob was again promoted to his current position as Stewardship Director to lead the organization’s land management into the future.
In the first couple of years, Bob supervised several seasonal stewards and worked on bringing NICHES equipment up to snuff for the work we needed to complete. He began digging NICHES’ natural areas out of multiple deep holes where piecemeal stewardship efforts had been completed by part-time staff or volunteers or, in many cases, where no work had been started at all. As he got to know the properties and got NICHES caught up on projects planned before he started, Bob developed NICHES’ first digital maps in ArcGIS and Google Maps. With a stronger understanding of NICHES lands and the demanding nature of stewarding (at that time, about 2,800 acres), Bob began to plan major projects for all of NICHES new acquisition projects as they were added and planned maintenance work on the adjacent tracts to coincide with the new projects, making the preserves more resilient to reinvasion.
Bob began to lead many volunteer and outreach programs including a significant service-learning relationship with the Purdue Botany & Pathology Department that brought in hundreds of volunteer hours each semester. The students in Botany 110 and other courses put in hundreds of hours pulling garlic mustard in the spring and collecting seed for restoration projects in the fall each year. Bob also partnered with and lectured to many other courses at the university in Botany, Ecology, and in the Forestry & Natural Resources department. During the pandemic, his recorded lectures are still played for the students in Botany 110. Bob also initiated a relationship with the Environmental Science Club at Purdue, and they are still active with the organization today.
In addition to doing trail work, maintaining equipment, and managing all stewardship staff, projects, Bob also developed and maintains all of NICHES digital mapping on Google and ArcGIS, completes acquisitions assessments, annual property inspections, plant species checklists for NICHES preserves, writing management plans for NICHES preserves, prescribed fire including choosing units, prepping units, leading burns, writing burn plans, engaging with neighbors for invasive control at all NICHES preserves, conservation of rare species like yellow lady’s slippers (hand pollination and seeding), white pine (major regional restoration project), shaggy false-gromwell (seed collection and introduction into restorations), royal catchfly (collection of remnant seed and reintroduction to Granville Sand Barrens restoration), Orange fringed orchid, and several more.
In 2020, Bob joined a new group called the Indiana Native Plant Conservation Alliance (INPCA). This group had formed to bring structure and collaboration in working to protect our state’s rarest plant species. Bob has joined the Rare Plant Reintroduction and Augmentation Guidelines Committee, Rare Plant Species Prioritization Committee, and the working group for the Hill’s thistle species conservation team. Bob is working with partners from The Nature Conservancy and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to develop and implement a plan to save this globally rare species from extirpation in Indiana.
Bob has also worked to document NICHES botanical species’ diversity and recently added our plant checklists to the Consortium of Midwest Herbaria website and has started the process of vouchering all of our plant species at all preserves with help from Rich Hull at the IU Herbarium, who has vouchered hundreds of specimens on NICHES properties this year and will continue with the project for several more years as Bob joins him in collecting and documenting the true accurate diversity of our preserves.
Brett Swann is the Administrative Manager for NICHES Land Trust and directs the financial and administrative functions of the organization. She was born and raised in Monticello, IN and some of her fondest memories of childhood were those spent with her family - traveling in her grandparent's VW camper, playing in her grandma's pine grove, visiting remote areas, and camping in her father's military tent.
Prior to coming to NICHES, Brett worked at Purdue University for 8 years as the Office Manager for the University Architect and Engineer. She attended college at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Therapeutic Recreation in 1996. While in college, she interned at Bradford Woods as a camp counselor for Camp Riley and led therapeutic outdoor leadership programs for corporate teams. It was through this experience, surrounded by 2,500 acres of remote woods, her passion for the outdoors ignited and initially what drew her to NICHES.
As Administrative Manager, Brett's 20+years of experience in office management has allowed the organization to move from using a 3rd party CPA firm to manage the books when she began part-time in 2017, to her going full-time in 2019 and providing these services internally, saving NICHES over $9,000 each year. Brett's mission is to continue to learn through each annual audit and ensure sound finances for the organization as it continues to grow.
Justin Harmeson joined the NICHES team three years ago and currently serves as a land steward. Alongside Bob, his duties include removing invasive species, implementing prescribed fires, educating various local groups and volunteers, and managing NICHES’ hunting program. Justin graduated in 2018 from Wabash College with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He holds a position as a park board member for Attica, is on the committee for the Tippecanoe County chapter of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and helps co-organize an annual fundraiser for the Greater Lafayette YWCA. In his free time, Justin loves to travel with his girlfriend, Ali, and their dog, Theo. He is passionate about community development, history and preservation, and uses that to influence his career.
From Zach Neff: "Working with NICHES for the past two years has been an amazing opportunity that has taught me so much and allowed me numerous, unique experiences. I am currently a Junior at Purdue University majoring in Natural Resources and Environmental Science. I interned with NICHES the summer of my freshman year at Purdue and, this past summer, I was hired as a Seasonal Land Steward. My work has focused on stewardship of properties by working hands-on chemically and mechanically eradicating invasives, maintaining trails, protecting rare plants, leading productive and educational volunteer workdays, and collecting and spreading native seeds to guide properties in the right direction. Through this position, I have gained valuable plant identification knowledge and a deeper understanding of how to restore and protect native ecosystems. My time with NICHES has shaped my future and affected my outlook on conservation by reinvigorating my passion for nature and solidifying my future plans to pursue a career in land conservation and ecological restoration."
We recognize that a strong economy and a continued high quality of life in our area of Indiana is ultimately dependent upon and related to the state of our environment.
Our mission is to protect, restore and sustain Northern Indiana’s ecosystems by providing habitat for native species and offering natural places for the education, appreciation and enjoyment of current and future generations.
NICHES serves the following counties:
View NICHES Properties
Why land conservation is important:
Think about all the beauty around us, and what if that were gone? What if the people who come after us didn’t get the chance to walk in the woods, to see the stream, to look at different colors of leaves and flowers? It’s something we have to watch out for. We must protect it.
There are organizations that don’t define conservation like NICHES does. NICHES does it right: they think about always and forever.
Conservation should be about always and forever.
-- Denise Laussade, Treasurer
Meet the Board
An elected volunteer Board of Directors,
individuals with a variety of professional backgrounds and experiences,
oversees NICHES operations and management.
MEMBERS AT LARGE
NICHES Land Trust is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. We protect west-central Indiana's native ecosystems and connect people to nature. Federal tax ID: 35-1964901.
Source of Funding
NICHES is not funded by tax dollars and we do not receive support from county, state, or federal government organizations. We rely on the support of people, foundations, businesses and other entities.
Have you ever wondered about the name? NICHES stands for Northern Indiana Citizens Helping Ecosystems Survive. We protect a 'niche here' and a 'niche there' to preserve a high quality of life.
Accredited Land Trust
Through demonstration of fiscal accountability, strong organizational leadership, sound transactions and lasting stewardship, NICHES holds accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.