Advisory Council

Matthew Bentley

Austin, TX

Matthew Bentley is a lobbyist, political consultant and an expert in public positioning, issue management, and government relations. His success is the product of extensive relationships with elected officials and staff throughout the legislative and executive branches as well as regulatory agencies. A native of East Texas, he was recently named a Top Ten “Rising Star” lobbyist by Capitol Inside, a bi-partisan publication covering Texas politics and government. ... Read More

Matthew currently consults for companies, associations, special purpose districts and non-profit organizations in Texas, specializing in environmental management, energy and utility regulations, private property interests, education programs, natural resources, infrastructure, technology, economic development, taxation and finance issues. He also has significant experience in alcohol, transportation, insurance, procurement, gaming and local government matters. Matthew’s work has resulted in public policy development and implementation, strategy formulation with key government officials and improved communication between legislative and business leaders at the highest level.

Stoney Burke

Washington, D.C.

Stoney Burke has built a bipartisan reputation focused on finding solutions for complex political and policy challenges.  Drawing on a decade-long career on Capitol Hill, Stoney has advised Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations and trade associations on developing legislative, regulatory and strategic communications campaigns related to energy, infrastructure, technology, trade, immigration, cybersecurity and national security policy.

... Read More Stoney currently serves as Head of U.S. Federal Affairs for Amazon Web Services, the leading cloud service provider that provides a highly reliable, scalable, low-cost infrastructure platform that powers hundreds of thousands of businesses in 190 countries around the world. In this role, he is responsible for leading the U.S Federal team and building out a comprehensive advocacy plan and political operation in support of AWS public policy priorities at the federal level. Stoney joined Amazon in 2018.

Previously, Stoney served for three years as Chief of Staff for Rep. Will Hurd. Over this period of time, twelve pieces of legislation were signed into law, a record for any Member of Congress in such a short period of time. Stoney also played a critical role in advising Rep. Will Hurd on the issues important to the US-Mexico relationship, such as immigration, border security, and USMCA.

In addition, Stoney also spent seven years in the private sector as Director of External Affairs at Southern Company, one of the largest and most sophisticated power companies in the United States.  At Southern, he developed legislative strategies and coordinated external messaging with corporate communications, third party groups, trade associations and think tanks to maximize the strategic reach of policy positions.  Recognized for his leadership abilities, Stoney was selected by the Executive Team at Southern Company to participate in an internal development program that focused on team building and in depth mentoring to better understand the core business units.

He graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. in International Studies and Minor in Political Science and also has a Graduate Certificate in Advanced International Affairs with an Intelligence Emphasis from The Bush School of Government and Public Service.  Stoney also serves on the Board of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation.

On a personal level, Stoney grew up in a small farming community in West Texas.  He is married to Josefina Urzaiz, a Merida, Yucatan native and entrepreneur focused on improving the quality of life for young women in the Yucatan by increasing the affordability and accessibility to higher education.  Stoney and Josefina currently reside in Washington, D.C. with their three young children, Benjamin, Matilda, and Theodore.

Michael Dorff

Dallas, TX

Michael Dorff manages executive & employee communications at Raytheon Intelligence & Space in McKinney, with 17 years of experience leading teams and developing evidence-based communications plans that move people.

... Read More He is a storyteller and strategic thinker with a passion for common ground and the greater good. Dorff is an enthusiastic learner with broad knowledge of economic drivers such as defense, technology, energy, education, agriculture and banking. He makes unexpected connections and brings people together to find fresh approaches to old problems. Dorff is an amateur naturalist who has four young children, and he is proud to say they are 8th-generation Texans. He is happiest when he’s found just the right words or his hands are in the soil.

Ed Ferguson

St. Louis, MO

Ed Ferguson, Chief Sustainability Officer at BlueTriton Brands, is a purpose-driven innovator with an engineering background. He combines passion and pragmatism to create resilient, systems-based solutions for a better world. Ed joined BlueTriton Brands in March 2022.

With over ten years in the beverage industry, first at Anheuser-Busch and now with BlueTriton Brands, Ed has a strong background in beverage manufacturing, value chains, innovation, sustainability & ESG. His role at BlueTriton Brands is to deliver on our vision of a future where healthy hydration is available for everyone, everywhere, always through long-term sustainability in water stewardship, circular packaging, climate action, and community betterment. ... Read More

Ed graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering and minors in Environmental and Energy Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis. In 2018, Ed completed his graduate education at Washington University in St. Louis where he earned his MBA.

Lauren Hart

Ann Arbor, MI

Lauren Hart is working towards a PhD in Chemical Biology at the University of Michigan where she studies harmful algal blooms in Great Lakes systems at a molecular level. She uses genetic and chemical tools to better understand how harmful algal blooms are impacting our natural resources and human health. Previously, she worked for Texan by Nature as a Junior Program Manager where she supported the development of the Return on Conversation Index. ... Read More

Lauren was raised all over, but spent a lot of time in Houston, TX growing up. Here, she found a love for the Texas Gulf Coast, Texas heat, and Texan pride for helping one another and their environment. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Texas at Austin. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering at local parks to fix up urban greenspaces and communicating science to K-12 students through various programs.

Learn more about Lauren, and what makes her Texan by Nature, in this blog post.

Ben Masters

Austin, TX

Ben Masters is a filmmaker, author, and photographer based in Austin, TX. Masters studied wildlife biology at the finest educational facility in the universe, Texas A&M University, married way up, and has one gun shy dog and five exceptional mustangs. In 2013, Masters rode those mustangs from Mexico to Canada to produce Unbranded, a documentary that won the audience award at Hot Docs, Mountainfilm, and Banff.

... Read More He is also the director of The River and The Wall feature documentary, premiering at SXSW in March of 2019, which follows five friends on a 1,200 mile horse, canoe, and bicycle expedition along the Rio Grande and Texas-Mexico border to document the borderlands and seek understanding before further construction of a wall.

A dedicated wildlife enthusiast, Masters sat as the Wildlife Management Chair for the controversial Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse & Burro Advisory Board, where he represented the interests of wildlife and wildlife habitat on 31.2 million acres of public land.

Masters has guided hunts across Texas, managed a 10,000 acre ranch outside of Laredo for four years, and started the Wild Texas Film Tour, an annual 15 city film tour that celebrates Texas wildlife, adventure, and conservation stories.

He is the author of two books published by Texas A&M University, contributes regularly to Western Horseman, and has written and photographed for National Geographic.  You can follow him @bencmasters and if you have a good movie idea, hit him up!

Elizabeth Newton

Minneapolis, MN

Elizabeth most recently managed strategy and operations for the Agriculture and Chemicals practice at McKinsey & Co. for the Americas. Prior to McKinsey, Elizabeth worked in the executive search industry for Google where she placed executives across YouTube, Google Cloud, real estate, security & safety, sales, and more. Prior to Google, she was an Engagement Manager at Heidrick & Struggles where she focused on C-Suite placements spanning oil and gas, agriculture, chemicals, and broader industrials. She is an outdoors lover and conservation advocate whose husband’s basketball career has them currently living in and exploring the upper Midwest.

Ilissa Nolan

Dallas, TX

Ilissa Nolan is a 9th Generation Texan and the Founder of Skylark + Co where she works to build policy through stakeholder collaboration and educating clients on cutting edge issues surrounding state and federal matters, especially topics involving agriculture, rural affairs and environmental issues. In addition, she serves as the Executive Director of the Texas Hemp Coalition that she founded to represent the emerging hemp industry in Texas. As well, she serves as a REALTOR® for her family’s real estate brokerage Nolan Properties where she focuses on residential, farm/ranch or commercial properties. ... Read More

Most recently she served as the government affairs consultant for Booth & Associates, P.C. where she represented a variety of environmental, water and agriculture clients. She served as the Government Relations Director for the Texas Department of Agriculture under Commissioner Sid Miller. As well, she served as the Producer for Cowboys Without Borders, a documentary which uncovers the truth of the North, Central and South American Cowboy which is available to stream on iTunes, Amazon, Youtube and Google Play.

Ilissa grew up on a registered Hereford Ranch in the small East Texas town of Gilmer. She received a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Leadership and Development with a minor in Horticulture from Texas A&M University. As well, she received a Master of Science in Agricultural Communications from Texas Tech University. Ms. Nolan has worked as a Congressional Intern for the House Agriculture Committee under Chairman Frank Lucas and was honored to serve as the Reading Clerk for the Texas House of Representatives of the 83rd Legislative Session. She worked as the Executive Assistant for Natural Resources Solutions, L.C. a consulting firm specialized in regulatory and non-regulatory natural resource and environmental issues. Also, she served as the Legislative Director for Representative Charles “Doc” Anderson, Vice Chairman of the Agriculture and Livestock Committee.

Ms. Nolan currently resides in Dallas after a decade-long stint in Austin where she was a member of the Junior League of Austin, Women’s Symphony League of Austin. Currently, she is a member of the Junior League of Dallas, Texas Hereford Women’s Auxiliary, and the Advisory Council of Texan by Nature.

Preston Smith

Tyler, TX

Preston W. Smith is a native Texan, experienced entrepreneur, and executive within the ecological restoration industry.  He has a proven track record of delivering innovative solutions within emerging environmental markets through all qualification, acquisition, and implementation phases. Preston is dedicated to changing the landscape of conservation by blending ecology and economics.

After graduating from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, he worked in sports marketing with clients such as The North Face, Anheuser Busch, and the NCAA before aligning his passion for the outdoors with his professional interests as a founder of Wildwood Environmental Credit Company (“Wildwood”). ... Read More The Wildwood team pursues market-based incentives for restoration across Texas and the United States. His primary responsibilities as Managing Partner include guiding the company’s mission, conservation finance, business development, and new opportunity generation.

Preston is a Past President and current director for the Ecological Restoration Business Association, a national trade group that supports private investment in sustainable environmental outcomes to facilitate responsible economic growth. Preston currently resides in Tyler, Texas with his wife Lizzie, and their three children.