Meet the Team
Jon Mobeck, Executive Director
Jon is an experienced organizational leader, having directed two wildlife nonprofits in Jackson Hole, Wyoming prior to assuming the National Loon Center’s Executive Director role in January of 2021. He’s a native Minnesotan who eagerly returned home to build conservation support for the loons and lakes he has loved since childhood.
From 2009-2020, Jon served first as Executive Director of The Murie Center in Grand Teton National Park and then in the same capacity for the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation. He also spent a year in Boulder, Colorado with the WILD Foundation – an international conservation organization – as its Director of Partnerships. Jon has contributed to community development in Jackson Hole, WY and Park City, UT while directing communications and membership for their Chambers of Commerce from 2001-2004. Throughout his career, Jon has combined hands-on work with science-based policy recommendations to benefit wildlife, ecosystems and people. He has worked extensively with public agencies, private citizens and other organizational partners to advance conservation ethics and actions.
Jon grew up in Ham Lake, Minnesota, where he developed a passion for nature and a love of outdoor adventure. He graduated from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN with a B.A. in Professional Writing. Jon spends much of his free time hiking, biking, trail-running and playing hockey. His family knows him as “Jeep” as he was named after the late Minnesota North Stars hockey player J.P. “Jeep” Parise.
Natasha Bartolotta, Communications and Outreach Coordinator
Natasha migrated all the way from the Northeast to the Midwest in the fall of 2021 to join the National Loon Center. Prior to joining the NLC she worked for Audubon Louisiana as a Coastal Bird Technician to promote community stewardship of beach-nesting birds. Natasha has also worked as a Conservation Educator for the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Pennsylvania and as a research assistant for projects on wild chimpanzees and orangutan behavioral ecology in Uganda and Sumatra, respectively.
She’s hoping to use her unique range of experiences to be the best advocate she can for loon conservation and freshwater habitat preservation. Natasha has her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Cornell University, graduating with Distinction in Research. She is excited to draw from her scientific background to develop engaging educational and citizen science programs on Minnesota’s lakes and loons. In her free time, Natasha enjoys kayaking, baking (and eating bread), hiking, reading, and exploring new places. She’s looking forward to discovering all the beautiful natural spaces in the Brainerd Lakes Area.
Mike Pluimer, Program Operations Associate
Mike is a Minnesota native who resided in the Brainerd Lakes Area for ten years prior to joining The National Loon Center’s team. With a strong familiarity with Crosslake and its neighboring towns, he understands just how valuable The National Loon Center is and will be to its community of people, loons, and lakes.
His love for the iconic Minnesotan wildlife is rooted in a lifetime of experience and appreciation for his home. Having grown up alongside its lakes and loons, he feels a strong obligation and responsibility to ensure their protection and safety in a fast-paced world where the beauty and importance of things such as our natural world can be easily overlooked, forgotten about, or taken for granted. Mike is a strong advocate for conservation and sustainability, and is grateful for the opportunity to use these passions in stride with The National Loon Center to advance the success and wellbeing of lakes and loons, on both a local and a national scale. He believes that the less wildlife we share our world with, the less interesting our world will be.
Mike has a creative background that reaches across a wide spectrum of artistic hobbies, including music, photography and videography, and graphic design. In 2021, he graduated from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota with his B.A. in Music Business, after which he returned to the area with his wife, Haley, to settle down in Breezy Point.
Dr. Walter Piper, Chapman University, National Loon Center Scientist
Dr. Piper serves as National Loon Center Scientist while also chairing its Scientific Loon Council. In this role, Piper will help the Center to catalyze nationally-significant scientific research as it continues to plan for the building and opening of its world-class facility in Crosslake, Minnesota in 2024. In addition to leading the Center’s loon research, Piper will provide scientific guidance for a series of interactive outdoor exhibits at the Center’s site in Crosslake, and work with the Center’s Scientific Loon Council to set and achieve other research goals. The first outdoor exhibit will link to a video where Piper describes the fascinating meanings behind the loon’s unforgettable calls.
As part of this partnership, The NLC is supporting research on two loon study populations in the Upper Midwest. The first study population consists of 120 breeding loon pairs in northern Wisconsin whose territorial behavior, breeding ecology, and habitat selection Piper has studied since 1993. The second study population will consist of loon pairs on and around the Whitefish Chain of lakes near Crosslake, Minnesota some of which were banded several years ago by another member of the Scientific Loon Council, Kevin Kenow of the USGS. Beginning in May 2021, Piper’s team surveyed the Chain for marked individuals, breeding pairs, nests, and chicks. They captured and banded 78 loons in July and August of 2021 for long-term study. Colored leg bands are harmless to the loons themselves but allow ecologists like Piper to measure a wealth of data on topics such as annual survival rates, eviction rates from territories, individual reproductive success, patterns of aging and senescence, natal dispersal, and causes and rates of mortality. Only with these measured parameters can we construct a robust population model, which will allow us to determine whether the central Minnesota population is declining, like the Wisconsin population, or is stable, or even increasing. Of course, having two large study populations of loons under investigation in the Upper Midwest will permit us to make many comparisons of ecological patterns such as nesting success, chick survival and adult mortality and detect large-scale patterns. The use of two study populations will provide us with an early-warning system to learn about widespread trends in loon populations so that we can make efforts to reverse any negative population trends we detect.
In his role with the NLC, Dr. Piper aims to increase the scientific understanding of loon behavior and ecology by the public. The abiding goal is to provide the public with up-to-date information about robust, cutting-edge science on loons taking place across the breeding range. Through NLC exhibits, website, and other outreach efforts, Dr. Piper and the NLC team will inform the interested public about loon breeding behavior, including the meanings of their famous calls and current research efforts on vocalizations. During the breeding season, the NLC will share findings collected from our research teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin populations. Such information will include hatchings of chicks, territorial battles that result in evictions of established breeders by young loons seeking breeding positions, and – occasionally – mortality of adult loons and chicks by natural causes (like eagles) and human causes (lead poisoning).