Meet the Team


Chris Walton

Chris Walton is the CEO for the Centre for Research & Innovation in the Bio-Economy(CRIBE); Chris is a management professional with over 20 years of experience specializing in government relations, strategic planning, sustainability planning & project development, with a focus in the forest products & bio-economy sectors.

Prior to joining CRIBE, Chris was the President & Principal Consultant for a Thunder Bay based boutique management consulting company that specialized strategic planning, government relations & organizational planning and prior to that he was responsible for the environment and energy portfolio for a large integrated pulp & paper facility.

Nextfor Coordinator

Mike Barten

Mike is the Nextfor Coordinator with CRIBE, overseeing industry collaboration activities through Nextfor, Industry Challenge Funds, and leading forest innovation initiatives. Prior to joining CRIBE Mike worked as a natural resources consultant at a Thunder Bay based firm, specializing in the permitting and the forest products sector; and previously as a forestry technician at several working forests in Connecticut, USA.

Mike has 8+ years of experience as an environmental science & natural resources professional in the sustainability, permitting, environmental and forestry consulting field.

GIS Innovation Coordinator

Sarah Benčić

Sarah Benčić is a multidisciplinary GIS & Environmental professional with a great eye for cartography, design, & compelling analysis. She joined Cribe after completing an undergraduate in Environmental & Biological Sciences, & a post-graduate in GIS Cartographic studies. With years of experience in the Silviculture, Forestry, and Energy sectors she’s a well rounded interdisciplinary critical thinker with a passion for creating user friendly cartographic products.

Sarah loves the Thunder Bay region and is very excited to see positive change & growth in the space of bio-economy; while supporting the existing forest industry members.  She loves working with our Nextfor partners to configure new tools & datasets to steer our pursuit of geospatial decision-making with our partners in Ontario & around the world.

Program Coordinator

Melissa Blackwell

Melissa Blackwell began her role as CRIBE’s program coordinator in May 2021. As the program coordinator she is responsible for the administration & management of CRIBE and Nextfor’s funding programs and ongoing projects. She enjoys any opportunity to connect with, support, & learn from our growing network.

Prior to joining CRIBE, Melissa had completed a bachelor’s degree in Medical and Environmental Sciences. She hopes to use her knowledge in sustainability, ecology, and human health to make positive change in her community.

GIS Intern

Ian Wright

Ian Wright joined the CRIBE team to assist in the GIS department. In this role Ian will assist in day to day data processing, application development & testing, as well as help support the many project proponents & member of Next-For’s network. Ian brings a wide range of experience to the team through his education and work experience. Ian’s formal education consists of a forestry diploma from Fleming College, a degree in environmental science and sustainable agriculture from Trent University and a post graduate GIS Applications Specialist diploma from Fleming College.

Ian recently moved to the Thunder Bay region with his family and looks forward to achieving his career goals.