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Slain Mendocino County environmentalist remembered as likeable, dedicated

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Mendocino Land Trust officials and volunteers were struggling Tuesday to come to grips with the death of staffer Matthew Coleman, who was shot to death last week while working on a remote Mendocino Coast ranch owned by Save the Redwoods League.

"Like everybody else, I'm flabbergasted," said Betty Stechmeyer, a volunteer with land trust.

Coleman was a land steward and coordinator of volunteers for the organization for about six years. He previously worked for the Fish and Game department.

Coleman is believed to have been clearing brush from one of many roads on the 400 acre oceanfront ranch, located about 10 miles north of Westport, when he was killed.

The Mendocino Land Trust has a contract to maintain the property for Save the Redwoods League.

"We were obviously shocked and deeply saddened" by Coleman's death, said Ruskin Hartley, executive director of the league.

Mendocino County Sheriff's officials continue to search for answers and suspects, said Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.

He would not say whether marijuana was found growing in the immediate area or could have contributed to Coleman's death. But "where don't they grow in Mendocino County," Smallcomb said.

Stechmeyer said the potential for stumbling upon one of Mendocino County's ubiquitous illegal marijuana gardens is always a concern.

Coleman often worked in remote areas alone, clearing brush and the invasive plants he despised. Scotch and French broom were at the top of his list of dislikes, Stechmeyer said.

Friends and co-workers describe Coleman as dedicated, hardworking and likable.

He was passionate about restoring land to its natural state and resuscitating endangered fish populations, said Winston Bowen, president of the Mendocino Land Trust.

"A lot of what he did was scientific research," including bird and fish surveys, Bowen said.

Stechmeyer recalled that he would stop in the middle of a conversation to call attention to a bird call that no one else could yet hear.

Coleman was kind, thoughtful and optimistic, Stechmeyer said. He would tackle the toughest of brush clearing jobs himself such as poison oak even though he was highly allergic, she said.

"He was a big puppy dog. Every inch of him had love and respect," Stechmeyer said.

Coleman will be hard to replace and some of his restoration projects are expected to be delayed by his death.

"To fill his shoes, I think that's something the trust is going to have to look at once they get over the shock of the situation at hand," Stechmeyer said.

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