From left to right: Craig Highfield, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; Jenny McGarvey, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; Judy Okay; Kris West, Finger Lakes Land Trust; Jed Shilling; Sally Claggett, USDA Forest Service. Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program

Trees are our greatest allies in reducing the amount of pollution that enters our waterways and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. Forests provide clean water and air, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, help build resilient communities, and offer a host of other benefits. However, with an estimated loss of 100 acres of forest per day in the region due to development, we as a watershed community rely heavily upon our champions, be they landowners, community groups, non profits, forestry and natural resource professionals, schools, youth organizations, public agencies, or others, to protect and restore forests.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay with support from the USDA Forest Service recognized three of these forest champions from across the Chesapeake Bay Watershed at the twelfth annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum in Shepherdstown, West Virginia on Friday, November 3rd, 2017. The champions included a land trust protecting significant forest land in the headwaters of the Susquehanna River, a pillar of the Chesapeake riparian forest buffer and tree canopy community, and a forest landowner in Virginia who is steadily converting open lands to forest with a dogged commitment to following best management practices.

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

The Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT) was named Most Effective at Engaging the Public. For over 30 years, the FLLT has conserved more than 18,000 acres through land acquisition and protection in the Southern Tier of New York. Although the FLLT namesake lies outside the Chesapeake Bay watershed, half of the area the land trust protects includes the critical headwaters of the Chesapeake Bay. Water, forests, and land conservation are deeply engrained within FLLT mission, and it shows through their on-the-ground efforts. Recent acquisitions include: the 290 acre Logan Hill nature preserve that protects significant forested acreage and over 5,000 feet of forested creek; the Krause Valleke property of 86 acres of mature forest adjacent to New York’s largest Wildlife Management Area, Connecticut Hill; and the Howell Roehlke Conservation Easement, composed of 218 acres adjacent to Mark Twain’s historic summer home, Quarry Farm. Kris West accepted the award.

Judy Okay, Chesapeake Forest Champion

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

Judy Okay of J&J Consulting was named Greatest-on-the-Ground Impact. Judy has served the Chesapeake Bay community for over 25 years as a leader both in riparian forest buffers and urban tree canopy. As a long-time Chesapeake Bay Forestry Workgroup member, Judy has contributed to nearly every major strategic effort that has advanced forests as a key part of our Chesapeake Restoration Strategy. She took the lead coordinating Virginia’s efforts to launch RFB establishment after the first goals were set in the 1990s, contributed her scientific expertise to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s water quality effectiveness guidelines for the watershed model, especially as it related to riparian forest buffers, and served a critical role in developing the first guidance on the establishment and management of riparian forest buffers. Judy continues to serve as a mentor for scores of foresters, in the field and classroom, on advance techniques in buffer planting and landowner engagement.

Jed Shilling, Chesapeake Forest Champion

Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program.

Jed Shilling of Loudoun County, Virginia was named Exemplary Forest Steward. In 1991, Jed Shilling and his wife, Jane Pratt, purchased their property in Loudoun County, VA. At the time, it was 100-percent abandoned cow pastures. When they built their home, they were told it would require 34 trees to build its timber frame construction. They decided to plant 34 trees to offset those used for the house. Since then, Jed afforested over 31 acres of the property with hardwoods and loblolly pines, and has placed a conservation easement on the property. What makes Jed really stand out as a forest steward is his dedication and commitment to the uphill battle that is afforestation. This drive is best captured in a quote by Kyle Dingus, Virginia Department of Forestry area forester for the Northern Virginia region: “In my work, I meet with a lot of forest landowners. John has stood out to me because of his passion for managing his property and his fervor in implementing my recommendations. He has a positive attitude and willingness to learn about programs. I see the work that he has done as a model to show other landowners that in one’s lifetime you can take marginal land and mold it for the good of conservation. That is why his story is so important: he bought his property, sought assistance for management, implemented recommended projects and even has a conservation easement that will protect the hard work! He shows concern and respect for his land and his passion is contagious.”