Holly May has been the Alliance’s resident watershed forester since September of 2017, working to build partnerships and get trees in the ground in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. She is an avid outdoors-woman, adventurer, lifelong learner, amateur fly fisher and hunter, mom to two awesome little boys, and wife. Holly’s passion for the outdoors, wildlife, and forestry shine through her bright personality, and it’s impossible to leave a conversation with Holly without wanting to throw on some hiking boots and set off on your own adventure in nature. 

Holly was first exposed to nature and the water at just six months old. Her mom and dad instilled in her a great love for the outdoors, always encouraging her to be outside playing whenever possible. Growing up, Holly lived in very rural areas and always on some type of body of water, whether it was a lake, a creek, or a stream. Her grandfather was also a forester for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) back when it was still known as the Department of Forest and Waters in the early 1970’s. Holly has fond memories of spending time with him picking blueberries, stopping at the springs, fishing on the Clarion River, and hiking in the forest cathedral in Jefferson County, PA.

Holly began her professional education at Penn State DuBois through the Wildlife Tech program, and then had the opportunity to get her four year degree at the University of Georgia, where she earned a B.S. in Forest Resources, with a major in Wildlife Ecology and Management. When Holly started at University of Georgia in 1997, out of a class of 60 students in her program, she was one of four women. She notes that now when she gets the school’s graduate publications, more than half of the class are women. She says, “It’s been really interesting to see how that has progressed over the last 20+ years. The difference in the number of women entering that program, and taking a good foothold is amazing.”

During her undergraduate, there were a couple of professors that mentored Holly, and fueled her passion for forestry and wildlife conservation. At Penn State DuBois, Joe Hummer, professor of Wildlife Technology, made an impression on young adult Holly due to his science communication skills and talent at getting students excited about learning. Holly noted, “You could feel the love of wildlife, habitat, forestry, and the outdoors exuding from him.” Additionally, Holly had one of the most formative outdoor experiences of her life thanks to her major professor, Sara Schweitzer. Holly’s senior thesis was to complete a sea and shoreline study at Cumberland Island National Seashore. Holly lived there for several months, doing a sea and shorebird study on how nesting success related to different types of disturbances on the National Seashore. Holly says Sarah Schweitzer was key to getting her into a very scientific focus of wildlife, and spurring her interest in how the data is collected and compiled. She said, “That really fueled my desire to acquire scientific information and then apply it to solutions for problems.”

After completing her undergraduate degree, Holly dove head first into her career, accepting a position at the NGO, Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC), based in Silver Spring, MD. At WHC, she worked on a partnership with National Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) writing their habitat management leaflets and working as a joint venture coordinator between their corporate members and the US Fish and WIldlife Program. After that, she took a position with the Maryland Forest Service on the eastern shore of Maryland where she worked as a forester and GIS specialist on the Chesapeake forest lands that covers over 58,000 acres on the eastern shore. After their time on the eastern shore of Maryland, Holly and her husband decided to move back to Pennsylvania to be closer to their family and to start one of their own. Once relocating, she worked for the NRCS as a wildlife habitat specialist, focusing on wildlife habitat and forestry management practices.

In 2006, Holly became pregnant with her first son and ended up staying home with her two boys for six years. Holly said, “I decided being a mom was just as an important job as the one I had.” She spent those six years at home immersing her boys into all things nature. She recalls the first time each of her kids went camping they were just six months old — about the same age as Holly was the first time she was exposed to the outdoors. She says her sons, Henry and Owen, along with her husband Erich, have always been 100% supportive of her. Holly explains, “They’ve been dragged to streams and tree plantings, and they’ve really supported me wholeheartedly in every hobby, job, and adventure I’ve had. I couldn’t do it without them. They are my backbone and heart.”

After six years of spending time at home with her boys, she was offered a part time position with NRCS to work on the wetland reserve program in the southeast part of Pennsylvania, focusing on the federally endangered bog turtle. Soon after, her husband accepted a position in Bedford County, PA, so Holly and her family relocated to the southwestern part of the state. She stayed with NRCS, taking her job with her, and worked on conservation easements in six counties. There, she did a lot of work with the wetland reserve and healthy forest reserve programs, which were designed for improved forest management and wildlife habitat enhancement for the Indiana bat, which is another federally endangered species.

When Holly’s husband took another job in West Virginia, Holly finally found her way to us at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. She worked in WV with our partners at the WV Division of Forestry on the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and a variety of tree planting projects, like the Trees for Bees and Communitree programs. She also planted riparian buffers with various watershed associations in the state, and worked with NRCS and West Virginia University (WVU) on a comprehensive forest and wildlife management plan for the Reymann Farm, which is owned by WVU in Hardy County, WV. Holly and her family once again relocated to Pennsylvania, and the Alliance was happy to use her expertise in the state to work on the Woodland Stewardship Network Program.

Holly’s last week with the Alliance was in August, but we know that she won’t be leaving us forever, since the Alliance works with so many partners across the watershed to achieve our mission. Holly’s incredible skill sets, passion, and talent will be put to good use at the PA DCNR, Bureau of Forestry in Jefferson County, PA. In her new role, she will be working with private landowners, watershed associations, municipalities, and local governments. She’s excited to go back to fire school and get back into prescribed burning for forest management. Holly remains an active member of her local Trout Unlimited and Pheasant Forever chapters, and in her spare time, she enjoys fly fishing, hunting birds, and training her hunting dog.

Best of luck, Holly! We can’t wait to see where this next adventure takes you.