American Tree Farm System Announces Four Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year

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Woodland owners in Alabama, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin recognized for forest stewardship

John Boutwell near large tree

John Boutwell of Alabama

"Our Tree Farmers are contributing environmental, social and economic goods significantly beyond their own property boundaries" - Tom Martin

Today, the American Tree Farm System (ATFS) announced the four Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year from among more than 82,000 certified Tree Farmers: John and Ann Boutwell and Peggy Boutwell Autrey of Prattville, Alabama; Duke and Naomi Hoiland of Poleridge, Montana; Raul Chiesa and Janet Sredy of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania; and Merlin and Georgie Becker of Manawa, Wisconsin. Of these exceptional woodland owners, one will be chosen for the National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award. Votes can be cast on the ATFS website.

ATFS, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next year, has honored more than 150 exceptional Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers since the award’s inception in 1976. These individuals are considered the top tier of woodland owners for forest stewardship and the promotion of good land management within their communities. Woodland owners considered for the award must demonstrate exceptional efforts to preserve and enhance their woodlands, and thus the clean water and air, wildlife habitat, recreational activities, and the wood for homes and paper products that come from their land, all of which are exemplified on the ATFS sign.

“Our Tree Farmers are contributing environmental, social and economic goods significantly beyond their own property boundaries,” said Tom Martin, President of American Forest Foundation (AFF), the organization who runs ATFS. “Recognizing and honoring these top individuals who help all Americans realize the everyday needs from forests, like clean water and air, is the least we can do to thank them.”

About the Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers for 2015:

Southern Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year, the Boutwell Family of Alabama, considers themselves to have the ‘best job on earth.’ Unlike most landowners, John Boutwell or his family preform most of the hard work and sweat equity on their land. Throughout the years, they have overcome challenges such as a severe pine beetle infestation and a hurricane (Ivan) that left damaging effects, working through each event with sustainable management in mind and finding solutions that enhanced their woods afterwards. But what’s more, the lessons they have learned from these challenges have not stopped on their doorstep. The Boutwells focus much of their time teaching and sharing the information they have gained with others; they often host Boy Scout Troops, large community groups, or individual landowners, all to demonstrate various good management practices. Because of their dedication to the local community, many others in Alabama have purchased land and are on the path to becoming certified as well.

Western Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year, Duke and Naomi Hoiland of Montana, live by the motto ‘where you can’t tell work from play.’ Bordering the Flathead National Forest and a short distance from Glacier National Park, the Hoiland’s Tree Farm is living proof that active management can be done in harmony with critical wildlife habitat and unmatched scenic beauty. Due to its location to a national forest, the Hoiland’s land is home to a stretch of Trail Creek, an important spawning stream for the endangered bull trout and the native cutthroat trout. Aware of the importance of this stream to many species, the Hoilands focus their management on water quality and riparian habitat. They closely monitor wildlife use and patterns, and document sightings and impacts to vegetation by various animal species. Overtime, they have seen firsthand the intimate relationship between the moose populations and their riparian vegetation. Their efforts also focus on passing on their land better than they found it, motivating their grandchildren and others in the community to love and care for the forests as well, to ensure the values of our woodlands and its management make it to the next generation.

North Central Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year, Merlin and Georgie Becker of Wisconsin’s property dates back four generations, but the love and dedication to the land is stronger than ever. Active hunters, the Beckers spend extensive time and energy on studying, documenting and managing the deer and turkey populations in the region. They manage their land to ensure there is young tree growth for food for wildlife, and have helped maintain the habitat of a pair of bald eagles for several years. But the Beckers don’t keep their land and its beauty to themselves: their woodlands are a designated Demonstration Forest that is open to the public for self-guided tours with maps and interpretation stations along the trails. It is estimated that several hundred people have had the opportunity to tour the Becker Woodlands because of this. Also active in the community, the Beckers can often be seen hosting field days, presenting at forestry conferences and meeting with legislators, all to showcase their hard work, the stewardship to their forests and their commitment to sustainable forestry.

Northeastern Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year, Raul Chiesa and Janet Sredy, managers of Beckets Run Woodlands, is an exceptional example of a restoration project to a severely damaged urban-wildland interface, just miles from a major metropolitan area. Resting 20 miles outside Pittsburgh, PA, Beckets Run Woodlands, is a piece of vital property that suffered over a 50-year period from poor agriculture practices, vandalism, invasive species, fractured ownership and more. Taking over ownership rights in 2007, Raul and Janet set on a path to restore the native forest ecosystem, enhancing the health of trees and protecting the wildlife habitat and biodiversity. Working with their state service forester, Raul and Janet created a forest management plan, taking part in the U.S. Forest Service “Forest Stewardship Program” and becoming ATFS certified. Today, with Beckets Run thriving, Raul and Janet have taken the lead in their community to help neighboring landowners in stewardship as well. They have developed agreements to combat invasive plant species, established partnerships for hunting and improving wildlife among bordering properties, and have formed an educational partnership with neighbors, the local university and DCNR to protect and study rare plant species.

ATFS, the signature program of the American Forest Foundation (AFF), facilitates, recognizes and certifies that family woodland owners are doing right by their land, meeting the highest standards of sustainability and practicing good stewardship for the future. The program encourages woodland owners to establish goals and a plan that meets their and their families’ needs, while also ensuring that their woodlands are providing for the greater needs of all Americans such as clean water, wood for products, recreation space and home for wildlife. Today, ATFS includes more than 24 million acres of certified forestland.

The ATFS program began in 1941, with many Americans doubting whether our forests and their resources could meet the burgeoning needs of society. Throughout the long history of the program, ATFS has proved that well-managed family-owned forests can meet Americans’ needs for wood and wood fiber, as well as wildlife habitat, clean water and air, and recreational opportunities. Now, with the rapidly changing business landscape of today, AFF is taking the next step forward with ATFS to engage the next generation of land owners and meet new global market and society demands of tomorrow, all while ensuring our forests remain as forests for generations to come.

The Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award is made possible thanks in part to Plum Creek.

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Elizabeth Bender
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