Drew Hart receives prestigious award for community engagement

Zombie Tree Signs

Drew Hart (center) with members of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Conservation Corps at a CommuniTree planting in East Chicago, Indiana. Photo courtesy of SCA.

Congratulations to the USDA Forest Service Eastern Region’s own Drew Hart, who recently earned the Gifford Pinchot Award for Excellence in Interpretation and Conservation Education.

Hart was one of several Forest Service employees to receive the Gifford Pinchot award at a regional level during a virtual presentation held Dec. 2, 2021. Named for the first Chief of the Forest Service, the award recognizes outstanding contributions by a forestry professional in the administration, practice and professional development of forestry in North America.

Hart serves as the natural resources liaison for the Eastern Region’s Chicago region. He works closely with community groups, municipalities, nonprofits and industry to plant and care for trees and foster community engagement. In his unique role, he facilitates partnerships with these groups to help them develop urban forestry programs.

“The work I do is very partnership oriented,” Hart said. “I help our community conservation partners through urban forestry to implement their programs and activities.”

The Indiana native works with young people through local conservation organizations such as the Dunes Learning Center and the Student Conservation Association (SCA) to provide technical assistance through field-based urban forestry projects.

“It’s a team effort,” Hart added. “Working in partnerships with collective impact, although it seems like a simple concept, is still one of the most effective ways to facilitate positive community change.”

Once the programs are developed, Hart works with partner organizations to go into schools, where he provides urban forestry technical assistance. There, he facilitates a dialogue with students about the importance of planting and caring for trees.

“I might have five SCA urban forestry team members in a classroom, and I’ll facilitate the discussion between the SCA team members and students,” Hart said. “Then we go out and plant trees on their school grounds.”

Some of Hart’s notable accomplishments over the past six years include working with more than 20 schools in the Chicago region, engaging with more than 2,000 students about urban forestry topics and planting over 500 trees on school grounds.

More than 50 tree species that are native to the Midwest were planted through the CommuniTree program.

“We’ve had entire schools come out and plant trees,” Hart said, adding that each grade comes out at a different time. Even the youngest students are encouraged to lend a hand in the outdoor project. If they are unable to help plant trees, later they can help mulch or water them.

Hart is proud of his heritage of planting. “By sharing the benefits and beauty of trees and urban forestry with young people, we ensure that the legacy of protecting our natural resources continues into the future,” he said. “We also build goodwill and connections with local community members.”