Chesapeake Forest Champions honored for conservation efforts

West Virginia — At the 12th annual Chesapeake Watershed Forum, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Forest Service gave three Chesapeake Forest Champion awards. The forum was held at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, Nov. 3.

Dr. Judy Okay was presented with the award for Greatest On-the-Ground Impact. Okay has been an influential member of the Chesapeake forestry community for over 25 years. She took on the role of coordinating Virginia’s forest buffer establishment efforts in the 1990s after the first goals were set for the Chesapeake Bay Program. She led trainings and devised tools for field foresters to target buffer plantings. Her scientific expertise was needed when the program updated its documentation on the water quality effectiveness of riparian forest buffers. Finally, Dr. Okay has continued her contributions in the form of white papers and literature reviews on a range of topics of interest to the forestry community of the Chesapeake watershed. 

The Finger Lakes Land Trust was presented the award for Exemplary Forest Steward. The Finger Lakes Land Trust is dedicated to protecting the natural integrity of the Finger Lakes region, which includes a part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed in New York’s Southern Tier. For 27 years, the Finger Lakes Land Trust has been conserving forests in perpetuity within the Chesapeake Watershed. Through land acquisitions and easements, this organization has not only preserved lands, but provided public access to build deeper appreciation for forests and the need to protect them for the future. The trust works closely with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to further the New York portion of the collective goal to protect 695,000 acres of high value forest.

Jed Shilling from Purcellville, Virginia, was presented with the Exemplary Forest Steward award. Since 1999, Shilling has teamed up with the Virginia Department of Forestry to plant all 31 acres of one of his parcels, a former farm, to hardwoods and loblolly pine. He has established trees in riparian buffers and his open fields to improve the health of the land and community. The mosaic of diverse forest cover types resulting from his efforts also benefits wildlife. He also has placed conservation easements on the several parcels in Virginia that he owns as a legacy to future generations.

Photo: Group of people posing in room. Three hold plates engraved with Chesapeake Forest Champion 2017.
The awardees pose after the event. From left to right: Craig Highfield and Jenny McGarvey, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay; Judy Okay; Kris West, Finger Lakes Land Trust; Jed Schilling; and Sally Claggett, Forest Service. Photo courtesy Will Parson, Chesapeake Bay Program.