EcoForesters’ Root Cause Awards announces winners in sustainable forestry

Press release from EcoForesters:

EcoForesters’ Root Cause Awards, celebrating achievement in sustainable forestry, were announced on November 7, 2019 at the Wedge at Foundation.   This year’s awards highlighted important issues that face our region’s forests and the great people/organizations that are making a difference in forestry.
The three winners are:
Aimee Tomcho of the Audubon Society was awarded the 2019 Sustainable Use of Forest Products for her role improving wildlife habitat. She leads the Forestry for the Birds program which aims to increase the amount and improve the quality of habitat for many kinds of birds, particularly those that are declining or at risk.
John Palmer, retired forestry professor was recognized with the Lifetime Achievement award.  As a forest management instructor for Haywood Community College, John enthusiastically taught students about the importance of sustainable forestry. A leader in his field, he started the Intercollegiate Woodsmen’s Meet, which now bears his name. His dedication to forestry education and sustainable forest management is why we honor him with this years’ award.

Linda and Ellis Fincher were awarded the 2019 EcoForester of the Year award for the demonstration of ecologically beneficial forestry.  Their commitment to wildlife habitat, water quality and biodiversity is shown not only through their forest stewardship planning, but especially through their invasive species control efforts.  The devotion to your land and proactive forestry is exemplary of what is needed to restore and sustain healthy, vibrant forests.
EcoForesters is a non-profit forest management group in Asheville whose mission is to conserve and restore Appalachian forests.  Over 60% of the forests of Western North Carolina are privately owned, yet less than 25% have a management plan.  In the absence of planning, forests are subjected to invasive species and weather extremes as a result of climate change.  Coupled with development pressures has created a situation where forests are losing their resiliency and ability to provide clean water, wildlife habitat and the quality of life attributed to them.  Given healthy forests ability to offset climate change through carbon sequestration, EcoForesters is driven to improve awareness and the number of forested acres being managed.  These awards lift people and partners that are committed to that cause.
This year’s group of award winners were chosen because they best exemplified our mission and approach to forest stewardship.  Efforts must be taken to create awareness about the current state of our forests and what can be done to help restore them.  We must encourage forestland owners to manage their land in a way that supports their values and legacy.  Each forestland owner that protects forest resiliency through wise management is an unsung hero as everyone in our region benefits from the clean water, wildlife habitat and quality of life that come from healthy forests.
2019 Root Cause Award for Sustainable Forest Products

Our currently accepted economic model simply defines forest products as the forest material for direct consumption or commercial use.  It is this definition that has defined support for forest management through the Present Use Value tax program.  While an incentive for cutting timber has contributed to the number of management plans written, it has also been a deterrent for some landowners that value their forests for things other than timber revenue.  So much of EcoForesters work relies on communicating the importance of forest “products” also known as ecosystem services that are less tangible and remain undervalued.  Things like clean water, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration and quality of life that are enjoyed by everyone but not always attributed to healthy forests.  It is with that in mind that we also recognize this year’s award winner.
Aimee’s work with the North Carolina Audubon Society shows a perfect understanding of what is needed for today’s forest management.  A recognition that we need to change how we outreach to forestland owners and the need for helping landowners find value in managing
their forests for ecological benefits. As the mountain coordinator for the ForestHer program, she helps provide women forestland owners with tools and training to better engage them in forest stewardship. Finding new avenues for bringing landowners together is key to increasing forest stewardship in our region.
This award is to honor Aimee for her work leading the Forestry for the Birds program that helps landowners manage their forest in a way that benefits bird habitat.  We honor Aimee’s work not only for the importance of improving and increasing viable wildlife habitat, but also for helping landowners see the connection between their management choices and how they impact important ecosystem services.
2019 Root Cause Lifetime Achievement Award
One of the three pillars of EcoForesters is education (forestry and conservation being the other two).  To change how forests are managed will require the public to better understand how trees have been responding to the hand of man. EcoForesters is committed to tell the story of how past management has degraded our forests and made them more susceptible to the stressors of climate change, invasive species and development.  While our efforts are making a difference, how we teach our future foresters stands the chance to have an even greater impact. So, when an educator of the likes of John Palmer retires after 30 years, it is important to honor him.
John’s passion for forestry was seen through his enthusiasm for teaching the class on Dendrology, the scientific study of trees.  Past students recall how he would take them on field trips to see specific trees that we often the best and biggest in Western North Carolina.  He also led a study tour to the Everglades to expand the knowledge of “Haywood county boys” so they could appreciate ecosystems other than those found in Appalachia.  But he is perhaps best known as the founder of the Intercollegiate Woodmen’s Meet held at the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah National Forest and now bears his name.
This award is to honor John for a lifetime of work teaching students the importance of sustainable forestry.  We honor John’s accomplishment as a teacher and mentor to many young men and women that are now better equipped to be forestry leaders in our region.
2019 EcoForester of the Year Award
Perhaps the biggest challenge for EcoForesters as leaders in ecologically beneficial forestry is reaching the many private landowners that control over sixty percent of our region’s forests.  While our national forests are mandated to have management plans, less than twenty-five percent of North Carolina forestland owners have management plans. Whether due to a lack of understanding for the need for management or equating not cutting trees as management, this disconnect is impacting forest health.  So, when a landowner exhibits model behavior as a forest steward, we feel the need to lift them up.
When Linda and Ellis Fincher first saw the property, they now own in Polk county, they instantly knew it was the right place.  Mountain views and streams made it special, but the one quality they insisted on having was a forest.  Being able to live among the trees were important to them, but like many landowners, they were unaware of the importance of forest management. Fortunately, they responded to one of our postcards and were interested in learning more.
The first step when writing a forest management plan is to understand the values of the landowners.  Linda and Ellis made their priorities for wildlife and intact forests clear. To achieve their goals of protecting unique habitats it was necessary to control invasive species like oriental bittersweet and tree of heaven that was outcompeting native flora.  The Finchers dedication to invasive species control included engaging their HOA in the need for community control, sharing the necessary dialogue amongst neighbors that can make a positive impact on forests.  Their dedication is shown through their actions and we honor them with this award.

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