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Allegheny County couple named National Outstanding Tree Farmers
Change is constant on the 110 acres of Becket Run Woodlands that roll across a section of Allegheny County, but there’s one new addition that’s likely to be standing for a long, long time.

A new sign tells passersby a tale of success: first, “Pennsylvania Tree Farm of the Year 2014.” Then, "Northeast Region Tree Farmer of the Year 2015.” And now? “National Outstanding Tree Farm of the Year 2015.”

In ceremonies late last month in Washington, D.C., the American Tree Farm System awarded the latest honor to Raul Chiesa and Janet Sredy of Elizabeth. Chiesa and Sredy, managers of Becket Run Woodlands, have demonstrated exceptional forest stewardship in improving wildlife habitat on their property and more broadly in the community, in a state known for its deer, bird and other wildlife populations, the ATFS said in a prepared news release.

Pennsylvania tree farmers Raul Chiesa and Janet Sredy work on their 110-acre Beckets Run Woodlands in Elizabeth.

The two were honored for their high achievement by U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie, and Tom Martin, president and CEO of the American Forest Foundation (AFF), the organization that runs ATFS.

“I want to extend my congratulations to Janet Sredy and Raul Chiesa for being chosen as the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year,” Sen. Casey said. “Janet and Raul’s work in transforming Beckets Run Woodlands shows that we all must take a part in conserving and protecting our forests. Forestry is close to the heart of many people across our region, serving as a major part of our heritage and our economy.

“As a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I have and will continue to support any efforts in protecting National Forests, especially in Pennsylvania. But the work Janet and Raul do have a lasting effect on how we ensure the continued stewardship of Pennsylvania’s woodlands. Thank you both for your continued work.”

“Family forest owners like Raul and Janet are some of the unsung heroes of our forests,” said Under Secretary Bonnie. “What most don’t realize is that family forest owners are the largest ownership group of our forests in the U.S., not the federal government. What’s more, the work they do on their land, is felt far beyond their properties – for wildlife habitat, clean water, recreation and more.”

Chiesa and Sredy, who took ownership of Beckets Run Woodlands, within the state-designated Beckets Run Biodiversity Area, in 2007, found themselves managers of a severely damaged property due to poor agriculture practices, air pollution, vandalism and fractured ownership. Wildlife in the area struggled to move through the underbrush and lacked the needed food because of invasive species and disease.

Chiesa and Sredy immediately created a management plan and set on a path to restore the native ecosystem, improving the health of their trees, eradicating invasives and planting species that provided food for wildlife. Not long after, they were certified in the American Tree Farm System and enrolled in the U.S. Forest Service Forest Stewardship Program with the support of DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry.

“As you know, it was DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry that took us by the hand and brought us to where we are today,” the pair said in joint statement thanking the bureau. “We should all be proud of this partnership.”

A sign denotes the latest honor bestowed to the couple and their land: “National Tree Farm of the Year 2015.”

In a state known for deer hunting, Chiesa and Sredy saw an opportunity to provide for the wildlife, while also providing for the community. They established a wildlife management partnership with neighboring landowners and the Pa. Game Commission to improve wildlife and game, and provide recreational hunting to more than 100 hunters. The two also have formed an educational partnership with neighbors, the local university and DCNR to protect and study rare Pennsylvania plant species.

“Our Tree Farmers are significantly contributing beyond their own property boundaries, and they are doing it in fresh, creative ways,” said Tom Martin of AFF. “Recognizing and honoring individuals like Janet and Raul is the least we can do to thank them.” Janet and Raul were recognized this past summer with other families as one ATFS’s four Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.

ATFS, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next year, began the time-honored tradition of recognizing a National Outstanding Tree Farmer from the more than 82,000 Tree Farmers in the 1990s. Individuals considered for the award must demonstrate exceptional efforts to preserve and enhance their woodlands, which conserves and enhances 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.

The year’s Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award is made possible thanks in part to the support of Plum Creek Timber Co.

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November 4, 2015

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