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Southern forestry’s finest honored during SGSF award ceremony

Chelsea Ealum
Communications Director
Southern Group of State Foresters
group of award winners

Pictured L to R: Wade Waters, Rob Farrell, Joshua Johnston, Steve Grantham, Joe Fox

The Southern Group of State Foresters honored award recipients from Oklahoma, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Arkansas during their 2023 Annual Meeting

Oklahoma City, OK – The Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF) today hosted its annual award ceremony to recognize the outstanding work of forestry professionals in the southern region. The event was held in downtown Oklahoma City during the SGSF 2023 Annual Meeting.

The ceremony celebrated the achievements of forestry professionals who have made significant contributions to forest management and stewardship, community outreach, wildland fire management, conservation and sustainability. The awards were given to those who demonstrated exceptional leadership, innovation and collaboration in their work.

“We are honored and proud to celebrate some of the outstanding accomplishments of our southern forestry family,” said Mark Goeller, SGSF Chair and Oklahoma State Forester. “These people have had a significant impact within our region, leveraging hard work, innovation and the power of partnerships to keep our forests healthy and intact.”

This year’s awardees included:

The award ceremony, which was attended by a diverse group of forestry professionals, dignitaries and industry leaders, highlighted the dedication and hard work of the honorees and the positive impacts they have had toward the conservation, protection and enhancement of southern forests.

2023 Awards Ceremony

Urban & Community Forestry Partnership Award

Steve Grantham & Up With Trees
Tulsa, OK

Since 1976, the Tulsa-based non-profit organization, Up With Trees has been “empowering, educating and serving communities by utilizing trees for their environmental, economic, and social benefits.”  Their staff and volunteers have been important advocates for urban and community forestry and have selflessly served as the caretakers of Tulsa’s urban tree canopy, supported many statewide community forestry efforts and are some of Oklahoma’s true leaders. Steve Grantham, Executive Director for the nonprofit, is a longstanding member and past chair of the Oklahoma Community Forestry Council and serves on the Board of the Midwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Taylor Malone, the Program Director for Up With Trees, currently serves as secretary on the Oklahoma Community Forestry Council.


2023 Awards Ceremony

State Forestry Agency Personnel Award

Rob Farrell
Virginia State Forester
Virginia Department of Forestry

Rob Farrell is the state forester of Virginia, liaison to the SGSF U&CF Committee and sits on the National Association of State Foresters’ U&CF Committee. Rob’s leadership has helped state coordinators during these rapidly changing times. Rob is also an ISA Certified Arborist and actively still climbs trees when needed. Earlier this year he rescued a pair of Great Horned owlets that had fallen from their nest at the Virginia Department of Forestry Headquarters.


2023 Awards Ceremony

Southern Area Coordination Group Wildland Fire and Aviation Excellence Award

Wade Waters
Assistant State Forester – Fire Management and Emergency Response
Tennessee Department of Agriculture – Division of Forestry

The Southern Area Coordinating Group (SACG) Wildland Fire and Aviation Excellence Award is intended to recognize and encourage outstanding achievement in leadership development, safety and cooperation/collaboration. Wade Waters’ expertise in wildland fire, his focused determination on results and his respect within the wildland fire community have led a cultural change within the Tennessee Division of Forestry (TDF), allowing the agency to play a more cooperative role in addressing local, state, regional and national emergency response needs. For example, Wade developed TDF’s first state Incident Management Team and set up pathways for professional and leadership development through the program. He has also taken several actions to develop much safer work conditions and emergency response operations within the division, such as developing a Tennessee-specific comprehensive fire operations guide and developed and ensured implementation of NWCG based work/rest guidelines and procedures for extended in-state and out-of-state deployments, neither of which were in place before his employment. Finally, Wade has worked with partners, including the Tennessee Army National Guard, to update and create key collaborative agreements, which have significantly enhanced efficiency and effectiveness of mutual aid operations.


2023 Awards Ceremony

USFS Southern Region Forest Stewardship Forester Award

Joshua Johnston
Service Forester
North Carolina Forest Service

The Southern Region Forest Stewardship Forester Award recognizes state forestry agency personnel who have made a significant contribution to advancing the Forest Stewardship Program and Rural Forestry Assistance Program in their state or across the landscapes of multiple states. While responsible for other work activities, Joshua Johnston has made Forest Stewardship a priority in the six counties he covered in 2022. Josh led North Carolina in 2021 and 2022 in Forest Stewardship plan production, and In 2022 alone, he prepared 18% of the entire state’s Forest Stewardship plans for over 33,000 acres.  He has also led the state in number of Forest Stewardship Certifications where landowners have demonstrated active implementation of their plans. Outreach and education is a huge component of the Forest Stewardship Program and Josh hosted and educated more than 250 landowners at eight events, two of which focused on underserved communities. Additionally, Josh attends the annual North Carolina Forestry Association field day to help educate children on the importance of forestry. Josh exemplifies the purpose of the Forest Stewardship Program, which is to maintain and enhance the vital benefits private forestland provides society by facilitating long-term stewardship of private forest landscapes.


2023 Awards Ceremony

George E. Dissmeyer Outstanding Service Award for Forest Water Resources

Joe Fox
Arkansas State Forester
Arkansas Department of Agriculture – Division of Forestry

The George E. Dissmeyer Award recognizes outstanding forestry service and achievement in forest water quality protection. Over his career, Joe Fox has demonstrated a passion for educating the public on good forest management and working with legislators to improve forest management policy and programming. Throughout his career as Arkansas State Forester, Joe has been intimately involved with the SGSF Water Resources Committee and has led the charge on increasing awareness of the benefits of forestry best management practices. Joe’s efforts have led to the creation of the Southeastern Partnership for Forests and Water, which aims to increase the linkage between landowners managing forestlands and water utility districts who provide clean water to the public from those forests. Joe is passionate about increasing landowner engagement and raising awareness of the link between healthy, managed private forests and clean water.



About the Southern Group of State Foresters

The Southern Group of State Foresters (SGSF) is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation representing state forestry agencies within the 13 southeastern United States, and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. SGSF members collectively provide leadership, coordination, expertise and resources to sustain the economic, environmental, health and societal benefits of southern forests. This includes the delivery of regional support needed to address existing and emerging issues related to sustainable forest management, forest health, water resources, urban and community forestry, forest product markets, wildfire protection and disaster response.

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