A multi-partner program coordinated by UT Extension forestry specialist David Mercker has been awarded the 2016 Family Forests Education Award by two national forest-focused organizations. The honor was bestowed by the National Woodland Owners Association and the National Association of University Forest Resources Program. The award recognizes an outstanding university-based Extension or outreach program.
The award honors Mercker's coordination of the Tennessee Healthy Hardwoods program. The program has delivered high-quality, hand-on experiential field days where landowners benefit from field observation in Tennessee state and UT forests. The field days were initiated to provide field-based forestry and natural resource education to members of Tennessee's County Forestry Associations, which Mercker helped start and sustains. These associations work to educate family forest landowners and professional natural resource managers about sustainable forest and wildlife management.
Twenty faculty and professional foresters have presented sessions at 36 field days since the program's inception in 2006. These have reached nearly 2,300 landowners who, collectively, manage an estimated 345,000 acres of forests in the state. Indicators of the success of these events are that 100 percent of participants said they understood the importance of seeking professional advice prior to making forest management decisions and, among the audience the field days reached, 24 percent said they had never attended an Extension education event before, confirming that the program is delivering services to citizens who have not previously been reached by Extension.
Another result of the program is how it has bonded the forestry community in Tennessee. Recognition of the program is high, with professionals and forest families eager to take part. The program's logo is often seen on hats, gloves, Biltmore sticks, and herbicide bottles.
The Tennessee Healthy Hardwoods has been funded primarily by the state Department of Agriculture Forestry Division and the US Forest Service. Ten grants have been secured, totaling $396,771. In kind support has been provided by the network of UT Extension county offices and the Tennessee Forestry Association.
This year there were a record number of nominations for the Family Forest Education Award, making Mercker's honor all the more noteworthy.
Based in Jackson at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, Mercker has been a member of UTIA for 17 years and also has 13 years of experience as a private forestry consultant. As a UT Extension specialist, he works to educate and assist the nearly 450,000 private forest landowners in Tennessee about responsible forest management. Mercker's other program areas include the Teachers Conservation Workshop, the Master Loggers, Forest*A*Syst, crop tree release, hardwood lumber and stumpage pricing, 4-H, and bottomland hardwood restoration.