Raul Chiesa and Janet Sredy, Tree Farmers of the Year 2014

Allegheny County, 110 Acres

The 2014 Pennsylvania Outstanding Tree Farm of the Year is Beckets Run Woodlands from Forward Township, Allegheny County in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The 110-acre family owned Stewardship Forest is the center of an ecosystem-based sustainable forestry enterprise that focuses on restoring the property's severely degraded forest, protecting biodiversity and creating a model for others to follow. Located only 20 miles south of downtown Pittsburgh within the Beckets Run Biodiversity Area, the property exemplifies the challenges facing forest management in the urban-wildland interface.

Acquired by the Sredy family in the early 1920's for agricultural purposes, the land parcel suffered multiple sequential detrimental impacts: Poor agricultural practices, a fractioned ownership, abandonment, air pollution during the Donora Steel Mills disaster of 1948, vandalism and the construction of natural gas pipelines. As a result, a destructive process of loss of vegetation, soil destabilization, erosion and infestation by invasive plant species, which was perpetuated by trespassing ATVs, dirt bikes and illegal dumping, transformed the parcel into a blighted property.

In 2007, after a lengthy legal process, the family ownership was finally re-consolidated. Janet Sredy, her husband Raul Chiesa and her brother and sister-in-law Mark and Patty became the sole owners and formed Beckets Run Woodlands, a Pennsylvania LLC with Raul and Janet as managers. To improve the property an ambitious adaptive business management master plan in conformance with the American Tree Farm System forest management standards is being aggressively implemented.

The conventional approach to forest improvement focuses on areas with established timber production capacity, implementing practices to enhance timber quality and quantity, all financed through timber commercialization, an approach that derives value from timber production.

Beckets Run Woodlands' approach focuses instead on the most ubiquitous severely impaired forest areas with no immediate timber production potential, implementing practices to restore the ecosystem and protect biodiversity so the forest can eventually again sustain timber production, support wildlife and provide other products and services. Using multiple technical and financial resources available to Pennsylvania landowners, including government and university sponsored programs and the commercialization of recreational hunting and mineral development, forming partnerships with neighbor landowners and establishing a formal commitment to standards of conservation, Beckets Run Woodlands is creating a model that derives value not just from timber production potential, but from forest conservation itself.

Raul and Janet are Pennsylvania Forest Steward Volunteers and are active in the Westmoreland Woodlands Improvement Association and the Southwestern PA Woodland Owners group.