Harold and Gay Thistle, Tree Farmers of the Year 2015

Greene county, 98 acres

The 2015 Pennsylvania Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year are Harold and Gay Thistle from Waynesburg, Greene County, in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The Thistles purchased their 98 acre Tree Farm in June of 1999. There were about 30 wooded acres and the rest was pastureland used for hay. The farm was used to raise sheep and then cattle. It has a generally southern aspect with one perennial stream in the northern woods and an intermittent stream in the wooded area near their residence at the southern end of the property. The original forested land is a typical Appalachian oak-hickory forest type. 

Since purchasing the property the Thistles planted over 3400 seedlings from 2000-2014. The species list includes black walnut, white ash, northern red oak, American chestnut, Chinese chestnut, white spruce, Douglas fir, and butternut. All seedlings were planted with deer protection (deer populations have ranged from manageable to very high). Some of the deer protection was successful, some not. Mulch mats were used with the 2000 planting of 800 Black walnuts and 400 White Ash. 

The Thistles are founding members of the SW PA Woodland Owners Association (SWPWO) which was formed in 2000. Harold served two terms as President and Gay also served two terms as President, two terms as Secretary and ten years as editor of the newsletter. At this time, Harold and Gay serve on the Board as a Past President. They became a Stewardship Farm in 2001 and joined American Tree Farm System in 2012. In 2011 they were recognized by the Greene County Conservation District and awarded the Outstanding Forest Conservationists award. The Thistles also belong to the American Chestnut Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, the National Woodland Owners Association, and the American Forest Foundation.

The management work on the property is accomplished mostly on weekends and evenings since both still work. The hardwood plantations that are accessible are mowed on an annual basis. They prune the trees to promote clear butt logs and cull out diseased trees. Time is spent managing the deer protection, straightening stakes and tubes, and replacing damaged and outgrown protectors. Most of their woodland time is taken up controlling invasive plants, which they primarily control mechanically by mowing. The mile-a-minute vine invasion is being treated biologically with weevils as part of a research project with West Virginia University and the U.S. Forest Service. They also have three tree planting plots, black walnut, white oak, and red oak, which are measured for growth. They are also in the first year of an NRCS program to remove invasive plants and plant more trees.

In addition to the management work, the Thistles have done a tremendous amount of outreach in a short period of time having organized and hosted numerous educational tours of their property on many occasions and for many different groups. Some of these include the SWPWO - Nov 2005, July 2007, and Sept 2014, the National Walnut Council - July 2013, Carmichaels Area School District - May 2014, the U.S. Forest Service Pesticide use Coordinators - 2014, Chainsaw Safety Game of Logging Course - Oct 2015, and the Bidwell Training Center, Pittsburgh, PA Horticultural Department. Both serve on the steering committee of the horticultural program at Bidwell Training Center. They also hosted three training sessions for their post-secondary students. The training sessions include, tree identification, invasive identification and eradication, chain sawing, pruning, and tree planting. They are also in the process of setting up a permanent plot for the school to manage.