When fall begins, it signals a time to reflect on the change of season, the end of the dog days of summer and anticipation of cooler nights, migrating birds, colorful foliage and refreshing breezes (my favorite time of year).
At the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, this season also marks our time to celebrate the year’s accomplishments with friends and partners at our annual gala, The Taste of the Chesapeake, on Sept. 19.
The Taste celebrates watershed stewardship in a festive atmosphere of food, drink and music. It is also a gathering of partners in business, government and the environment which provides us with an opportunity to recognize outstanding environmental leaders. This year, the Alliance will give three such awards.
The Alliance’s top honor, the Environmental Leadership Award, was created in 2001 to honor Frances H. Flanagan, who served as executive director of the Alliance for more than 20 years and dedicated her life to environmental leadership and partnership-building throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The award recognizes an individual who is held in high esteem and whose legacy of accomplishments in Chesapeake Bay conservation are unique and noteworthy. The award also highlights those whose efforts have been consistent with the Alliance’s mission of fostering partnerships and building consensus to advance the cause of environmental stewardship in the watershed.
Past winners are noteworthy for their public service, including former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy, and Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Conservation Cindy Dunn. Others are known for public policy, such as Charlie Stek, who served for 28 years as projects director and policy adviser for Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes, or Sarah Taylor-Rogers, assistant director at University of Maryland’s Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology.
Those who have been honored for environmental leadership in their communities include Steele Phillips, George Wolff and George Hawkins. Some, like last year’s winner, Tom Horton, were recognized for their skill in inspiring a love for the Chesapeake.
Leaders do inspire us. They exemplify commitment, a search for knowledge and a tireless drive that reminds us of the importance of our own commitment to the environment.
Leaders also get things done. I admire those who speak up for and do what is right even when it is not popular; those who ask the right questions and embody passion that attracts others into a dialogue about solutions. Some leaders also take on the hard work of building consensus and use their creativity and will to make things happen.
This year, the Alliance is proud to honor Ann Pesiri Swanson as our Environmental Leadership Award winner. Swanson has been involved with Bay restoration efforts for more than three decades and has served as executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission for the last 25 years. The commission is a tri-state legislative assembly representing Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Since it was formed in 1980, it has been a powerful voice in supporting environmental initiatives through legislation, special studies and other initiatives.
By combining access to both the legislative and executive branches of each Bay state, and using her knowledge of natural resources and skills in policy-development and consensus-building, Swanson has earned a reputation for getting results — often in a highly political environment. She has been a tireless advocate for forging consensus among jurisdictions.
Some of the highlights of Swanson’s contributions include shepherding the ban on phosphate detergents in the states; fostering the passage of laws to protect the Bay’s shorelines; guiding the establishment of the first bi-state committee to promote better management of the blue crab; and working to create the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative in the U.S. Farm Bill. Swanson has been involved in all of the Chesapeake Bay agreements, including the drafting of the Chesapeake 2000 agreement, the 1992 amendments that created the tributary strategies and numerous Executive Council policies. She has worked with many partners to advance land conservation, agricultural programs, forest conservation, and most recently, an economic study of nutrient credit trading.
Swanson’s understanding of Bay issues also comes from an education in the sciences. A trained wildlife biologist and forest ecologist, she graduated from the University of Vermont and Yale University. Swanson served as chairman of the board of the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources for 11 years and continues to serve on its Executive Committee. She is an accomplished illustrator, craft artist, gardener, naturalist and sea kayaker.
This year, the Alliance will also recognize two Watershed Champions.
The first is Carin Bisland, associate director for the Office of Partnerships and Accountability at the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office. She is responsible for coordinating federal, state and local partnership actions to improve water quality, habitat and living resource conditions in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. Bisland has worked at the Bay Program since 1991.
Those who know Bisland appreciate one very important aspect of her personality — patience — a virtue that has come in very handy recently as she helps the EPA and Bay Program develop the new Bay agreement to be signed by the Executive Council later this year.
Bisland has demonstrated a true dedication to the Bay partnership and what it represents. She has been a tireless advocate for consensus-building, listening to the viewpoints of others and has been responsible for finding agreement on difficult and often contentious issues among states and the federal government. Bisland works to bring people together — and that is what the Alliance’s mission is all about.
Our second Watershed Champion is Steve Koehn, who has worked with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources since 1984 and is the director of its Forest Service. He is also known as the state forester. He has been a creative leader, working to pioneer innovative programs to restore riparian forests, target land conservation, expand urban tree canopy and manage forests sustainably. The Alliance shares Koehn’s belief in the strong link between forests and the quality of local rivers and the Bay. Koehn often says, “Trees are the solution to nonpoint source pollution!” Like the Lorax, he has been called on to speak for the trees, and people have listened.
Recently, Koehn led the process to certify the entire Maryland State Forest system, around 211,000 acres, as sustainable both through the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and using Forest Stewardship Council standards. He played a vital leadership role in the passage of the Maryland Sustainable Forestry Act of 2009, which recognizes healthy forests as essential to a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, and led the charge for the state’s landmark Forest Preservation Act of 2013. Maryland is the first state in the nation to establish a policy of No Net Loss of Forests and a statewide Tree Canopy Goal.
Please join us at the Taste of the Chesapeake on Sept. 19 at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis to celebrate the contributions of this year’s award winners as well as to salute all who work to conserve this national treasure — the Chesapeake Bay.
For details, or to purchase tickets, visit allianceforthebay.org.