Owners of an Alabama forest operation stood tall over more than 82,000 tree farmers when they were named as the Southern Regional Tree Farmers of the Year July 1.
The American Tree Farm System (ATFS) selected Cedar Creek Plantation in Butler County as one of four regional winners, automatically qualifying it for the honor of National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year.
Cedar Creek Plantation is operated by siblings Peggy Boutwell Autrey of Enterprise and John Boutwell and wife Ann of Prattville.
“I feel humbled and honored,” John Boutwell said. “I know there are a lot of other places that are just as loved and just as pretty, so it’s a huge honor.”
To claim the top spot, Boutwell must impress a panel of judges from the American Forest Foundation and the American public.
In addition to a presentation to the panel of judges, the competition included online voting for the finalists, which was set to end July 31. The online vote winner receives an extra vote toward the final tally by the judges.
Tom Martin of the American Forest Foundation, which operates ATFS, said tree farmers like the Boutwells are among the most environmentally conscious landowners on the planet.
“Our tree farmers are contributing environmental, social and economic goods significantly beyond their own property boundaries,” Martin said. “Recognizing and honoring these top individuals who help all Americans realize the everyday needs from forests, like clean water and air, is the least we can do to thank them.”
ATFS, which celebrates its 75th anniversary next year, has honored more than 150 exceptional Regional Outstanding Tree Farmers since the award’s inception in 1976. These individuals are considered the top tier of woodland owners for forest stewardship and the promotion of good land management within their communities. Woodland owners considered for the award must demonstrate exceptional efforts to preserve and enhance their woodlands.
Boutwell said ATFS membership is one of the most valuable investments he’s made for his farm.
“The Tree Farm System is about doing things right,” he said. “It doesn’t cost you anything. It makes you think out a plan for your farm, and it has certainly made me a better manager of our property.”
For information about the National Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year contest visit the ATFS website at treefarmsystem.org/2015-otfy.