Ch­e­sa­peake Cham­pion

Jerry Har­ris hon­ored for con­ser­va­tion ef­forts

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By HOWARD FREEDLANDER

EAS­TON — Re­tir­ing in 2000 af­ter 35 years in cor­po­rate sales and ex­ec­u­tive man­age­ment, Jerry Har­ris be­gan a new ca­reer: he be­came a full-time con­ser­va­tion­ist and ed­u­ca­tor. Ac­tu­ally, he just con­tin­ued what he had been do­ing since 1962 as a col­lege stu­dent.

An avid hunter since he was 11 years old in the San Fran­cisco Bay area of Cal­i­for­nia, Har­ris and his wife, Bobbi, set­tled into their 110-acre farm, Mal­lard Haven, in Church Creek in south Dorch­ester County af­ter mov­ing from Philadel­phia and ex­it­ing the work world.

Us­ing his own funds, Har­ris has cre­ated a pro­duc­tive water­fowl habi­tat fronting the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and Honga River. His acreage on two farms now totals 580.

In recog­ni­tion of his sin­gu­lar ef­forts to de­velop a refuge that draws ducks and geese, while en­hanc­ing wa­ter qual­ity through wet­lands and hold­ing ponds, Horn Point Lab­o­ra­tory, a ma­rine sci­ence lab in Cam­bridge, part of the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence, has named Har­ris its sixth re­cip­i­ent of its cov­eted Ch­e­sa­peake Cham­pion award.

Mike Ro­man, HPL di­rec­tor, said, “We could not find a more fit­ting part­ner in our ef­forts to en­sure that our marsh­lands are pre­served for wildlife habi­tat and coastal sus­tain­abil­ity. We are de­lighted to honor our good friend and de­voted ed­u­ca­tor, Jerry Har­ris.”

The Ch­e­sa­peake Cham­pion event will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Fri­day, April 27, at the Water­fowl Ch­e­sa­peake build­ing in the old Na­tional Guard Ar­mory, 40 Har­ri­son St., in Eas­ton.

This honor is not the first for 75-year-old Har­ris. In 2013, he was named the Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources Con­ser­va­tion­ist of the Year.

Har­ris said, “I want to leave the land and en­vi­ron­ment bet­ter than we found it. We don’t own the land, we just bor­row it.”

“It’s nice to be rec­og­nized for your ef­forts. It’s grat­i­fy­ing and pleas­ing. I will con­tinue do­ing what I’m do­ing as long as God lets me. Hunt­ing and con­ser­va­tion are in­ter­twined,” he said.

Har­ris joins five prior re­cip­i­ents, each with a par­tic­u­lar twist on im­prov­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal good­ness of the East­ern Shore: Amy Haines, John E. “Chip” Akridge, Al­bert Pritch­ett, Jor­dan and Alice Lloyd, and Jim Brighton.

Ro­man said, “Since 2013, when we launched the Ch­e­sa­peake Cham­pion award, we have cel­e­brated the achieve­ments of East­ern Shore in­di­vid­u­als com­mit­ted to us­ing lo­cally grown food in their busi­nesses, cre­at­ing water­fowl habi­tats and im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity, serv­ing as lead­ers of vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions and study­ing the bio-di­ver­sity of our great state.”

In 1962, when Har­ris was a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, he founded the first-ever stu­dent chap­ter of Ducks Un­lim­ited, a wild­fowl conser va­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion. His fo­cus and pas­sion for hunt­ing, con­ser­va­tion and education be­gan then — and never stopped for 55 years. He es­tab­lished the chap­ter with the guid­ance of A. Starker Leopold, a UC pro­fes­sor and renowned au­thor, forester, zo­ol­o­gist and con­ser­va­tion­ist.

Leopold served as a mem­ber of the spe­cial ad­vi­sory board on wildlife man­age­ment for the fed­eral Depart­ment of In­te­rior and wrote the “Leopold Re­port,” a series of rec­om­men­da­tions con­cern­ing wildlife and ecosys­tem man­age­ment in the countr y’s na­tional parks. His fa­ther, Aldo Leopold, is con­sid­ered the fa­ther of wildlife ecol­ogy in the United States. Har­ris con­nected with a sub­stan­tive men­tor at a young age.

Har­ris, who en­joyed a suc­cess­ful busi­ness ca­reer with a public com­pany that dis­trib­uted sci­en­tific and elec­tronic equip­ment, con­sis­tently hewed to his roots as a hunter and con­ser­va­tion­ist.

Now, in his sec­ond ca­reer, he is de­vel­op­ing a le­gacy that has po­si­tioned his farms as ed­u­ca­tional demon­stra­tion sites, tout­ing the in­trin­sic value of wild­fowl habi­tat and re­spon­si­ble hunt­ing (only shoot what you plan to eat and then stop).

Work­ing with Dr. Chris Wil­liams, wild­fowl ecol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Delaware, Har­ris hosted a three-day course in Jan­uar y for 10 stu­dents in­tend­ing to be­come wildlife man­agers. The course eval­u­a­tions re­flected an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the stu­dents.

• “This course al­lowed me to grow as a stu­dent and re­ally put things into per­spec­tive for me. I was able to bond with so many peo­ple and hit a mile­stone in my ca­reer as a stu­dent hop­ing to work in the wildlife pro­fes­sion.”

• “I did not think that I had much in­ter­est in work­ing with water­fowl be­fore this course, but now I am re­ally look­ing for­ward to join­ing the Ducks Un­lim­ited chap­ter at U.D. and fur­ther­ing my knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. I learned so much about hunt­ing as a conser va­tion tool and am now able to share my knowl­edge with those who may not re­al­ize how im­por­tant hunters are to con­ser­va­tion ef­forts.”

The next course may ex­pand to 20, Har­ris said, to in­clude Mary­land Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff.

An­other part of Har­ris’ ed­u­ca­tional outreach is a one-day tu­to­rial, con­ducted this year on April 19, for roughly 80 landown­ers from 40 to 50 Mid-Shore farms. The goal is to teach par­tic­i­pants how to cre­ate wild­fowl habi­tat, train re­triev­ers, and host talks by Ducks Un­lim­ited, Univer­sity of Delaware and state rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

As the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of a cor­po­ra­tion that had 3,000 em­ploy­ees, Har­ris re­al­ized that suc­cess called for buy-in and be­lief in the mis­sion and prod­ucts. Con­se­quently, the com­pany did well. He is em­ploy­ing the same phi­los­o­phy in gen­er­at­ing a shared vi­sion in cre­at­ing wild­fowl habi­tat and at­tract­ing birds to the East­ern Shore, and im­prov­ing wa­ter qual­ity.

In his low-key, mea­sured way, Har­ris is es­pe­cially pas­sion­ate not only about his “waste, not want” ap­proach to hunt­ing, but also his habi­tat-cre­ation meth­ods. He talks about the six to eight hold­ing ponds on his prop­erty and their util­ity in al­low­ing silt to set­tle and be fil­tered.

He talks about his “moist soil plants,” which pro­vide high nu­tri­tional value to water­fowl. These plants act as a cover crop, which ab­sorbs pol­lu­tion-caus­ing ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rous. Also, these plants in the ponds de­ter the surge of wa­ter dur­ing heavy rains, thus pre­vent­ing silt from en­ter­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and its es­tu­ar­ies. The ponds pro­vide the growth of sub­merged aquatic veg­e­ta­tion — un­der­wa­ter grasses that pro­vide food for wildlife and add oxy­gen to the wa­ter.

Al Sikes, a long­time friend of Har­ris, said, “In­deed, it is my ex­pe­ri­ence that hunters like Jerry Har­ris make an ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tion to all of us who love a sun­rise with birds on the wing. Or who marvel at a Wood Duck fly­ing into a small cir­cu­lar open­ing in an oak tree. Or who worry that their chil­dren will not ex­pe­ri­ence the same thrill.”

Tick­ets to HPL’s Ch­e­sa­peake Cham­pion cel­e­bra­tion cost $50. Tick­ets and spon­sor­ships can be pur­chased on­line at um­ces. edu/events/ch­e­sa­peake-cham pion-2018, or by con­tact­ing Carin Starr at cstarr@um­ces.edu or 410-221-8408.

Pro­ceeds from the event will be used to help fund a new Horn Point Lab ini­tia­tive, the Marsh Ecol­ogy and Restora­tion Lab­o­ra­tory. This state-of-the-art fa­cil­ity will be a venue to con­duct re­search on marsh­lands and their crit­i­cal role in pro­vid­ing habi­tat, de­ter­ring the loss of land due to sea-level rise and ero­sion, and im­prov­ing Bay wa­ter qual­ity.

The Akridge Fam­ily Foun­da­tion has stepped up as the Cham­pion spon­sor for the April 27 event. To date, other in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies spon­sor­ing the event in­clude Jerry and Bobbi Har­ris, Cot­ting­ham Farm, Sheila and Tom Buck­mas­ter, Buffy Line­han, Turn­ers Creek Farms, Earth Data Inc., Eas­ton Air­port, Al and Dag­mar Gipe, Al­bert and Jen­nifer Pritch­ett, Mike and Jen­nie Ro­man, Bev­erly and Richard Til­gh­man, Cap­tain’s Ketch Seafood Inc., Jock Beebe and Carin Starr, Howard and Liz Freedlander, Chip and Patty Heaps, Martha Horner, El­iz­a­beth North and Joaquin Chaves, Bob and Dale Rauch, Bar­bara and Skip Wat­son, and Phil and Irmy Web­ster.

PHOTO BY KRISTI MOORE

Mal­lard Haven Farm is an idyl­lic home for win­ter­ing water­fowl.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Jerry Har­ris at 11 with his un­cle fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful day in the field. Har­ris is the sixth per­son to be hon­ored by Horn Point Lab­o­ra­tory, a ma­rine sci­ence lab in Cam­bridge, part of the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence, as a Ch­e­sa­peake Cham­pion.

PHOTO BY KRISTI MOORE

Jerry Har­ris as­sesses smart weeds, a duck del­i­cacy and nutri­ent-rich food source.

PHOTO BY KRISTI MOORE

Jerry Har­ris and his marsh com­pan­ions Bo, Mad­die and Rusty.

PHOTO BY KRISTI MOORE

The sixth Ch­e­sa­peake Cham­pion, Jerry Har­ris, has a sat­is­fied smile while out sur­vey­ing his farm, Mal­lard Haven.

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