Jerry Harris honored for conservation efforts
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Mallard Haven Farm is an idyllic home for wintering waterfowl.
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.
Jerry Harris assesses smart weeds, a duck delicacy and nutrient-rich food source.
Jerry Harris and his marsh companions Bo, Maddie and Rusty.
The sixth Chesapeake Champion, Jerry Harris, has a satisfied smile while out surveying his farm, Mallard Haven.