A couple who own a tree farm on the border of Grays Harbor and Thurston counties have won the 2013 Washington Tree Farmer of the Year award.
Ken and Bonnie Miller met in the first grade and have been together for 64 years.
The pair of Oakville natives have owned their award-winning tree farm for the last two decades.
“We’ve spend a lot of time getting the world to know what a good bunch of people small family tree farmers are,” Ken Miller, 69, said. “We’re pretty proud.”
The Washington Tree Farm Program, a group of small forest landowners, administers the award based on the farmer’s stewardship, management plan, timber health, innovation and community involvement.
“The Millers have dedicated a lot of time to represent tree farm owners in forest policy and public education, in addition to being wonderful hosts for many tree farm events on their property, ” Mark Doumit, of the Washington Forest Protection Association, said in a press release.
The Miller Tree Farm covers two parcels: 40 acres next to Millersylvania State Park, south of Olympia, where the couple lives, and 42 acres just east of Oakville.
“Anyone who has forest land should go to environmental heaven,” Miller said, noting tree farms provide clean air and water as well as animal habitats. “It’s a wonderful byproduct of the business of growing timber.”
The couple host demonstrations and social events on the farm and have helped revive the South Sound chapter of the WFFA to one of the most active chapters in the state, the release said.
Their goal with the farm is to not just generate retirement income but maintain wildlife habitat and give back through outreach efforts to the forestry industry, from which Ken Miller is retired.
“We do try to show people the right and wrong ways to do things,” Miller said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’m not shy about sharing.”
Miller has also spent time in Olympia representing the WFFA and family forest owners before the state Forest Practices Board. He is a member of the state Department of Natural Resources’ Small Forest Landowner Advisory Committee, on which he has been active for 10 years.
“Those of us sustainably managing forestland are the original environmentalists,” he said. “I’ve never understood why we’re at odds with the environmentalists when we do so much for the environment.”
In addition to the Millers, family-owned tree farms on Camano Island, the Kitsap Peninsula and in Lewis County were among the four nominees for the Tree Farmer of the Year award.
Dale and Marilyn Tracy, who own the 146-acre Hillcrest Tree Farm south of Chehalis received a nomination.
“It’s exciting to think your tree farm is good enough to compete with someone else’s,” Marilyn Tracy said following the nominations in March.
The Millers will now go on to the regional tree farm competition and possibly the national contest.