On May 17, the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association (PALTA) honored Troy Firth with the 2019 Lifetime Conservation Leadership Award. Firth received the award at the annual Pennsylvania Land Conservation Conference, held this year at Skytop Lodge.
For over 45 years, Troy Firth has set himself apart as a responsible and thoughtful pioneer in sustainable forestry.
Since 1971, Firth has practiced sustainable forestry as the owner and manager of Firth Maple Products, producing and selling certified organic maple syrup while taking a different approach to sustainable timber harvesting. Firth led the movement towards uneven-aged forest management instead of intensive even-aged management, a method that cultivates greater forest habitat diversity and ecosystem integrity. In an era when mechanical tree removal is the status quo, Firth uses horses to skid logs on his 7,000 acres of forest, demonstrating that horses can meet the needs of industrial forestry without compromising the health of the forest floor.
In 2004, Firth founded the Foundation for Sustainable Forests (FSF), a land trust with the mission of protecting forested ecosystems while supporting communities through sustainably managed working forests. To date, FSF has protected over 1,000 acres, with bequests of several thousand additional acres (including properties held by Firth and his wife Lynn). In recent years, FSF hired its first executive director and received the first donation to its visionary shared gift program, in which a land donor dedicates a portion of all future timber proceeds to a local organization or institution. The gift program is another example of Firth’s commitment to interweaving conservation with community.
“Troy has taught me to truly think about what ‘perpetuity’ means to a piece of land,” said Annie Socci, executive director of the Foundation for Sustainable Forests. “The lifespan of a forest, if cared for, is far greater than any of us. In the woods, Troy thinks and manages on a time scale that matches that of both the forest ecosystem and the Foundation for Sustainable Forests as an organization. To do so takes patience, humility, and a unique long-term view.”
“In his 45 years as a leader in sustainable forestry, Troy has had a direct hand in the management of over 100,000 acres of Penn’s Woods,” said Jim Finley, director of the Penn State Center for Private Forests. “His leadership in the industry by creating and sustaining a ‘kind use’ standard of forestry that benefits both land and people has been exceptional. His enduring commitment to preserving working forests by protecting both forest ecosystem health and the economic health of rural communities is both steadfast and incredibly timely.”
Under Firth’s leadership, FSF has also pioneered a new model of land protection in which the timber it protects serves as a form of endowment: small, periodic timber harvests that are beneficial for the forest fund the Foundation’s operations and outreach initiatives. This model pioneered by Firth truly embodies sustainability, for both forests and the organization.
Firth has received numerous accolades from conservation and forest industry groups, including the Pennsylvania Tree Farmer of the Year Award, Forest Conservation Stewardship Award, and many others. In his 2013 essay “A Forest Conversation,” acclaimed author Wendell Berry wrote of Firth’s work:
“A forest, kindly used, will outlive unimaginably any of its trees.”
“Troy’s vision and dedication are inspiring,” said Andy Loza, executive director of PALTA. “On behalf of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association’s 75 member organizations and their 120,000 supporters, I thank him for his decades of leadership in protecting and sustainably managing Pennsylvania’s forests.”