Md. Forester of the Year credits his Scout training

April 16, 1995|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Sun Staff Writer

Michael J. Huneke is just a Boy Scout at heart.

The hard-driving, 25-year-old Harford resident was named Maryland's Forester of the Year for 1994 for his extensive work in establishing forests along streams and rivers flowing into Chesapeake Bay.

He was chosen for the award over 70 other foresters statewide after two years in the Maryland Forest Service, but is not ready to take full credit.

"Here's what it boils down to: Everything that I am, and everything that I will be, I owe to the Boy Scouts," he said.

The Scouts, he said, taught him to work hard, to plan and to organize, but mostly to get things done.

"Mike's not the average guy," said Jeffrey L. Horan, Mr. Huneke's boss and the regional forester in charge of Harford, Cecil, Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Montgomery counties. "He's clearly an overachiever. He takes on responsibility very readily, and he's successful."

Mr. Horan doesn't think anyone else has ever won the top forester award so early in a career. Mr. Huneke got the award, along with an engraved plaque, March 10. He is a contractual employee making $25,000 a year, with no benefits.

Slender and of average height, Mr. Huneke wears small, round eyeglasses -- giving him a slight resemblance to singer John Denver. His mild appearance belies his fierce determination as an outdoorsman.

He captained the lumberjack team while studying forestry at the State College of New York in Syracuse -- mastering such skills as climbing poles, splitting wood and throwing axes.

Last year, he made three trips to fight forest fires in Montana, Washington and Idaho.

On a cold, windy day a week ago, Mr. Huneke could be found sloshing along the bank of the Little Gunpowder River where it snakes past Jarrettsville Pike. He was working on Willow Oak Farm, planting willow seedlings.

Mr. Huneke and a work crew cut down several willow trees and were planting sections of the stump and branches -- a technique called "willow posting" -- to stabilize part of the riverbank damaged by erosion. Under the bark of the willow branches are buds that will take root, Mr. Huneke said.

"Every single part of the tree we'll use," Mr. Huneke said. "If we can get it into the ground, it'll sprout."

Planting the willow seedlings is part of a stewardship plan Mr. Huneke wrote for the landowner, Gerald Stautberg, owner of Jerry's Chevrolet.

That section of the Little Gunpowder will have a 50-foot-wide buffer of forest on each bank, with electric fences to keep Mr. Stautberg's cattle away from the water. Those measures will improve water quality by inhibiting nitrates from cow manure and sediment from flowing into the river and, ultimately, the bay.

It's an important and relatively cheap way of restoring the health of the bay, Mr. Huneke said, if private landowners can be convinced of the value of planting trees along streams that flow through their property.

Mr. Huneke has been particularly successful at it.

"Just put him in touch with the landowner and he runs with it," said Scott G. McGill, a member of Trout Unlimited, an environmental group that hopes the growth of forest buffers will help clean and cool rivers and revive trout populations.

DTC "The trick is," Mr. Huneke said, "you have to do what the landowner wants to do. My job is to listen to what they want to do and help them do it."

Last year alone, 15 landowners established 14,000 feet of forests along streams and rivers with Mr. Huneke's help. Mr. Huneke also wrote 11 stewardship plans for private and public forests.

Along with that work and fighting fires out West, Mr. Huneke was involved in dozens of other projects. He helped count the trees in Bel Air. He helped organize a foresters' float for Fourth of July parades. And he helped rebuild a fire tower at Elk Neck State Forest in Cecil County.

"Mike always delivers more than you expect," said Reed L. Blom, director of camping for the Baltimore Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, who has known Mr. Huneke for years as an Eagle Scout.

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