The Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) hosts the 6th annual Chesapeake Champion celebration to honor this year’s Champion, Jerry Harris, for his passion and dedication to marshland restoration. The event will take place on Friday, April 27 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Waterfowl Armory, located at 40 South Harrison Street in Easton. The reception honors Jerry, while guests savor hors d’oeuvres, sip a cocktail, explore science demonstrations with HPL graduate students, and share tales from the marsh with old friends and new acquaintances. All proceeds from the event benefit the scientific research of Horn Point Lab, helping to ensure the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
Tickets are $50 per person. Sponsorship opportunities are available. For more information, visit www.umces.edu/events/chesapeake-champion-2018 or contact Carin Starr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-221-8408.
The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science leads the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century.
The Horn Point Laboratory (HPL) of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) does research year after year to increase our understanding of the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay and what we need to do to restore and protect this great natural resource. This knowledge alone is not enough. Within our community, there are people who show, through their example, how to sustain our wildlife, landscapes, and water. They are the motivating force from which our desire to identify and honor local Chesapeake Champions was born. Past recipients include Amy Haines, John E. “Chip” Akridge, Albert Pritchett, Jordan and Alice Lloyd, and Jim Brighton.
The following is a window into Jerry Harris, a conservationist, businessman, and educator, written by Kristi Moore, UMCES Digital Communications Coordinator, following a walk on his farm in Dorchester County.
While strolling with Jerry Harris on his 230-acre farm, Mallard Haven, a group of ducks suddenly take off from their marsh hiding spot. Jerry, a committed conservationist and hunter, has created the perfect marshland habitat for migrating waterfowl for just this moment. His passion is clear in his words, as well as in his persona: his cell phone ring is ducks quacking and his SUV has a bumper sticker that reads “More Ducks, Less People.”
“Watching the birds come in, how they treat the marsh, how they fly around it, how they call – that whole symphony is quite intriguing to me,” Jerry said. “I never tire of that.”
Jerry, now 75, fell in love with waterfowl as a young boy when he started hunting, but has long seen the value of conservation over sport. On his farm, you shoot only what you can eat, and not one more. Those values were instilled in him from his first days hunting with his mentors and his grandfather, Burr Love, at a family hunting cabin in the San Francisco Bay area.
“The first year when I was 11 or so, they felt I was too young to hunt, and so I got to pick the ducks. The second year, I got to wash the dishes, do the cooking, and pick the ducks, and the third year, I got to finally hunt.”
Over the years, he hunted with two other men who influenced his values about hunting and conservation: Louis Rapp, an old-time duck hunter and friend of his great uncle, and Ray Lewis, who taught him about the soil management technique Jerry uses on his farm today.
“Over a period of 30 to 40 years, I hunted and gained extensive knowledge from all three of these people,” he said. “I was extraordinarily lucky to be able to partner with them over my lifetime.”
Living in New York in the early 1970s, Jerry would visit Maryland’s Eastern Shore to hunt geese, and he recognized the area’s bountiful appeal to waterfowl. Jerry, his wife, Bobby, and their three retrievers, Maddie, Rusty, and Bo, now spend their winters on their Eastern Shore farmland before flying west to spend summers in Montana.
Even before he retired, Jerry decided to devote much of his time to wetland conservation. Wanting to preserve vital marshlands and “to give back some,” Bobbi and Jerry created a family foundation that dedicates most of its funding to wetland conservation and a smaller portion to secondary education.
Jerry started getting involved with various wetlands organizations to determine how best to invest the foundation’s funds, including Delta Waterfowl, Waterfowl Chesapeake, Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited, of which he has been a member since he started a new Ducks Unlimited chapter as a student at University of California, Berkeley.
All the lessons Jerry absorbed from his mentors and experiences have turned him into a teacher for new generations of conservation managers. He thinks of Mallard Haven as a demonstration farm to teach others how they can use their properties to attract more waterfowl and to show how his moist soil management system attracts waterfowl and feeds their nutritional needs.
The farm is a natural maze of dirt paths, cornfields, wetlands, and a long trench that serves as freshwater storage. Depending on the time of year, it might look like another grain farm in the countryside, but when he wants to beckon ducks, Jerry and his farm manager, Sam LaCompte, will flood pockets of his farmland, or impoundments. At the end of the season, slowly draining the water encourages the growth of smart weeds that provide a diverse, appetizing food source to migrating waterfowl.
“We’re trying to demonstrate how collectively we can all make this a better place and preserve some of the rich heritage the Eastern Shore – Maryland , Delaware, Virginia – has had from a waterfowl standpoint,” he said.
Jerry is also helping facilitate a course that shows wildlife managers and leaders how hunting can balance with conservation. He was so impressed with a course on the West Coast that the University of California, Davis conducted with Ducks Unlimited and a local waterfowl conservation group, that past winter, Jerry and Dr. Chris Williams, wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware, developed and ran a similar course for the East Coast on Jerry’s Dorchester farms.
The first class, which included 10 students, recently ended and Jerry considers it a success. “None had experienced waterfowl hunting or shooting and over that three-day period, they went from 0 to 60 miles per hour. We’ve just seen their review of the program and it was very exciting to read their comments and how it had changed their perception about the role hunting plays in wildlife conservation,” Jerry said. “And that’s our goal – to make sure the future managers and leaders understand the role that hunting plays.”
Jerry hopes to keep the course going, serving as long as he can as a mentor to others, much as he was mentored throughout his life.
This year, Horn Point Laboratory will award Jerry Harris its Chesapeake Champion prize for his vision and leadership in marshland restoration and conservation. “We could not find a more fitting partner in our efforts to ensure our marshlands are preserved for wildlife habitat and coastal sustainability,” said Mike Roman, Director of Horn Point Laboratory. “We are delighted to honor our good friend and devoted educator, Jerry Harris.”
Proceeds from this year’s Chesapeake Champion event will be used to launch a new initiative, the Marsh Ecology and Restoration Laboratory. The Horn Point Laboratory is developing a state-of-the-art laboratory to conduct critical research and identify solutions to this important component of the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Marshlands provide a diverse habitat for waterfowl to winter over and rest during demanding migrations, as well as create coastal resilience and improve the Bay’s water quality. For more information, visit www.umces.edu.