Meet the Forester Who’s Leading People to Clean Fresh Water

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Rich Shockey and his wife kayaking on a beautiful fall afternoon

There’s a quiet place along the Cacapon River in West Virginia where four generations of the Shockey family go to see the eagles fly, tells stories around the campfire, and hear the soothing waters flow. The surrounding dirt trails welcome the family’s biking and hiking adventures. The river — perfect for swimming, kayaking, and tubing.

It’s the same calming oasis where Rich Shockey remembers helping his dad and uncle build a family cabin when he was 10. He’s a grandfather now and wisely speaks of the value of natural spaces. “I’m so convinced that if we get kids outside at a young age, it sticks.”

A Career in Conservation

That certainly was the case for Shockey. After graduating from West Virginia University in 1969 with a bachelor’s in science in forest land management, followed by a U.S. Army tour in West Germany, he worked for the Washington County Conservation District in Hagerstown, Maryland.

A few years later, he began a career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, working first in Maryland and later in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Rich Shockey and his wife kayaking on a beautiful fall afternoon

“I grew up in and around forests. It was a natural fit for me,” Shockey says matter-of-factly. Today, he works as a contract employee with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, assigned to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

As an ecological information specialist, he reviews projects on private land for threatened, endangered, and other plant species of concern.

Spreading the Word About Streamside Forests for 25 Years

He is also one of Stroud Water Research Center’s most effective partners helping to spread the word about how streamside forests protect and restore streams and rivers.

During the last 25 years, he has helped organize over 40 workshops involving more than 1,600 conservation professionals, including consultants and groups from NRCS, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Farm Services Agency, DCNR, and conservation districts.

“What we’re doing to our fresh water is detrimental, and conservation professionals are used to focusing on just reducing pollution. These workshops give a new perspective about the importance of forested riparian buffers.”

The feedback Shockey has received from the students, farmers, engineers, biologists, and others who have attended the workshops has been positive. Because forest buffers are a relatively low-cost, low-tech method of protecting freshwater resources, many participants have made changes in their operations.

“When I talk with folks about forested riparian buffers, my first question is ‘Have you been to a Stroud Center Buffer Workshop with Bern Sweeney?’ If the answer is yes, the level of discussion is much higher because of what they’ve learned. Many researchers are content to simply research and publish, but Bern Sweeney believes that research and publications mean nothing unless the information they generate gets into the hands of conservation professionals and results in positive changes for the integrity of streams and their watersheds.”

The Shockeys with their grandchildren. “My hope is to help insure enough fresh water for future generations,” Shockey says.

“The Kind of Guy Every Scientist Hopes Comes Into His or Her Life”

The Shockeys with their grandchildren. “My hope is to help insure enough fresh water for future generations,” Shockey says.

Reflecting on Shockey’s many years of helping the Stroud Center make this belief a reality, Sweeney says, “Rich is the kind of guy that every scientist hopes comes into his or her life at some point in time. He gets the science and how careful placement of its simplified details into the hands of conservationists can empower them to get best management practices on the ground sooner rather than later and at a meaningful scale.”

Shockey’s enthusiasm for the buffer trainings is infectious, and he continues to look for ways to help improve the trainings.

“From my perspective, to ensure adequate fresh water and food for our growing population, we need more forested riparian buffers along our small streams, we need to improve soil health on our agricultural lands (something the Stroud Center also promotes and actively studies), and we need to educate the youth.”

“The Stroud Center has a fantastic youth program, but we all need to get kids outdoors and into the woods. If kids don’t appreciate the outdoors, they will not learn to take care of their environment.”