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Extension specialist named an excellent faculty member

May 15, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

Jonathan Kays' office features the usual family photos, two computers and a chair that glides back and forth between the two.

But there also is a plaque honoring him as 2004 Extension Forester of the Year, a box of T-shirts and hats emblazoned with "Biosolids and Forests Research and Extension Team" and a book on his shelf titled "Tree Nuts" - not everyone can say that.

Kays, 51, is an extension specialist in natural resources at the Western Maryland Research and Education Center south of Hagerstown. The center is one of five regional offices maintained by the Maryland Cooperative Extension of the University of Maryland.

Recently, Kays was named one of three "excellent faculty members" by the university's board of regents - a distinction for which his boss says he is very deserving.

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"Jonathan has made a significant difference in the lives of many citizens in this county, as well as statewide," said Mary Ellen Waltemire, regional extension director.

Kays said education is what he does now - what he calls informal education for targeted programs.

"We do seminars and workshops where we also develop and implement those programs," Kays said.

He works with county extension agents and volunteers - some of whom he trains and then works with through the years.

Kays also works at targeting traditional landowners through a program called The Woods in Your Backyard.

"These are the people with one to 10 acres of forest land on their property. We help them understand what they have," Kays said.

Since professional foresters aren't interested in anything that small, Kays said the program is particularly important and volunteers such as master gardeners are vital.

"I'm excited about this," Kays said.

The backyard program is good for the natural resources and can ensure clean water, viable native wildlife populations, recreational opportunities and forest health.

The manual that accompanies the program also touts the benefits to small landowners of converting lawns to forest.

The box of T-shirts and hats is related to another project that Kays feels strongly about - the biosolids and forests research currently under way that is using biosolids (sludge) to grow marketable trees.

The idea is to dig trenches, fill them with sludge and cover the sludge with soil. A fast-growing hybrid poplar tree is then planted in the soil so its roots will grow down into the nutrient-rich sludge.

Those trees - which can grow to 35 feet in the seven-year cycle - are then harvested for pulp and the process is repeated.

"It is getting more and more difficult to find ways to get rid of sludge," Kays said, noting that an old gravel mine in Southern Maryland is being reclaimed via this method.

The program has been successfully used in the Pacific Northwest since the 1980s, Kays said. Locally, the effort is being supported through a $750,000 grant from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

In his duties, Kays also contributes to a forest newsletter that comes out four times a year and to the agency's Web site - www.naturalresources.umd.edu - duties of which he is very proud.

Armed with a bachelor's degree from Cook College at Rutgers University and master's degree from Virginia Tech at Blacksburg, Va., Kays came to the University of Maryland Extension Service in 1988.

He and his wife, Karen, met while both were studying forestry and wildlife management at Virginia Tech. The mother of their three daughters, she works part time at South Hagerstown High School as an instructional assistant.

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