OLYMPIA - When Bob and Lynette (Habersetzer) Falkner began operating Custer Creek Tree Farm in Pacific County in 1983 after her father's death, they never thought that 20 years later they would be chosen the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.

But on Oct. 18, the Falkners became only the second Washington tree farmers in 60 years to be nationally recognized by the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), a program of the American Forest Foundation. This annual ATFS award recognizes outstanding sustainable forest management on privately owned forestland. The Falkners accepted the award at the National Tree Farmer Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

"For us, it's such a special honor because of my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, who carved this farm out of nothing," said Lynette Falkner. "The overwhelming feeling I have is the generational aspect. It's such an honor to them."

Custer Creek Tree Farm is located in Frances, which is between Raymond and Chehalis. The 837-acre farm was homesteaded in 1888 by Lynette's great-grandparents, and handed down to the next generation ever since. Lynette said as a student at Seattle University "I didn't really think about the legacy of the farm. But it became very important to me over the years."

Lynette said her 92-year-old mother, Ruth Habersetzer, was thrilled when she heard their farm had beat out thousands of other tree farms for the national title.

"She couldn't believe that our little farm, in the little town of Frances, would be recognized nationally," Lynette said.

For the Falkners, it also means national recognition for an often overlooked industry, an industry that relies on the success of small family farms as well as large, industrial landowners.

"This will really help get the message out that the timber resource industry is such an incredible industry and how much it means to the state of Washington," she said.

To become the National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year, the Falkners had to win first the state and then the regional title. The prestigious national title is given to the top non-industrial tree farmer who has demonstrated exemplary forest management skills. The Custer Creek Tree Farm is managed to promote healthy tree growth and to develop wildlife, fish and water resources. The Falkners were recognized for their ability to demonstrate the multiple-use principles of the American Tree Farm System, and for their willingness to communicate the forest management message to a variety of audiences.

"We want to stress the importance of the viability of small tree farms," said Bob Falkner. "In order to be able to pass our farms down to future generations, we need the ability to work the land and harvest the trees. It has to be a viable economic unit."

The Falkners are members of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, Washington Contract Loggers Association, Northwest Woodlands Owners Association, National Woodland Owners Association and the Washington Forest Protection Association. They have four children, Kate, Tim, Mary Beth and Elly.

In describing what the family farm means to him, Tim wrote, "My hope for the farm is that it will endure in the family and continue to be a place where others can both learn about forestry and land management and enjoy the splendor of nature."

The ATFS has a nationwide membership of nearly 62,000 landowners, who collectively own 77 million acres. The ATFS was established in response to concerns that America's private forests were being cut at unsustainable rates without reforestation. It all began in 1941 when the first Tree Farm was designated in Washington state.

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