The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership has awarded its 2022 Mira Lloyd Dock Partnership Diversity Awards to Dr. Zeshan Ismat of Lancaster City and Brennan Ka’aihue of Central Pennsylvania. Both were recognized for their conservation and Environmental Justice work in under-represented portions of their regions.
“The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership is pleased to honor Zeshan and Brennan’s work with Mira Lloyd Dock Partnership Diversity Awards,” said Brenda Sieglitz, CBF’s Senior Manager of the partnership and Assistant Director of the Making History Campaign.
“The criteria for this award have become centered around recognizing work in Environmental Justice communities and honoring people like Zeshan and Brennan who demonstrate initiative, commitment, and compassion for these regions and the people in them,” Sieglitz added.
Dr. Ismat started the Blackbirds Environmental Justice group to teach youngsters in Lancaster City about the environment in a fun way while emphasizing stewardship, community, and justice.
Brennan Ka’aihue serves in six counties as Project Coordinator for Central Pennsylvania Conservancy (CPC). Ka’aihue’s favorite work is getting young adults involved in hands-on conservation.
In 2015, Dr. Ismat pulled together a casual group of her daughter’s friends to emphasize stewardship, community, and justice in Lancaster City. She called the group Blackbirds Environmental Justice.
“Our goal is to rebuild a connection with the land,” Ismat said. “Our identity is tied to our land, and if that connection is broken or strained, it affects a community’s health. We hope that from this young group, we can inspire folks to be advocates for their own communities, with their own voices.”
Blackbirds meetings consisted of an environmental and social justice activities like cleaning up a local park or making welcome cards for new refugee neighbors. Meetings ended with craft projects like sketching wildlife observed on a hike, making dream catchers from willow tree branches, or leaf collages.
Ismat is a geology professor at Franklin & Marshall College and before Blackbirds she was working on anaerobic digesters, putting compost into barrels to collect methane that forms naturally and can then be used for power. While doing field work in Nepal in 2012, she came across communities using anaerobic digesters. She noted the huge impact these digesters had on communities -- providing food, water & energy security.
“Geoscience is a super white discipline, for a variety of reasons,” Ismat said. “Clearly this suggests that folks from marginalized communities don’t feel like they belong in geoscience. Being Brown (from Pakistan), I’ve felt like an outsider at times and so I’d like to try and change that, in whatever small ways I can, by highlighting some environmental issues that affect marginalized communities. All of these things happening at once is how Blackbirds got started.”
Upon seeing what the young people were doing, parents became interested. Blackbirds expanded to include adults, also working to design and install digestors. Adult Blackbirds are also increasing lead awareness in the city, going door-to-door to let people know about the City’s lead abatement.
Native Hawaiian Brennan Ka’aihue is a jack of all trades for the CPC. Ka’aihue monitors the group’s conservation easement on the Capital Area Greenbelt, interacts with rural landowners, serves the Carlisle community at the conservancy’s nearby Letort Spring Garden Preserve, and enjoys teaching children about the natural world.
Ka’aihue grew up in Las Vegas, Nev., graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology, and lives in Dauphin Borough along the Susquehanna River, north of Harrisburg.
Volunteering at central Pennsylvania state parks is among Ka’aihue’s favorite educational opportunities.
“I feel like we have a duty to teach and empower our young people and get them involved,” Ka’aihue said. “My hope is in getting people involved and active and showing them how easy it can be to care for the earth, that they feel the same feelings of excitement and joy that I get in doing this work.”
As a person of color, Ka’aihue has experienced the challenges of Environmental Justice. “I know what it feels like to not feel represented and to not feel like people are reaching out to you and getting you involved in stewardship of your own community,” Ka’aihue said.
“My approach to that is getting different people involved in these activities and making community connections,” Ka’aihue added. “Cross-pollinating with different groups of people, churches, school groups and getting to know people and making sure everybody has a voice at the table.”
As part of their Mira Lloyd Dock Awards, Ismat and Ka’aihue will receive $5,000 worth of trees and supplies each, to help advance their efforts.
Ismat would like Lancaster City to find urban locations for the trees and include the community in the decisions.
As a tree tender with the City of Harrisburg, Ka’aihue would like to use some of the trees for urban planting in the city. “Especially if climate change continues to progress. Reality is that urban communities often don’t have the tree coverage they need for health and wellbeing.”
CBF launched the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership in 2018 with a goal of planting 10 million trees for Pennsylvania to help meet the state’s Clean Water Blueprint. In mid-October, the partnership celebrated midpoint success by planting its 5-millionth tree.
Mira Lloyd Dock is recognized as the first Pennsylvania woman to lead the way in forest conservation. She was an advocate for Penn’s Woods and in 1901 was appointed to the State Forest Reservation Commission by Pennsylvania Governor William Stone.
The partnership presented the Dock Awards to Ismat and Ka’aihue at the Pennsylvania Forestry Association’s (PFA) 136th Annual Symposium in State College.
PFA presented its Mira Lloyd Dock Award to Linda L. Finley of State College. Finley is a forest landowner and a PFA member for more than 30 years. She is also the only woman to serve as PFA Board President.