College Station forester honored for work in Galveston after Hurricane Ike

Longtime Texas Forest Service forester Pete Smith was honored this week with a Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence for his extensive work on trees issues in Galveston following Hurricane Ike.

Smith is the agency’s urban forestry partnership coordinator. He has worked for Texas Forest Service for more than two decades. He received the Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence-Forester on Monday during the annual Texas AgriLife Conference.

“It’s a great honor but bittersweet because it’s the result of an ecological disaster — and a human one. Some people lost all their possessions and were out of their homes for a year,” Smith said, referring to the many Galveston Island residents who were devastated by the massive storm.

“It humbles me to think about it. But it’s great to see hard work and expertise rewarded, especially when it’s related to a service agency like ours where quality service is the goal every day.”

Given out annually, the Vice Chancellor’s awards are designed to recognize great achievements made by Texas A&M AgriLife employees. Twenty-five awards were presented during this year’s conference.

Interim Director Tom Boggus praised Smith for his thorough and professional work and noted that as partnership coordinator, there was no one better at working with external partners and cooperators.

“What I like about Pete is his passion. He doesn’t do anything halfway or so-so. If he’s going to do it, he’s going to pour himself into it,” Boggus said. “That kind of passion and drive was evident in his work in Galveston. He cares about people. He doesn’t just listen to people, he hears them. He empathizes with them.”

Smith has been working with island residents since shortly after the storm slammed into the Texas coastline, devastating homes and businesses and submerging trees that didn’t topple in a salty storm surge.

Leading a team of fellow foresters, the College Station-based forester became a fixture on the island, spending days, nights and weekends in the coastal community. He surveyed trees, sorting the living from the dead. He counseled residents, listening to their stories of loss and redemption. He motivated community activists, helping them focus their reforestation efforts.

But more importantly, he served as a leader “using steady guidance, patient education and creative suggestions” to lead the community forward in the wake of a disaster, one supporter said.

“In short, he is not only a good tree person, he is a good people person,” City of Galveston Tree Committee Chair Jackie Cole wrote in her nomination letter. “[The] Galveston community would not be where we are today without Pete Smith and I recommend him for your Award in Excellence without reservation.”

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