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Texas Master Gardener Association Announces 2020 Award Winners

2020 Search for Excellence award winners were announced at the 2021 Texas Master Gardener Conference
The 2020 Search for Excellence award winners were announced at the 2021 Texas Master Gardener Annual Conference.

Texas Master Gardener Association (TMGA) was proud to announce the 2020 Texas Search for Excellence award winners during the annual conference.


To all our winning associations and individuals!

Texas Master Gardener Association (TMGA), in cooperation with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the Texas A&M University System, recognizes and presents awards for exemplary achievement.

The Texas Search for Excellence Awards Program is sponsored by the TMGA with guidance provided by the Texas Master Gardener Coordinator from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. The purpose of each award is to recognize outstanding Master Gardener people, associations, projects, and programs throughout the state of Texas for their outstanding contributions within the state.

All entries receiving Search for Excellence awards must demonstrate overall excellence, high levels of education, and community outreach that embody the values of the Master Gardner Program and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

The Dallas County Master Gardener Association (DCMG) submitted nominations for two categories (one for a DCMG project and one for Master Gardener of the Year). DCMG took first place in both categories and is proud to announce Steve Houser was recognized as the 2020 Master Gardener of the Year!

DCMG's nomination of Steve Houser for Master Gardener follows:

2020 Award Year

Texas Master Gardener Association, Inc.
   Texas Search for Excellence Award

        Outstanding Individual Master Gardener of the Year

The essence of Steve Houser’s horticultural mission is found in one of Dr. Seuss’s most beloved heroes, the Lorax, who says, “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.” Steve’s lifelong devotion to trees and his commitment to educating the public has been fulfilled by a 40-year career as one of the Dallas area’s most accomplished arborists. In 1998 he became a Dallas County Master Gardener (DCMG), and he soon became an indispensable member of the program, serving in many key roles: a favorite spokesman for community outreach activities, an invaluable Help Desk resource, a DCMG school educator, and a highly respected liaison and advisor to governmental agencies, developers and eco-conscious organizations on trees, urban forestry, and environmental stewardship throughout Dallas County, the state of Texas and beyond.

We have bullet pointed three areas Steve has contributed to extensively in 2020 as well as in every year prior since becoming a Master Gardener:

  • Community Outreach – Steve’s passion to teach others about the importance of trees is truly infectious and without bounds. In 2020 he delivered a compelling presentation on Forest Advocacy to the Sierra Club, one of the most effective grassroots environmental organizations. He developed a Forest “Trunk” display for North Texas Master Naturalists with a video that teaches the proper selection of trees and urban forestry management. As a leader of the Texas Historic Tree Coalition, he inspected a Quincentennial Bur Oak in Plano’s Woodruff Park and secured a commemorative plaque. Always the educator and voice for trees, he granted several interviews with newspapers and appeared on local television to teach the local citizenry about the “how-to” of properly caring for their trees.

Steve inspects the Quincentennial Bur Oak in Plano’s Woodruff Park following a storm that tore several large limbs off the tree as you can see in the picture above. Pruning cuts were attempted by Plano Parks and Recreation to clean up the wounds.

  • Help Desk ResourceAn International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified tree arborist, Steve never hesitates to volunteer to educate the public on any questions related to trees. After multiple EF-3 tornadoes devastated Dallas in late October of 2019, Steve consulted with and educated DCMG Help Desk volunteers who were inundated with calls over the following year from distraught tree owners. Together, they prepared an invaluable fact sheet to help the public determine if their damaged trees were salvageable and if professional arborists were needed. Similarly, Steve was always available to offer sound information to DCMG Help Desk volunteers whenever they faced other challenging questions about trees. He stood ready to offer expert advice on proper tree planting, tree selection, and tree pathology whenever he was needed.
  • Advisor on Trees and Urban ForestrySteve’s advocacy for trees is unequaled. He has served as an advisor to the Dallas Urban Forest Advisory Committee (UFAC) since its creation in 2005 (Steve was also the first chairperson serving four years). UFAC is a volunteer group he also co-founded that educates city officials and the public regarding our environment, trees, and urban forest ecology. He proposed ways to selectively timber cut ash trees and replace them with natives to minimize the environmental impact of the impending infestation of the dreaded emerald ash borer. Steve also worked with developer Trammel Crow to plan future EarthX Tree World events. His collaboration with the Citizen Forester volunteer program in Dallas County paved the way for its future growth and expansion. He led the volunteer team of Friends of Reverchon Park to maintain trees planted by "Trees for Threes," a program he masterminded with the Dallas Mavericks that ultimately spread to other NBA teams. He advised Vision North Texas, a public/private partnership between the North Texas Council of Governments, the Urban Land Institute, and UT Arlington. A founding member of the Trinity Nature Conservancy, “Tree Steve,” as he is affectionately called, helped develop a comprehensive forest and wildlife management plan for the Great Trinity Forest, the largest urban bottomland hardwood forest in America.

A few of Steve's community projects from left to right: 1. the Fun Climb for children of all abilities that Steve brought to EarthX, 2. Working in the Iris Garden during the Reverchon Round-Up annual park cleaning, tree planting, and maintenance event, and 3. Dallas Mavs and Arborilogical Services along with many volunteers planting "Trees for Threes" at a DISD school.

Steve Houser has been an indispensable educator for Master Gardeners, as well as a trusted advisor of AgriLife Extension. As in years past, he provided DCMG students with an expertly presented overview of trees. His charismatic style and boundless enthusiasm for trees engaged and inspired his audience, which included certified DCMGs eager to learn more. Steve also provided instruction for MG schools in Collin, Tarrant, and Kaufman Counties as well as for several chapters of Texas Master Naturalists. While the pandemic prevented Steve from teaching the Advanced Tree Specialist training in 2020, he did devote time to updating his curriculum, which will be presented virtually in early 2021. Steve’s arboricultural knowledge is highly respected in the A&M community. Dr. David Appel, Professor of Plant Pathology, observed, “Steve has the unique ability to understand the science we study in the lab and apply it in the field. I always learn something new every time I talk to him.” Steve also advised Horticulture agents in various counties in Texas when they updated their curriculum about trees.


Left to right: 1. Steve teaches incoming Master Naturalists in the North Central Texas Chapter, and 2. He is teaching how to properly prune a Crepe Myrtle to Collin County Master Gardeners.

In addition, two of Steve’s lifetime priorities are education and volunteerism, and he has certainly excelled at both as a Master Gardener (over 4600 volunteer hours), a Master Naturalist (over 10,000 volunteer hours), and as a quintessential ambassador for AgriLife Extension. He is the only volunteer in Texas to receive two Presidential Lifetime Achievement awards (2008, 2018).

One of Steve’s greatest passions is the study of Comanche Marker Trees in Texas. Merging his own years of research with that of an anthropologist (Linda Pelon) and a Comanche tribal officer (Jimmy W. Atterberry), Steve co-wrote the critically acclaimed Comanche Marker Trees of Texas, published by Texas A&M University Press. Steve and the Texas Historic Tree Coalition formed a partnership known as the Texas Tree Trails to showcase the Comanche marker trees and other historic trees in the area. In Steve’s words, "We have a moral obligation to document historic trees and their legacies for future generations to enjoy...before they are gone forever.”


Steve is pictured above climbing the Holliday Comanche Marker Tree in Holliday, Texas.

Steve’s favorite community education activities often include children. He never misses the annual AgriLife Extension’s "Farm Day" event, where he has collaborated with Master Naturalists and 4-H to teach over 100,000 4th graders about the benefits of trees. He even dresses in full tree climber gear and climbs a tree for them! At Earth Day he delights children by wearing a tree costume he designed and handing out "Trees are the Answer" bumper stickers. Steve’s work with the City of Dallas Urban Forest Advisory Committee (UFAC) was praised by Dr. Anne Whiston Spirn, Professor of Urban Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a published research study of the Great Trinity Forest. She wrote, “Led by Steve Houser the UFAC…has spent years working with developers and proving that arborists could be reasonable and reliable partners. These collaborations emphasized local education and knowledge retention and hiring arborists and experts from within the state of Texas. This has proven critical to continuing education for professionals that deal with these trees of the Trinity River watershed forest on a regular basis.”

Steve wears his biggest smile when he is helping children understand why "Trees are the Answer!"

While Steve’s contributions to the public are too numerous to include in this award submission, the Dallas Morning News captured his profound impact by stating, “He may be the best friend a threatened tree ever had.” Thanks to the Lorax's persuasive message, even Once-ler, the villain in The Lorax, ultimately advocates for trees, saying, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” How fortunate the Dallas County Master Gardener Association is to have Steve as our own Lorax, one who has dedicated his life to making things better for trees and the environment, which is why we believe he deserves to be the Texas Outstanding Individual Master Gardener in 2020.

About the author

The Texas Master Gardener program is an educational volunteer program conducted by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service of the Texas A&M University System. Master Gardeners are members of the local community who take an active interest in their lawns, trees, shrubs, flowers and gardens.

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