Ranking NRCS Official Joins America’s Longleaf Team
Recently appointed as Southeast Regional Conservationist at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, James E. Tillman Sr. is now adding his extensive conservation experience and many talents to America’s Longleaf, joining both the Longleaf Partnership Council and the Federal Coordinating Committee. Tillman is no stranger to longleaf pine forests and the restoration initiative, of course, having served as the State Conservationist in Georgia for the nine years prior to his move to Washington, D.C. But now he’s well situated in agency leadership to do even more for forest landowners and longleaf, especially through NRCS’ Longleaf Pine Initiative.
Back in the Peach State, his former NRCS colleague Chris Groskreutz recalls Tillman as "the headlights-on man," typically arriving at the office early and leaving late, often with an evening meeting on his calendar, too. He has also earned kudos for embracing partnerships, sometimes recruiting unexpected partners, and then ensuring that they work well. He's known for his "listening ear" and "when differences arise James is the guy who sits folks down and works through the issues,” says Brent Dykes, Executive Director of the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission.
Raised in a small, rural community in Arkansas, where family acquainted him early on with the rewards and challenges of row crop agriculture, Tillman dived into Future Farmers of America as well as competitive public speaking in high school. On scholarship at the University of Arkansas he earned his degree in agricultural economics and went on to serve in various local and state leadership positions with NRCS in seven states.
Interestingly, Tillman has twice succeeded another key adviser to America's Longleaf, Leonard Jordan – first in the Georgia State Conservationist’s position and more recently as Southeast Regional Conservationist. Now the Associate Chief for Conservation at NRCS, Jordan admits to being "downright territorial" about who follows him in places he cares so much about, but says "I always slept well knowing James was there."
Partnership Council Chair Mike Black has high expectations for what Tillman will bring to longleaf restoration. “He’s got a reputation for being truly committed to locally led conservation and paying close attention to producer needs while also bringing innovative ideas to larger scale efforts, like ours. We’re very fortunate to have him so involved,” says Black.
When hard-working Tillman does find some free time, he's likely to be fishing for bream – "old-style, no fancy gear.” And he doesn't need to actually catch anything. Just watching the cork bobbing in the water evokes one of his fondest childhood memories. At five years old an adult asked him to hold his pole momentarily and amazingly a fish bit immediately, and hard, too. Tillman's been hooked ever since.
Photo Credit: Lark Hayes