For Hillsborough Township resident Jennifer Bryson, the “tremendous loss of ash trees” in the area in and around her property has been “devastating.”
That is why when the Sourland Conservancy (SC) expanded its efforts to include plantings directly on private land through a grant from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in partnership with the FoHVOS Invasive Species Strike Team, she signed on to become the first private homeowner to do so, according to a press release through the SC.
“I’m afraid of the impact on wildlife and our water,” Bryson said. “I’ve lost so many ash trees; I couldn’t keep up with replanting.”
Bryson worked with Conservancy staff to determine the most effective approach to planting in the wooded section on her farm which is located within the USFS priority area. Conservancy staff planted 1,000 trees and shrubs and protected each seedling from deer browse using metal fencing or tree tubes. Bryson prepared the site for planting by mowing and removing invasive shrubs, and she has agreed to continue maintaining the planting site to ensure success, according to the press release.
“The USFS grant work is essential for the Conservancy to engage the community in our efforts to preserve the important ecology of the region,” said Rob Aluck, the Conservancy’s stewardship director. “Providing direct assistance to homeowners who have lost numerous trees to the emerald ash borer will improve connections to the green spaces where Conservancy and partner staff and volunteers have already been planting. These sites will provide critical habitat and connect green spaces to help keep wildlife populations healthy.
“The Conservancy’s work is something much larger than we are as individuals. The work we do here today is something we are leaving for the next generation. This is something I can share with my son as he gets older, and it’s work I can stand proudly by.”
In 2022, the SC staff, community partners and volunteers have planted 10,000 trees, which brings their forest restoration project total to 25,200 planted in the last three years.
“We are tremendously grateful for the support of the entire community,” said Aluck said. “Nonprofit organizations, land trusts, counties, municipalities, private residents, volunteers, and donors are all working together to restore the forest and reduce the impact of ash decline.”
The SC is a small nonprofit organization based in Hopewell, Mercer County and Skillman, Somerset County. Their mission is to protect, promote and preserve the unique character of the Sourland Mountain Region of central New Jersey. The Sourland Region straddles three counties (Hunterdon, Somerset, and Mercer) and includes portions of seven municipalities (Lambertville, Hillsborough Township, East Amwell Township, West Amwell Township, Montgomery Township, Hopewell Township, and Hopewell Borough), according to a press release through SC.
The New Jersey Forest Service has estimated that the 90-square-mile region is on track to lose over 1 million trees due to an invasive insect, the emerald ash borer. That number represents approximately 20% of all trees throughout the region. Trees filter air and water, stabilize stream banks, capture and store carbon, reduce stormwater runoff and provide important habitat for wildlife including 57 threatened and endangered species. The loss of 1 million trees is expected to exacerbate the effects of climate change and could result in more serious flooding in the future, according to the press release.
“The Sourland forest’s understory is already degraded due in large part to the overpopulation of white-tailed deer,” Sourland Executive Director Laurie Cleveland said. “We need to plant quickly to discourage the spread of invasive plants, and we must protect each sapling from deer browse using fencing or tree tubes.”
The Conservancy’s forest restoration project incorporates a multipronged approach: engaging partners and volunteers in planting events in public parks and preserves, hiring seasonal interns to plant in areas that were not appropriate for large groups (sensitive species habitat, steep slopes, interior forest, etc.), selling “tree kits” at their annual native plant sale, creating educational materials and videos to encourage residents to plant native at home, and managing the Sourland Stewards Facebook group to provide additional support, according to the press release.
For more information or to donate, visit www.sourland.org.
The 2022 Sourland Region Forest Restoration project is sponsored by Sourland Conservancy members and project partners, D&R Greenway Land Trust, Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, Montgomery Friends of Open Space, Montgomery Township, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Mercer County Park Commission, Raritan Valley Community College, Somerset County Park Commission, Washington Crossing Audubon Society, and the Watershed Institute, and is funded, in part, by generous grants from the USFS, Sal & Karen Puleo, American Tower, the Gackstatter Foundation, and the Currey Wilson Family Fund.