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Robert Huth of Flanders, NJ and Sari Pehnke of Hopewell, NJ planted the 10,000th tree in the Sourlands in 2022. They were both part of the Sourland Conservancy’s internship program.
(SKILLMAN, NJ) — The Sourland Conservancy has announced that its staff, community partners and volunteers have planted an additional 10,000 trees in 2022. That’s a total of 25,200 trees planted in their forest restoration project over the past three years!
“We are extremely grateful for the support of the entire community,” said Rob Aluck, the conservancy’s stewardship director. “Nonprofit organizations, land trusts, counties, municipalities, individuals, volunteers and donors are all working together to restore the forest and reduce the impact of ash decline.”
The Sourland Conservancy (SC) is a small non-profit organization based in Hopewell and Skillman, NJ. Their mission is to protect, promote and preserve the unique character of the Sourland Mountain region of central New Jersey. The Sourland region spans three counties (Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer) and includes portions of seven parishes (Lambertville, Hillsborough Township, East Amwell Township, West Amwell Township, Montgomery Township, Hopewell Township and Hopewell Borough).
The New Jersey Forest Service has estimated that the 90-square-mile region is on its way to losing over a million trees to an invasive insect, the emerald ash borer. This number corresponds to approximately 20 percent of all trees in the entire region. Trees filter air and water, stabilize riverbanks, capture and store carbon, reduce stormwater runoff, and provide important habitat for wildlife, including 57 threatened and endangered species. The loss of a million trees is expected to exacerbate the effects of climate change and could lead to more severe flooding in the future.
“The undergrowth of the Sourland forest is already degraded, in large part due to overpopulation of white-tailed deer,” noted Executive Director Laurie Cleveland. “We need to plant quickly to prevent the spread of invasive plants, and we need to protect each seedling from deer browsing with fences or tree tubes.”
The Conservancy’s forest restoration project involves a multi-pronged approach: involving partners and volunteers in planting efforts in public parks and conservation areas, hiring seasonal interns to plant in areas unsuitable for large groups (habitats for sensitive species, steep slopes, forests in the inland, etc.). ), selling “tree kits” at their annual native plant sale, creating educational materials and videos to encourage residents to plant native plants at home, and managing the Sourland Stewards Facebook group to provide additional support.
This year, the conservancy has expanded their efforts to include planting directly on private land, thanks to a generous grant from the US Forest Service they received in partnership with the FoHVOS Invasive Species Strike Team. The first private homeowner to attend was Jennifer Bryson of Hillsborough Parish.
“The tremendous loss of ash trees in our area has been devastating,” said Ms. Bryson. “I’m scared of the impact on wildlife – and our water. I lost so many ash trees that I couldn’t keep up with replanting.”
Ms. Bryson worked with Conservancy staff to determine the most effective approach to planting the wooded portion of her farm, which is within the USFS priority area. Conservation workers planted 1,000 trees and shrubs and protected each seedling from deer browsing with metal fences or tree tubes. Ms Bryson prepared the site for planting by mowing and removing invasive shrubs and has agreed to continue tending the site to ensure success.
“The USFS grant work is critical for the Conservancy to engage the community in our efforts to preserve the region’s important ecology,” said Rob Aluck, the Conservancy’s stewardship director. “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 planted. These sites will provide important habitat and connect green spaces to help keep wildlife populations healthy.”
“The work of the Conservancy is something much bigger than we are as individuals. The work we do here today, we leave to the next generation,” continued Mr. Aluck. “It’s something I can share with my son as he grows older, and it’s work I can be proud of.” For more information or to donate, visit www.sourland.org.
The Sourland Region Forest Restoration Project 2022 is supported by the members and project partners of the Sourland Conservancy, 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 and Raritan Valley Community College, the Somerset County Park Commission, the Washington Crossing Audubon Society and the Watershed Institute and is supported in part by generous grants from the US Forest Service, Sal & Karen Puleo, American Tower, the Gackstatter Foundation and Currey Wilson finances family funds.