More than 25,000 New Trees (and counting) in the Sourlands!

The Sourland Conservancy(SC) is pleased to announce that its staff, community partners, and volunteers have planted another 10,000 trees in 2022. This brings the 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 Rob Aluck, SC’s stewardship director. “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 Sourland Conservancy is a small nonprofit organization based in Hopewell and Skillman, NJ. Its 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).

The New Jersey Forest Service estimates that the 90-square-mile region is on track to lose more than 1,000,000 trees due to an invasive insect, the Emerald Ash Borer. That number represents approximately 20 percent 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 1000,000 trees is expected to exacerbate the effects of climate change and could result in more serious flooding in the future.

“The Sourland forest’s understory is already degraded due in large part to the overpopulation of white-tailed deer,” noted SC Executive Director Laurie Cleveland. “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.

This year, the SC expanded its efforts to include planting directly on private land thanks to a generous US Forest Service grant it received in partnership with the FoHVOS Invasive Species Strike Team. The first private homeowner to participate was Jennifer Bryson of Hillsborough Township. 

“The tremendous loss of ash trees in our area has been devastating,” Bryson said. “I’m afraid of the impact on wildlife – and our water.  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.

“The USFS grant work is essential for the Conservancy to engage the community in our efforts to preserve the important ecology of the region,” Aluck said. “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,” Aluck continued. “This is something I can share with my son as he gets older, and it’s work I can stand proudly by.” 

For more information visit www.sourland.org.

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