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10,000 Trees Planted in the Sourlands in 2021

Cliff and Louise Wilson plant the 10,000th tree!


Hopewell, NJ (November 16, 2021) – The Sourland Conservancy is pleased to announce that over 10,000 trees have been planted in the Sourlands in 2021! The Conservancy's staff and stewardship volunteers developed an aggressive planting initiative and worked to engage the entire Sourland community (nonprofit organizations, land trusts, counties, municipalities, private residents, volunteers, and donors) to restore the forest and reduce the impact of ash decline. 

"This has been a tremendous community effort to deal with the devastating loss of trees," said Dante DiPirro, Sourland Conservancy President. "On behalf of the board, I would like to thank all of the members, volunteers, community partners, municipalities, and residents who donated and helped to plan, prepare sites, plant trees, and install fences and tree tubes."

The 10,000th tree was planted last Saturday by Louise and Cliff Wilson. Ms. Wilson, former Montgomery Township mayor, and Mr. Wilson, former Sourland Conservancy board president, joined 38 volunteers at the Folusiak Preserve in Montgomery Township for the Conservancy's last public event of 2021. "We are thrilled to support this ambitious planting project," Mr. Wilson said. "This is an outstanding achievement."

The Sourland Conservancy (SC) is a small nonprofit organization. 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).

The New Jersey Forest service alerted the Conservancy in March 2020, that the 90-square-mile region was on track to lose over one million trees within the next few years to an invasive insect, the emerald ash borer. That number represents approximately one of every five trees throughout the region. 

"We knew that ash decline was going to have a major impact in the region, but we were shocked by the number," said Carolyn Klaube, SC's Stewardship Director. "The staff had just begun working remotely due to COVID, so we met via Zoom to explore the most effective way to address the crisis. We needed to act fast."

The forest faced additional threats in 2021. In July, a tornado ripped through 230 acres of mature forest on Baldpate Mountain which had already suffered a significant loss of ash trees. Two hurricanes in August, Henri and Ida, caused consecutive flooding events that scoured streambeds and resulted in the loss of lives as well as serious damage to homes, farms, businesses, and natural areas throughout the region. Trees help filter water, stabilize stream banks, and reduce stormwater runoff. The loss of one million 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. We need to give the forest a serious boost to help it regenerate," said SC Trustee and Stewardship Committee Chair, Roger Thorpe. "Humans and animals throughout the state rely on the services the forest provides: fresh air, clean water, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and more. The Sourlands is home to 57 listed, threatened, and endangered species."

In fact, the National Audubon Society has designated the entire Sourland Mountain Region a Continental IBA (Important Bird Area) macrosite. It is one of 113 such sites in the United States. "Many species of birds rely on the large contiguous Sourland forest to raise their families, others to feed and rest during migration, or to spend the winter.  Some of these species are already at risk of extirpation from other threats. They too will suffer as the forest, already under duress and unable to regenerate itself because of excessive deer browse and invasive alien vegetation, will additionally lose a million mature ash trees." Juanita Hummel, President of the Washington Crossing Audubon Society, said. "We applaud the extraordinary efforts of the Sourland Conservancy to help restore the threatened integrity of the last remaining deep forest habitat in Central New Jersey."

"The Conservancy is new to planting and this problem seemed so daunting. I immediately called on our partners for help," said Laurie Cleveland, SC's Executive Director. "Alex Rivera at Mercer County Park Commission was instrumental in helping our team select priority sites and develop a plan for coordinating with partner organizations. Dr. Jay Kelly of Raritan Valley Community College generously shared his extensive research in deer herbivory. Emile DeVito of New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) shared his advice and plans for building effective and relatively inexpensive deer exclosures. Mike Van Clef of Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space offered his expertise in invasive species management and community conservation. I wish I could acknowledge everyone here. We are so very grateful for the generosity, support, and trust that our partners have shown us."

The NJ DEP had recently introduced their CHANJ (Connecting Habitats Across New Jersey) Mapping and Guidance Document to envision and guide a landscape strategy that preserves, restores, and maintains habitat connectivity for terrestrial wildlife across New Jersey, helping to ensure that healthy populations can persist long into the future. The SC team decided to use CHANJ as a guide for their restoration effort. They prioritized sensitive species habitat, closing canopy gaps in the forest core, and restoring riparian buffers, vegetated areas near streams, to filter water and reduce flooding.

The team decided to approach forest restoration from all sides: engaging partners and volunteers in public planting events, hiring additional staff to plant in areas that were not appropriate for large groups (sensitive species habitat, steep slopes, interior forest, etc.), and providing support for residents.

Volunteers planted 5070 shrubs and trees with Sourland Conservancy and partner staff from Mercer County Park Commission, and NJCF, D&R Greenway, Montgomery Township, and Montgomery Friends of Open Space. These hardworking volunteers planted native trees and shrubs at the Folusiak Preserve, Rock Mill Preserve, Rainbow Hill Preserve, Sourlands Ecosystem Preserve, and Baldpate Mountain. Community groups including Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Interact, Our Revolution Hillsborough, and AYLUS worked alongside members of high school environmental clubs, AmeriCorps Watershed Ambassadors, corporate employees, students from The College of New Jersey, Raritan Valley Community College, Princeton University, and Rutgers University. One Tree Planted, a non-profit organization focused on global reforestation, has pledged over $17,000 to supply plants for this year's large volunteer plantings. 

"SC's small staff has grown 30% this year to support the restoration effort," continued Ms. Cleveland. "We hired seasonal interns for the first time this spring, and again in the fall. We rented a truck for six months to move trees, supplies, and fencing. We are deeply grateful for the support of our donors and grantors." So far this year, interns have planted 4812 trees at 25 restoration sites throughout the region. These sites spanned Hopewell Township, Hopewell Borough, Hillsborough Township, Montgomery Township, and East Amwell. The Conservancy received a $10,000 grant from American Tower to purchase trees and shrubs to be planted by SC interns.


"The Watershed Institute is excited to be partnering with the Sourland Conservancy on this project and grateful for the hard work that these interns have put in at the Watershed Reserve and other natural areas in our region," said Jim Waltman, The Watershed Institute's executive director. "We have lost thousands of ash trees and this tree planting project is essential to restore our forests."

The team recognized that private residents were critical to the success of the forest restoration effort. In New Jersey, 80% of the land is privately owned. In the Sourlands, ash decline poses a monumental problem for landowners. Tree removal is very costly, and dying ash trees pose a serious threat to homes, power lines, streets, and more. Some private residents are treating ash trees with systemic insecticide in hopes that their trees will be spared. These treatments are also very expensive, so many residents are unable to treat all of the ash trees on their property. The Conservancy held its first tree kit sale in 2020 to offer homeowners an inexpensive resource for trees and deer protection - and provide them with a community-building activity during the pandemic. The tree sale was so popular that SC scheduled another in the fall of 2021, selling 368 trees and shrubs with deer protection, thanks to sponsors, Pinelands Nursery and Plantra.

Private individuals and community groups have also donated 349 trees to be planted by volunteers and interns through the Conservancy's "donate a tree" program. Information is available at retail stores throughout the region and on the Sourland Conservancy's website.

Pinelands Nursery also offered their technical expertise to Sourland Stewards who would like to propagate their own native seedlings. SC volunteers and staff filmed educational videos at Pinelands Nursery to teach followers how to collect, process, store, and propagate native seeds. SC staff will lead a seed propagation workshop in the winter and encourages residents to swap native plants and seeds at the free plant swap they host in the spring and fall.

"Sourland Conservancy members are the heart of our organization," said Marylou Ferrara, Sourland Conservancy's Vice President. "We appreciate their loyal support which pays for most of SC's operating expenses, staff salaries, educational programming, and more. This year, our member donations also helped to support the forest restoration effort by paying for tools and supplies."

As anyone who lives in or near the Sourlands knows, deer overpopulation poses an enormous challenge to home gardeners, farmers, and land stewards. Deer are native to our area, and native trees and shrubs are their natural food. Unfortunately, their preference for native plants paired with their staggering numbers result in a quick end to unprotected tender seedlings. Deer protection is an essential and expensive component of the Sourland forest restoration. Thankfully the NJ Nature Conservancy donated some tree tubes which are essential in riparian plantings. Montgomery Township, Mercer County and Somerset County supplied fencing and additional tree tubes. The Conservancy was also the grateful recipient of a very generous grant from the Currey Wilson Family Fund which covered the remainder of the deer protection in 2021.

The Sourland Conservancy is partnering with Raritan Valley Community to collect data on their 2021 restoration projects. "It is important to understand how effective our restoration projects are, and in order to do that, we need to collect and analyze data from our restoration areas" Ms. Klaube said. Dr. Jay Kelly and Dr. Emilie Stander from Raritan Valley Community College are working with their students to set up control plots to compare the natural forest regeneration to planted trees and shrubs and types of deer protection at the different restoration projects across the Sourlands. They will then collect and analyze these data points to help inform the Sourland Conservancy on which restoration practices are most effective given the site conditions and historical use of the land. This research is funded, in part, by a generous grant from the Gackstatter Foundation.

The Washington Crossing Audubon Society is working with SC to train volunteers to conduct bird surveys to record the impact of forest restoration sites on native and migratory populations. "We look forward to helping the SC monitor the success of this essential initiative, and offer special kudos and thanks to the wonderful interns and volunteers out there in the field planting trees and saving the Sourland forest for future generations of birds and people." Ms. Hummel continued. Washington Crossing Audubon has just awarded the Sourland Conservancy a $5,000 Holden grant to purchase fencing to protect plantings from deer herbivory.

"We hope to continue and expand the forest restoration effort in 2022." continued Ms. Klaube. "We've got a lot of work to do." For more information or to donate, visit www.sourland.org.

The 2021 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 American Tower, the Gackstatter Foundation, the Currey Wilson Family Fund, and One Tree Planted. 

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