(HOPEWELL, NJ) -- What do a writer from Florida, a college junior from Wyoming, a recent graduate from Washington, and a volunteer coordinator from California all have in common? They’re working with a local nonprofit to address a major problem - here in Central New Jersey.
“We are facing an enormous challenge. Over one million trees in the Sourlands will be killed by the emerald ash borer within the next few years.” said Laurie Cleveland, Executive Director of the Sourland Conservancy. “We reached out for volunteers to help find a creative solution and have been amazed by the response!”
Volunteers Claire Hamerlinck, Megan Washington, Saige White, Rui Zhao, Anne Woolley, Lynn Robbins, Hilary Persky and Marylou Ferrara have joined the Conservancy’s Ash Tree Crisis Team (ACT). The group is working together virtually to create a campaign to raise awareness about the issue of ash decline - and provide residents with the tools they need to help restore the forest from their own homes.
Ms. Hamerlinck is a junior at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Due to COVID-19, she recently returned to her hometown of Laramie, Wyoming. “I'm an International Studies and Geography double major with a minor in Spanish and a big interest in environmental studies.” she added. “I heard about the problem and I wanted to help any way I could.”
Claire is working with Megan Washington to research what other organizations across the country have done to successfully address ash decline. Ms. Washington understands the importance of protecting habitat along the Atlantic flyway. “I always want to help wherever my talents can be utilized - especially now,” she said. “It feels good to do something positive."
Last year, the Conservancy worked with nonprofit and municipal partners to plant over 3,000 trees and shrubs in public parks and preserves. “This year, we were planning to plant even more - and encourage other local and state organizations to focus their efforts on the Sourlands, too.” said Roger Thorpe, the Conservancy’s Stewardship Committee Chair. “When the virus struck and we all had to stay home, we couldn’t just do nothing. We knew we had to try something different.”
The 90-square-mile region provides critical breeding habitat and serves as an important stop-over for migrating birds. The forest provides clean water, hosts many threatened and endangered plant animal species, and was recently recognized as an important source of carbon sequestration.
The Sourland Conservancy and community partners including Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space, D&R Greenway Land Trust, and Montgomery Friends of Open Space have historically provided programming and plant sales to encourage residents to practice good stewardship and plant trees, shrubs, and flowers that are native to the region. Now, those efforts are more important than ever.
“Approximately one-third of the Mountain is privately owned. In order to restore the forest and protect the clean water and other resources that it provides, everyone is going to need to take an active role,” added Carolyn Klaube, the Conservancy’s Stewardship Program Coordinator. “If we can all remove invasive species, plant natives, protect seedlings, we can restore crucial habitat for pollinators, birds, and other animals.”
The team worked together to make a planting program that was easy for everyone - even first-time planters. They reached out to local retailer, John Hart at Rosedale Mills, for help. The result is a unique planting “kit” complete with fencing to protect plantings from deer browse. Each $10 kit will contain: one native tree seedling, 6’L x 5’H 14 gauge fencing, one metal stake and three zip ties. Three different varieties of trees will be available to choose from. Participants may order kits online and pick up on select days at the Conservancy’s office building parking lot in Hopewell.
The team also wanted to develop a plan to help individuals and families who would like to participate, but either did not have the space to plant or could not afford to purchase kits due to COVID-19. Those who wish to request a free tree may request one by clicking the link on the Conservancy’s website . “We would love to offer a free tree kit to anyone who requests one,” said Ms. Cleveland. “We’re looking for more sponsors and donors to help offset the cost. In the meantime, we will fill requests as we receive donations.” Those who would like to donate trees should click “Donate a tree kit” on the tree order form.
Saige White from Sacramento, California and Rui Zhao from Washington are doing research and donating graphic design work and digital content for the project. “Everyone can help,” Saige said. “By planting trees, donating so others can plant, or simply sharing information with friends and neighbors, we all have the power to make a difference.”
To learn more about the Ash Crisis Team and how you can help #KeepTheCanopy, click here. The ACT initiative is sponsored by Rosedale Mills, Pinelands Nursery and the Sourland Conservancy.