NEW JERSEY – In celebration of the 150th Arbor Day, New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette and Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler planted a seedling from the iconic Salem Oak, one of New Jersey’s heritage trees, as the Department of Environmental Protection announced $2.2 million for Urban and Community Forestry grants to support planning, planting and maintenance of community trees and forests across the state.
DEP’s Urban and Community Forestry Program is offering competitive stewardship grants to assist municipalities and counties with the maintenance of their urban and community forests. The program has provided approximately $3.8 million in grant funding since 2016.
The 2022 Stewardship Grant Request for Proposal is available at www.communityforestry.nj.gov and applications can be submitted online.
“Trees play a critical role in our environment,” LaTourette said. “They beautify our cities and towns, improve air quality, reduce the impacts of flooding, provide wildlife habitat, and mitigate the impacts of climate change by absorbing atmospheric carbon. Every tree that we plant today is an investment in a healthier future for New Jersey.”
“Urban and Community Forestry grants are important for bringing trees to communities that lack tree canopy, and for helping communities across the state to grow and care for their urban forest,” said John Cecil, DEP’s Assistant Commissioner for State Parks, Forests & Historic Sites. “With a priority to support overburdened communities, where 76 percent of previously granted funds have gone, Urban and Community Forestry grants will support the development and implementation of Community Forestry plans. These plans will ultimately help to cool communities, improve health and sequester carbon.”
In addition to announcing this funding, Commissioner LaTourette also announced the presentation of the J. Sterling Morton Award to Todd Land, an emeritus member of the West Cape May Shade Tree Commission, who was recognized for his lifelong commitment to tree planting and conservation.
Todd Land’s passion for preserving and maintaining West Cape May’s urban forest during the local shade tree commission’s formative years laid the groundwork for many current initiatives, Commissioner LaTourette noted. Through his creativity and knowledge of marketing, Land raised awareness of the vital role of trees in the environment, motivating many others to embrace the cause.
“Keeping West Cape May forested has always been a privilege. Receiving this award recognizing my efforts is a complete surprise,” Land said. “I am honored to receive this recognition and want to thank my fellow volunteers who help keep our vital tree canopy healthy.”
Mayor Brill Mittler, also a Vice President of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, joined by the Highland Park Shade Tree Commission, gathered with Commissioner LaTourette and his daughters to plant the Salem Oak seedling at Bartle Elementary School. A video of the tree planting can be viewed on the DEP’s YouTube page.
“We were honored to host Commissioner LaTourette and NJ DEP Forester Michael Martini in Highland Park this week,” Mittler said. “It was a delight to join them in planting the historic Salem Oak seedling by our Bartle School. This planting aptly symbolizes our abiding respect for our state’s history, our duties as environmental stewards, and our best hopes for the future.”
The iconic parent of these Salem Oak seedlings stood within the Salem Friends Burial Ground on West Broadway in the historic city of Salem until June 6, 2019, when it suddenly crashed to the ground. It was one of New Jersey’s best-known and most celebrated trees. More than 500 years old, it ranked among the state’s largest white oaks, standing more than 100 feet tall with a trunk circumference of approximately 22 feet.
Only months before the tree fell, DEP Forest Service staff fortuitously collected acorns at its base which were then propagated into seedlings. These seedlings are being nurtured in a greenhouse at the Forest Service Nursery in Jackson Township, Ocean County, and have been and will be planted in other communities around the state.
This seedling, and the many other trees planted on Arbor Day this year, are critical to reducing the harmful effects of climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide from the air for decades to come, just as the Salem Oak did for 500 years. DEP foresters estimate that this one seedling, over 50 years, will remove approximately 9,259 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.