NJDEP awards Urban and Community Forestry grant to West Orange

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Department of Environmental Protection is awarding 38 grants, totaling $1.3 million, to promote the stewardship of urban and community trees and forests throughout New Jersey, NJDEP Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette announced March 21. The grants support Gov. Phil Murphy’s environmental justice initiatives in vulnerable neighborhoods, with 75 percent of the funds awarded to municipalities with at least one overburdened community.

“Urban trees and forests are vitally important for the many benefits they provide to clean our air and water, and to provide cool shade from increasingly warm temperatures,” LaTourette said. “Trees are also part of our daily lives. They uplift people, beautify neighborhoods, stand witness to important moments and improve communities.”

Funding for the 2021 grants comes from the “Treasure Our Trees” state license plate sales and the New Jersey Forest Service No Net Loss Compensatory Reforestation Program.

“Advancing tree equity in New Jersey’s overburdened communities gives us the opportunity to address the three pillars of thriving communities: social, environmental and economic vitality,” NJDEP Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity Olivia Glenn said. “From greenhouse gases to urban heat island effect, lack of tree canopy can compromise social, environmental and economic quality of life for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents.” 

Resilience planning grants help communities assess their current urban forest and provide critical data about the forest’s structure and composition. This data may then be used to better inform forest management decisions to maximize ecological benefits and create a sustainable urban forest.

Reforestation and tree planting grants ensure the growth and establishment of trees and forests that best suit communities’ needs and goals. Municipalities receiving 2021 grants in this category use funding to increase their urban canopy, increase the ecological services of their urban and community forest, and provide a cooler place to live.

“Urban and Community Forestry grants are important for bringing trees to communities that are lacking in urban tree canopy, and equally important for ensuring that the existing urban trees and forests are maintained for the future,” said John Cecil, director of the Division of Parks and Forestry.

Resiliency grants totaling $925,374 were awarded to municipalities throughout the state; in Essex County, West Orange was awarded a grant of $50,000. Reforestation and tree planting grants totaling $382,624 were also awarded to some municipalities. 

“The NJDEP grant was submitted by the township’s former forester and West Orange Environmental Commission member John Linson,” West Orange Township Council President Susan McCartney told the West Orange Chronicle on April 1; McCartney is the council’s representative on the WOEC. “The grant application was submitted to conduct a street tree inventory and to purchase geographic information systems software and field data collectors to display the data collected, as well as track tree planting and tree maintenance, and map potential planting locations.”

“With proper care, trees in community and urban settings can be healthy and live long lives,” state forester John Sacco said. “The New Jersey Urban and Community Forestry program provides the financial and technical assistance communities need to properly manage and care for urban and community trees and forests.”

Currently, 250 municipalities and counties across New Jersey have management plans for trees and forests approved by the New Jersey Forest Service, 150 of which are fully accredited with the Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Awarding stewardship grants in two categories since 2000, the New Jersey Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry Program provides financial assistance for projects on municipal or county property for resilience planning initiatives, and for reforestation and tree planting initiatives. The grant program is competitive.

According to McCartney, West Orange competed for the grant because town leaders know how important it is to protect the township’s trees and ready the ground for new trees.

“Trees are important for controlling microclimate, increasing water infiltration into the soil, regulating stormwater flows and flooding, and providing habitat for wildlife, as well as removing pollutants from the air and reducing nutrient flow to waterways — all this while sequestering carbon and providing positive mental health,” McCartney said.